Melissa Fay Greene’s Temple Bombing.

Melissa Fay Greene's book helps us understand Atlanta's racial history and Jewish community.

I’m here in Atlanta for the Dart Society board meeting and so far am having a terrific time.

Last night, after a spirited conversation about green jobs with Charles Butler of WVON in Chicago, I ate healthy portions of mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and collard greens washed down with local brew 420 Extra Pale Ale at local eatery Mary Mac’s.

Fellow board members Deirdre Stoelzle Graves, Scott North, Miles Moffeit, Mike Walter, and Arnessa Garrett were both gracious about my arriving well into the meal due to the interview with Butler and my sources of food!

In addition to recently being named America’s most toxic city by Forbes magazine, Atlanta is also the site of Melissa Fay Greene’s The Temple Bombing.  The book tells the story of the 1958 bombing of one of Atlanta’ reform temples.

Greene paints a vivid picture of Southern Jewish life and the ambivalence they held both toward their religious traditions-she quotes one Southern Jew as asking why the Almighty made barbeque off-limits since it tasted so good-and toward bucking the legal segregation that dominated the region.

Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, who hailed from the North, had for years unsuccessfully prodded his congregation to be more active in civil rights, but the faithful generally did not respond positively, and even displayed flashes of annoyance.

That all changed with the blast.

As America was to discover on a far more massive scale more than four decades later, a seemingly inviolable building was destroyed and a sense of security shattered.

The bombing began a process of the Jewish community shaking off its moral lethargy and becoming more actively involved in combating the oppressive system from which they benefited on a daily basis.

Toward the end of the book, after Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Greene describes a famous dinner that some have called a turning point in race relations took place.  Black and white people sat down together at the table of brotherhood-enacting the vision that King had so memorably invoked the previous year at the March on Washington.

Some of those present were temple members.

Close to half a century later, Atlanta’s race issues have not been fully resolved, as a front-page Atlanta Journal Constitution article about voting for the upcoming mayoral election reminds us.

Still, as Greene writes, “stories of integrity and courage ought to be rescued,” and we are grateful to her for writing about the sometimes prickly rabbi from Pittsburgh who pushed his congregants to look outside themselves and find common cause with their black brothers and sisters.


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