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Jews of the Old South

Cameron Sawyer says: "You are exactly right the Jews of the Old South were mostly from Spain, Portugal, and England, and many had Sephardic names. My grandfather s best friend s name was Lapidus. These immigrants arrived in the New World in the 17th and 18th centuries (and many gravitated to Charleston probably only because Charleston was, in the 17th century, the largest city in the Western hemisphere, to be eclipsed by New York only much later). There were thriving Jewish communities in all of the cities of the Old South, including New Orleans, Mobile, of course Nashville, Richmond, etc. These immigrants were often wealthy and highly educated people, and were very skeptical of later waves of Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe Ashkenazis with a totally different culture, and less inclined to integrate, and mostly provincials from the Shteteli of the Pale of Settlement (urbane Odessites excepted).

The historical record seems to indicate that there was very little anti-Semitism in the Old South, which was more multicultural, more hedonistic, and more lax morally, than the then-puritanical north (which, after all, was settled by Puritans). But that does not contradict stories you heard about later anti-Semitism. The culture and economy of the Old South was utterly destroyed by the War and by Reconstruction, and besides bad things like slavery, good things like tolerance were likewise destroyed. Even Catholics were persecuted in some places, something unheard of in the old days.

The Jews of the Old South were famous for their southern patriotism the Confederate regiment from Richmond was said to be a quarter Jewish. With regard to their defense of the institution of slavery, it was noted bitterly by I believe Daniel Webster on the floor of the U.S. Senate in the 1840 s that these Hebrews [southern Jews] have Egyptian principles . I suppose that it would be better not to let Louis Farrakhan get a hold of that".

Ronald Hilton - 4/8/02