It's difficult to pinpoint when Meridian began to become Meridian.

The area was first settled by the Choctaw Indians, but in 1831 through treaties the Choctaws relocated.

Shortly after the Choctaws, the area that would become Meridian was settled by a man named Richard McLemore, according to the City of Meridian Web site. McLemore recruited more families to the area by doling out free land, and eventually the railroads caused the area to grow into one of the larger cities in the state of Mississippi.

But much of what shaped Meridian, according to the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, began with the neighboring community of Marion and the Jewish families that settled there.

In 1837, just a few years after Richard McLemore settled in Meridian, David Rosenbaum bought land in Marion. At least five jewish families are thought to have followed.

Names like Rosenbaum, Davidson, Threefoot, and Marks are all familiar to Meridianites and all began with Jewish families that immigrated to the area from Europe in the 19th Century.

According to ISJL, Meridian was once among the largest Jewish communities in the state, with 575 Jewish people living in Meridian in 1927.

Many of these Jewish families were highly active in the community. The Marks family, for example, aided in the creation of Highland Park through land donation.

This activism has continued even as the Jewish community in Meridian has dwindled: I.A. Rosenbaum, one of the most well-known local politicians in the history of Meridian, served as mayor into the 1980's. Barbaree Rosenbaum Heaster is a vocal advocate of downtown revitalization, serving with the Alliance for Downtown Meridian, and Marty Davidson is currently one of Meridian's leading philanthropists — just to name a few.

The Jewish community also had an enormous role in building business in Meridian. Some of those businesses, such as Loeb's clothing store and Meyer and Rosenbaum insurance, among others, still exist today.

Many of those that no longer exist have left their mark on the city. The most obvious of these are probably the Threefoot Building and the MSU-Riley Center for the performing arts.

The Threefoot building was originally an office building built by the Threefoot family, who changed their name from Dreyfus after immigrating, as an office building. Before the building, which is the most recognizable part of Meridian's skyline, was built, there was Threefoot Bros. and Co. hardware store.

Part of the MSU Riley Center was once the Marks-Rothenberg department store, which was one of the most frequented retail outlets in the city until Meridian's first mall was built in the 1970's and the retail center of the city moved away from downtown.

Despite the contributions of the Jewish community to Meridian, the city has not been immune to anti-semitism, particularly during the civil rights movement of the 20th century.

In the chaos that swept through the South in the 1960s, Beth Israel Temple was bombed by a Ku Klux Klan group from Jackson after church leadership spoke out against their attacks on black churches. According to Sammy Feltenstein, past president of Congregation Beth Israel, pieces of stained glass that survived the bombing were salvaged and adorn the front window of the Synagogue today.

Possibly the most dramatic, and therefore most remembered, act of anti-semitic violence that occurred in Meridian was the attempted bombing of the Meyer Davidson home on 29th Avenue in the late 1960s.

Tom Terrence and Kathy Ainsworth, from Jackson, were thwarted by police when they attempted to bomb the home, resulting, said Ward Calhoun of the Lauderdale County Department of Archives and History, in "a big shootout" in which Ainsworth was killed. Terrence was captured and in December 1968 was imprisoned.

Though the contributions of Jewish people to the foundations of Meridian are immeasurable, the Jewish community has greatly dwindled in recent years.

According to ISJL, there are less than 40 Jewish people currently living in Meridian — so few that Congregation Beth Israel, which is today the only Jewish place of worship in Meridian, is unable to support a full-time Rabbi and has services only once a month.

For more information on Jewish history in Meridian, check out ISJL's Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities on the Web at www.isjl.org.



Sources: Woldring/Goldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life - Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities, www.isjl.org. City of Meridian, www.meridianms.org. Lauderdale County Department of Archives and History.

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