Natchez, Mississippi—A major gift has been secured, bringing momentum to the efforts to preserve the historic Temple B’nai Israel building.
Natchez resident Jerry Krouse, a businessman, community leader, and member of Temple B’nai Israel, has committed $100,000 to help spearhead the campaign to ensure that the beautiful synagogue will remain a center for culture, learning, and legacy in the heart of Natchez
Once a thriving Jewish population, there are now only a few Jewish residents left in this river city. Despite declining numbers, the Jewish citizens of Natchez remain as committed as ever to being a positive force within their town. Jewish merchants played an important role in the economic prominence of the city in the 19th and early 20th-centuries; though they never exceeded 5% of the population, Natchez’s Jewish citizens became elected officials, developed the Clifton Heights neighborhood, helped found the Natchez Garden Club, and financially supported a variety of social and civic organizations. The importance of their roles in the economic, social, cultural, and political life of postbellum Natchez belies the small size of their community.
Natchez has a rich history of ecumenism, with congregations working together to support and enhance their town. That legacy will continue to live on within the magnificent walls of Temple B’nai Israel, serving as a community space celebrating and supporting the culture and diversity of Natchez.
Natchez is supported by a vibrant tourism economy, welcoming 670,000 visitors in 2015. Few cities offer such an in-depth look at the past and present Southern lifestyle; visitors can visit antebellum homes, historical landmarks, and modern museums. The City of Natchez no longer has an historic venue for conferences and meetings. Temple B’nai Israel’s size and location make it an ideal facility to market to groups who want a special historic setting for their meeting.
The campaign is intended to pay for some immediate maintenance needs to preserve the building, and also to plan for long-term care and use of the building. The building will function as a cultural and meeting facility, accessible to all, with an elevator, 350-seat sanctuary, museum exhibits, and special programming to preserve and interpret the important legacy of the Natchez Jewish community. The exhibition will be inclusive of many voices, highlighting the value of cultural and ethnic diversity in Natchez.
In total, approximately $3,000,000 must be raised in order to preserve this building, keep it as a monument to the legacy of Jewish life in Natchez, and maintain it as a perpetual gathering place for people of all faiths. The future plans for Temple B’nai Israel will both honor and preserve the history of the building while finding strategic new uses for the architecturally significant and important space.
The campaign is coordinated in part by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL), which incorporates the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience.
“We are so grateful to Jerry Krouse for his incredible gift,” says ISJL President and founder Macy B. Hart. “The Natchez synagogue is a building and a story worthy of preserving and sharing with both Natchez residents and visitors. Raising these funds will be a challenge, but with lead donors like Jerry stepping forward, we know we can meet this challenge head-on.”
To learn more about the synagogue and the ongoing campaign to preserve the building, visit www.templebnaiisraelnatchez.org or contact Rachel Myers, firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about the ISJL, visit www.isjl.org or call 601-362-6357.
At a special meeting on December 2 the Board of Trustees of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History awarded nearly $2 million on behalf of the Community Heritage Preservation Grant program to seventeen preservation and restoration projects from across the state. The Community Heritage Preservation Grant program, authorized and funded through the Mississippi Legislature, helps preserve and restore historic courthouses and schools and, in Certified Local Government communities, other historic properties. Over the life of the program the department has awarded more than $37 million to 300 projects.
"The Legislature has saved hundreds of significant Mississippi properties through this program," said MDAH director Katie Blount. "The Department of Archives and History is grateful for the Legislature's support and pleased to be able to help preserve these local treasures."
The grant awards are as follows:
Temple B'nai Israel, Natchez, Adams County—$105,795
For roofing and electrical repairs and interior rehabilitation.
Shaw High School, Shaw, Bolivar County—$120,000
For interior restoration, structural stabilization, and a conducted facilities study.
Okolona Elementary School, Okolona, Chickasaw County—$117,600
For building renovation and restoration of barrel roof.
West Point Colored High School, West Point, Clay County—$67,210
For roof repair.
Meadville Armory, Meadville, Franklin County—$39,600
For stabilization of the structure, foundation repair, and plasterwork.
Bailey School, Jackson, Hinds County—$370,000
For stabilization of the structure and restoration of the classrooms and auditorium.
LaPointe-Krebs House, Pascagoula, Jackson County—$210,480
For Phase IV of building rehabilitation and preservation of its mid-eighteenth century characteristics.
Poplar Hill Museum of African American Culture, Fayette, Jefferson County—$29,904
For exterior and interior restoration and ADA compliance.
Jones County Courthouse, Ellisville, Jones County—$156,894
For roofing repair and drainage improvement.
Wechsler School, Meridian, Lauderdale County—$85,824
For roofing renovation of the 1951 section of the building.
Columbia Waterworks, Columbia, Marion County—$69,483
For electrical repair and interior renovation.
Aberdeen M&O Depot, Aberdeen, Monroe County—$160,000
For interior and exterior restoration.
Newton City Hall, Newton, Newton County—$51,840
For roofing repairs and treating interior water damage due to roofing leaks.
Union County Courthouse, New Albany, Union County—$148,800
For restoring metal roof cornice and masonry.
Walthall County Courthouse, Tylertown, Walthall County—$59,648
For repairing the roofing, improving the drainage, and restoring interior windows.
Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation Convent, Vicksburg, Warren County —$75,447
For rehabilitation of the exterior and porch.
Yazoo City Hall, Yazoo City, Yazoo County—$128,916
For repairs to the gutters, roof, and bell tower.
Grant awards are paid on a reimbursable basis upon the successful completion of the entire project or at the time of the completion of pre-established phases of the project. Prior to application all buildings must have been designated Mississippi Landmarks. Only county or municipal governments, school districts, and nonprofit organizations granted Section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service may submit applications. In reviewing and evaluating the grants, the Board of Trustees of MDAH attempted to balance the geographical distribution of grant awards.
To become a Certified Local Government, a community must adopt a preservation ordinance establishing a preservation commission in accordance with federal and state guidelines. Once the commission has been established, application for CLG status may be made to the National Park Service through the Department of Archives and History. MDAH works closely with local government officials and citizens to help them create and manage a workable local historic preservation program. To learn more about the CLG program, contact Barry White in the Historic Preservation Division of MDAH, 601-576-6940.