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.