Emory Report
September 2, 2008
Volume 61, Number 2



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2, 2008
Exhibit documents Temple bombing

By Lea McLees

Fifty years ago, exploding dynamite ripped a gaping hole in the brick edifice of The Temple on Peachtree Street, home to Atlanta’s oldest and largest Jewish congregation. The Oct. 12, 1958, attack was linked to an epidemic of hate group activity plaguing the South during the civil rights movement.

The impact of The Temple bombing on Atlanta’s Jewish community and on the civil rights movement is documented in “‘The Bomb that Healed’: Rabbi Jacob M. Rothschild, Civil Rights and The Temple Bombing of 1958,” on display at Emory’s Manuscript, Archives & Rare Book Library through Jan. 5, 2009.
The influence of the bombing was not what the bombers might have expected, says curator Ellen G. Rafshoon.

“The bombers had intended to intimidate Jews, who were seen as co-conspirators along with blacks in the civil rights struggle, but this act of terror had the opposite effect,” says Rafshoon, a history professor at Georgia Gwinnett College. “When The Temple’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Rothschild, returned to his office the following day, he was greeted with mailbags filled with sympathetic messages from Atlanta and from across the nation.”

The overwhelming support extended to the congregation gave Atlanta Jews the confidence to become more active in bridging the divide between whites and blacks, Rafshoon notes. That is why Rothschild’s widow, Janice, has referred to the otherwise tragic event as “the bomb that healed.”

The exhibition, which draws on Rothschild’s personal papers and includes letters, photographs and published clippings, will show how the rabbi worked openly to build support for desegregation among Atlanta’s religious and civic leaders.

With Rothchild’s encour-agement and the more accepting environment they found in the wake of the bombing, many Atlanta Jews found they could confront discrimination, both against themselves and African Americans, and even become leaders in the cause, explains Eric Goldstein, associate professor of history and Jewish studies at Emory.

One of the most rewarding moments in Rothschild’s career will be highlighted in the exhibition: the rabbi’s successful organization of the South’s first racially integrated banquet, which honored Martin Luther King Jr. after he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

The exhibition is free and open to the public. For information on other events commemorating the bombing, including the “Jews in A Changing South” conference hosted by Emory and the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies, visit www.emory.edu.