The exhibit, Bagels & Barbeque: The Jewish Experience in Tennessee, documents the history of Jewish immigration to Tennessee. Beginning Aug. 10-Sept. 16, Chattanooga State Community College will present this exhibit in the August R. Kolwyck Library, which is located on the college’s main campus at 4501 Amnicola Highway. The exhibit will be open to the public free of charge.
Bagels & Barbeque: The Jewish Experience in Tennessee is a joint project of the Tennessee State Museum in collaboration with the Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, Jewish Community Federation of Greater Chattanooga, Knoxville Jewish Alliance, and Memphis Jewish Federation, with the participation of other Jewish communities around the state. The exhibit’s statewide tour is supported in part by a grant from Humanities Tennessee, an independent affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The exhibit begins with the saga of the early Jewish settlers, who were emigrating from Europe where most suffered religious persecution. In the 1770s, some of these early Jewish immigrants traveled into East Tennessee, and by the 1820s, Jewish families were moving westward into the Middle Tennessee region. By 1870, Jewish communities in Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, and Chattanooga were thriving, establishing congregations for worship and purchasing land for cemeteries.
The exhibit continues by highlighting the historic contributions Jews made during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Stories of interest include the beginnings of one of America’s most respected newspaper empires, which began when 20 year-old Adolph Ochs, son of Julius and Bertha Ochs from Knoxville, bought The Chattanooga Times in 1878. In 1896, Adolph Ochs purchased The New York Times, which is still today a family-controlled enterprise.
The exhibit also journals the huge wave of immigrants who arrived between 1880 and 1924, fleeing anti-Semitic laws and mob violence. Chronologically, the exhibit progresses to World War II, showcasing accounts of some of the more than 1,000 Tennessee Jews who served in the armed forces.
Featuring the clandestine Manhattan Project, the exhibit chronicles the migration of many Jewish scientists to East Tennessee in 1943 to work on the atom bomb. Living in remote Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Jewish families sought to establish their community by working cooperatively to hand-construct a synagogue, a feat possibly unique in American Jewish history. During this period, Tennessee experienced additional growth as Holocaust refugees and survivors relocated to Tennessee and were welcomed with housing, jobs and English lessons.
As young Jews left the south after the war, Tennessee’s Jewish population declined to less than 17,000 in 1960. With the emergence of the Civil Rights era, Tennessee Jewish communities faced challenges and intolerance. In 1958, the Nashville Jewish Community Center was destroyed with dynamite. In 1977, a Chattanooga synagogue was bombed.
Bagels & Barbeque extends its survey to include the recent influence of the Jewish community in Tennessee. Tennessee has seen an influx from around the nation of Jewish health and music industry professionals, university professors, executives, and artists.
In 1984, the Tennessee Holocaust Commission, Inc. became the third such state organization in the country. And in 1998, to understand the enormity of Hitler’s atrocities, non-Jewish middle-school children in Whitwell initiated a worldwide campaign to collect six million paper clips. Dedicated to tolerance and peace and documented in an award-winning film entitled Paperclips, their internationally acclaimed Children’s Holocaust Memorial is another unique contribution to the ongoing, many-sided Jewish experience in Tennessee.
Scholars from across the state of Tennessee provided the research for the exhibit, along with noted authorities on Jewish history from other locations. The exhibition has been organized, designed and produced by the staff of the Tennessee State Museum.
For more information on the exhibit, Bagels & Barbeque: The Jewish Experience in Tennessee, contact Myers Brown, Curator of Extension Services at the Tennessee State Museum, by telephone at 615-741-2692 or by email at Myers.Brown@state.tn.us.
For information about visiting the exhibit and hours of operation for Chattanooga State’s library, call the library at 697-4448 or call the Chattanooga State information hotline at 697-4404 or toll free at 866 547-3733. Information is also available on the college’s Web site at www.chattanoogastate.edu.