The traveling exhibit, "Bagels & Barbecue: The Jewish Experience in Tennessee," is jointly sponsored by the Tennessee State Museum with the Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, Jewish Community Federation of Greater Chattanooga, Knoxville Jewish Alliance, Memphis Jewish Federation, and other state Jewish communities.
It begins with the saga of early Jewish settlers emigrating from Europe, where most faced religious persecution. A few came to upper East Tennessee in the 1770s and to Middle Tennessee by the 1820s. By 1870, groups in Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, and Chattanooga had purchased land for cemeteries — a first concern of new Jewish communities—and founded congregations for worship.
Chronicling the life of Jewish families during the Civil War and Reconstruction, the exhibit focuses on the historic contributions during this period. 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 from Knoxville, bought The Chattanooga Times in 1878. In 1896, he added The New York Times to what is still today a family-controlled enterprise.
The story continues with a wave of immigrants 1880-1924, escaping anti-Semitism and pogroms. More than 1,000 Tennessee Jews served in World War II. The then-secret Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge brought Jewish scientists to work on the atom bomb. At the same time, Holocaust refugees and survivors received housing, jobs and English lessons.
Post-war, the state's Jewish population declined to fewer than 17,000 in 1960, and the Civil Rights-era raised challenges: In 1958, the Nashville Jewish Community Center was dynamited and, in 1977, a Chattanooga synagogue was destroyed.
The exhibit also documents the recent influence of the Jewish community following migration of Jewish health and music industry professionals, university professors, executives, artists and their families.
For more, click here.