26 January 2007

Film about Appalachian Jewry: The righteous remnant

Back in December, I informed readers about a blog by Eric Drummond Smith - Hillbilly Savants By Appalachians, for Everyone - who had included information on the region's Jewish presence.

Yesterday, Eric gave a link to a Public Broadcasting documentary titled Righteous Remnant: Jewish Survival in Appalachia, produced by Professor Maryanne Reed of West Virgina University.

The Web site includes photos and a short section of the film.

The film details those immigrants who chose alternative destinations to the crowded Eastern or Midwestern cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and migrated into West Virginia after hearing about the "black diamond" coal mining and lumber industries.

The film examines the history and current situation of the small community in Beckley, West Virginia, which the filmmaker believes is representative of small Jewish communities.

During the state's coal boom, Jews arrived and opened businesses supporting the local economy, but when the industry declined in the 1950s and 60s, Jewish and non-Jewish families left for other places.

Those who left did not return, for both economic reasons and because of cultural problems which included a lack of kosher food, and difficulties in finding marriage partners and providing Jewish educations. Many left for Charleston (the one in West Virginia, not South Carolina!) and Cincinnati.

Reed's great-grandfather - Simon Fox - and his family were at one time the only members of the tribe living in Davis, a small Tucker County town. He eventually took his family to Akron, Ohio to find Jewish husbands for his daughters.

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