About “Privilege and Prejudice: Jewish History in the American South”
Participants in “Privilege and Prejudice” – which was held from May 27-June 7, 2019 – explored the history of Jews in the American South, from the earliest days of European colonization to the present day.
We emphasized four avenues of inquiry: 1) Jewish migration from other regions and nations, 2) the roles Jews have played in economic and political life, 3) the place of Jews in the racial hierarchy, and 4) cultural and religious interactions between southern Jews and their Christian neighbors, white and black. Studying the southern Jewish past revealed how immigrant and minority communities have pursued both social integration and communal identity. Commonly considered white but deviating from the Protestant mainstream in religious customs, occupational profile, and kinship ties, Jews tested many of the norms of southern society, navigating ever-shifting positions of privilege and vulnerability.
Participants learned from top scholars in the classroom, but we also moved our exploration outside, using Charleston’s unparalleled landmarks and built environment as pedagogical tools. Most mornings, to take advantage of the cooler temperatures, we toured significant Charleston sites or neighborhoods chosen to correspond with the day’s topics. Participants had full access to the combined resources of the Marlene and Nathan Addlestone Library, with its extensive Jewish Heritage Collection, and the South Carolina Historical Society’s archives, with the library’s superb curators and reference staff to steer them towards relevant holdings.
In a fast-paced two-weeks, we read about and analyzed history in the places where it happened, for instance, at Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE), the oldest extant synagogue in the South and the cradle of Reform Judaism. The first week’s syllabus spanned the colonial period through the Civil War; the second week covered the Reconstruction Era through the present. The Institute coincided with the city’s world-class Spoleto Festival and with a series of southern Jewish cultural events that were scheduled as part of Piccolo Spoleto’s “A World of Jewish Culture,” sponsored by the College of Charleston’s Yaschik/Arnold Jewish Studies Program.