Preserving the Synagogues of the American South

Dec. 30 2014

In the 19th century, Jewish communities were scattered across the American South, in small towns as well as big cities. Changing demographic patterns led many synagogues to fall into disuse. Some have been destroyed, or sold off, while others have been preserved as landmarks or museums. Yet others have been disassembled and relocated, as recently happened to the synagogue of Brenham, TX, now to be found in Austin. Samuel Grubner writes:

This past week, during Hanukkah, the 121-year-old wood-frame, clapboard-sided B’nai Abraham synagogue of Brenham, Texas, has been sliced in pieces, trucked across four counties, and re-erected on the Dell Jewish Community Campus in Austin. For the first time in decades, the synagogue will host a daily Orthodox minyan and be the central place for an active Texas Jewish community. . . . B’nai Abraham’s Orthodox identity is one of the distinctive aspects about the Brenham shul. It is the oldest standing intact synagogue in Texas, founded by Orthodox Jews from Poland and Lithuania in the 1880s and rebuilt in 1893 after a fire. . . . The building is modest in appearance. Its pointed arched entryway and the triangular window heads give a simple Gothic look, like many small-town Southern churches, but without a steeple. Inside, however, it is arranged like an East-European shul, with a central lectern and a gallery for women over an entrance vestibule opposite the ark.

Read more at Tablet

More about: American Jewry, Jewish architecture, Synagogues, Texas

Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy