Discover the History of Jewish Life in North Carolina – in print, on screen, in person

downhomeLeonard Rogoff, author of Down Home: Jewish Life in North Carolina, will be reading from and signing his book tonight at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh starting at 7:30 pm.

Rogoff, a historian for the Jewish Heritage Foundation of North Carolina and president of the Southern Jewish Historical Society, writes about the life of Jewish people in North Carolina in Down Home. The experience of Jews in North Carolina, he says, differs from the experience of those in other parts of the country. The documentary, with more than 125 historic and modern pictures, chronicles different aspects of Jewish life in North Carolina over the last 400 years.

On Monday, an exhibition by the same title as the book opened at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, with former Governor Jim Hunt cutting the ribbons at the ceremony. The traveling exhibit will run until March 7, 2011 before moving on to Greensboro. Put together by the JHFNC, the exhibit is part of a larger four-part multimedia project. Along with the book published by UNC Press in association with JHFNC, there is a documentary film and fourth- and eighth-grade curriculum guides for North Carolina public schools. You can find the exhibit’s travel schedule here.

UNC Press interviewed Rogoff about the Jewish roots in North Carolina. Here’s an excerpt from that interview:

Q: What is it about North Carolina that makes the Jewish experience and influence different here than in other parts of the country and in the south?

A: The Jewish experience parallels the larger North Carolina story of an agrarian state that has risen from poverty to Sunbelt prosperity. North Carolina has been the proverbial “vale of humility between two mountains of conceit.” Port towns were cosmopolitan places, and the frontier welcomed new peoples. Yeomen farmers, its representative citizens, disdained social hierarchy. As a religious people, North Carolinians saw Jews as People of the Book. Small towns set the character of the state. Jews were uncommonly welcome both for the commercial services they provided and for their civic spirit as citizens and neighbors.

Q: Many books on southern Jewish history choose to emphasize the antebellum and Civil War eras. Why did you choose to cover the entire span of Jewish history in North Carolina?

A: Although some nascent Jewish communities formed in North Carolina prior to the Civil War, the Jewish story, like that of the state itself, really focuses on the New South and Sunbelt. Most Jewish communities formed permanently in the postwar years as settlers arrived to service the mills and markets arising along expanding rail lines. The peddlers laid down their packs.

You can read the full interview here.

If you can’t make tonight’s book signing, Rogoff will have another signing the Sunday after next, June 27, at 2 pm at the North Carolina Museum of History. So get your tokhes out to one of these great – and free! – events to learn about a minority culture in North Carolina with a vibrant history.


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