The beginnings of the contemporary Jewish community in Valdosta starts with the arrival of two Jewish confederate veterans, Abraham Ehrlich and Benjamin Kaul, in 1866 and ends with the formal establishment of the present-day congregation in 1908. It is a very warm, personal tale of real people that fleshes out the sterile charts, statistics, and sweeping generalizations found in history books. During this period, you will peek over the shoulders of members of Valdosta’s three Jewish families: Ehrlich and Engel and Marks. I want you to know some of these people’s names, who they were, and what they did. And I want to save some of their time for our time by letting them tell their own stories. It is all scaffolding for a very intriguing complex human saga, as it should be, of very real people with real names having real hopes and dreams, as well as real insecurities and fears. We’ll follow their courageous, though cautious, urge to “merge” and their “longing to belong.” We’ll enter their hearts and minds and bodies in their struggle to transform from Old World battered pariahs into respected New World citizens, from persons who once had been forced to live apart from society into persons who were accepted and became contributing parts of society, who came to be revered as members of Valdosta’s post-Civil War “upbuilders” and it’s socially prominent “new moss.” You will be alongside them, live with them, work with them, play with them, and worship with them in Valdosta during that time. It would be easy to say that this book is about being Jewish. Yes, the story revolves around these particular Jews. Yet in their extraordinary transformation into becoming “Jewish-Georgians,” you will see a more humane Georgia, a more culturally diverse Georgia, a kinder Georgia, a more receptive Georgia, a more hospitable Georgia, and a Georgia gentler than is usually supposed. To accomplish this task, I have merged the formal historian with the folklorist, and have combined the demanding techniques of the scholar’s cold, disengaged, and critical eye with the intimate and warm style of the storyteller. This is a book of the heart as well of the mind. It connects the “there” with “here’” the then with now, the far with near, and the inner with outer. I want you to experience it, not just read it.
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