Bert Rosenbush Jr. enjoys a bittersweet form of celebrity in his hometown of Demopolis, Ala.: He’s the last living Jew there.
It’s a form of prominence he shares with Phil Cohen of Lexington, Miss. In Natchez, Miss., Jerold Krause is one of just a dozen Jews left. And Selma, Ala., a town that was central to the civil rights movement, is down to its last dozen, too.
It’s a paradox, in a way. Because, as Stuart Rockoff, director of the history department of the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Life, in Jackson, Miss., observed, “More Jews live in the South today than ever before.” But today those Jews are almost all living in the region’s cities. “Smaller communities,” Rockoff said, “have really undergone a significant decline.”
From the early 19th century, Jews built synagogues alongside the cotton fields and plantation houses of the Deep South. Today, the vibrant communities they built are dwindling down to their final members.