Contagious solidarity

The coronavirus COVID-19 is seriously contagious–biologically, psychologically and economically. For example, Lufthansa and the Frankfurt Airport have implemented hiring freezes and other cost-cutting measures due to a decline in air traffic.

Yesterday, I mustered some contagious solidarity with the most vulnerable–refugees, caregivers and to those who have been invaded by the virus. Thankfully, hope, generosity and courage also are contagious.

Jackson, Tennessee once had a sizable Jewish population. Dr. Pam Dennis, a former a college librarian in Jackson (now at Gardner-Webb) was curious why the names of many of Jackson’s Jewish families from the late 19th and early 20th centuries were missing from headstones in the Jewish section of the cemetery adjacent to the Lambuth campus.

At a synagogue homecoming in neighboring Brownsville, Pam learned it involved the 1878 yellow fever epidemic that rocked towns along the Mississippi River. A rumor spread among the Jewish communities in St. Louis and Memphis that Jackson was a relatively safe refuge from the epidemic. This led to an influx of Jewish families to west Tennessee.

Late in life as these people prepared for death, many of them returned to their places of origin where they (in biblical language) were “gathered to their people.” Epidemics continue to impact our history.

2 thoughts on “Contagious solidarity”

  1. We had wonderful Jewish families you speak of in Brownsville, that you speak of, and I had no idea that was why. They were an integral part of our community and beloved. Some of the youth even attended our MYF on Sunday nights with their Methodist friends. They, sadly, have dwindled in numbers considerably and are few in number there now. We also have a beautiful Temple there.
    Thanks for the info.

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    1. Thank you, Sue. I appreciate your reflections about your memories of the Jewish families in Brownsville. As I thought about the coronavirus yesterday, my mind wandered to the yellow fever epidemic. One of the nice things about retirement is my mind can wander farther without getting roped back in. 🙂

      I had never seen the old photos (at one of the links) that depict some of downtown Jackson’s Jewish businesses. Some of those photos pre-date the 1878 epidemic, so the “rumors” of good health in Jackson/Brownsville may have come from some of the Jewish people who were already there. Pam is a thorough researcher and she may have tracked down the origin of the earliest Jewish Jacksonians. I only had one conversation with her about it shortly after she went to the event at the Brownsville synagogue. She was excited about finding that information from some descendants of long-time Brownsville Jewish residents. Pam and the other library staff were justly proud of the room that was dedicated to Jewish historical items housed at the library.

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