Museum tells story of Jews from North Carolina

From the News Observer

The N.C. Museum of History's exhibit of Jewish life in North Carolina is an immigrant tale with a happy ending: European families settle in the South, work hard, rear children, fight for educational opportunities and thrive.

While not a comprehensive history, the exhibit, "Down Home: Jewish Life in North Carolina," is the first of its kind, a celebration of a minority culture coming of age alongside the state's overwhelming Protestant majority.

Although Jews settled across the South, and other Southern states, notably South Carolina and Georgia, have synagogues dating back far earlier, North Carolina's Jewish community is finally getting its due. A documentary on the state's Jews aired last week on public television, and a school curriculum has now been developed.

In three rooms on the first floor of the museum, the exhibit conveys the essentials of Jewish life, vignette-style, with life-sized models of a Jewish peddler, a Jewish five- and-dime, a Jewish kitchen.

The history on display here begins in the late 1800s, when East European Jews were lured South by the owner of a Baltimore dry goods warehouse who sent his agents to the docks to meet immigrant Jews and offer them work peddling his wares in emerging manufacturing towns in the South.

Many of those peddlers eventually made a home in North Carolina, trading their wagons for stores. Some started chains such as Family Dollar and Pic 'n Pay Shoes. A few, such as Cones of Greensboro or the Blumenthals of Charlotte, built factories and assembly plants for denim, radiators, rubber parts and household chemicals.

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