The congregation became a focal point in the 1961 Freedom Rides, as a group of blacks and whites tested a 1960 Supreme Court ruling that outlawed segregation in interstate public transportation facilities. The first ride left from Washington on May 5, 1961. The ride was uneventful until arriving in Rockville, S.C., where the riders were beaten by a mob.
Violence continued in Anniston on May 14, and the bus was firebombed a few miles outside the city. More violence followed in Birmingham and Montgomery.
A call went out for more Freedom Riders to flood the South. Of the white volunteers, it is estimated that as many as half were Jewish; some were Holocaust survivors.
A deal was struck that allowed the Freedom Riders safe passage to Jackson, where they would be arrested. Over 350 Freedom Riders received six-month “breach of peace” sentences, with many going to Parchman prison.
Rabbi Perry Nussbaum of Beth Israel visited the Freedom Riders in Parchman every week, often passing along messages to worried relatives across the country.
Beth Israel will hold a program and reception on May 22 at 1:30 p.m., “Return of the Freedom Riders: Welcoming our Role Models to the Community.”
An interfaith memorial service will be held on May 23 at 10 a.m. at Tougaloo College.
An All People’s Program will honor the Freedom Riders on May 24 at 1:30 p.m. at the Trailways Bus Station site.
On May 27, the congregation will welcome Rabbi Philip Posner, who was a Freedom Rider as a rabbinic student, and who served 39 days in Parchman. He will speak at the 6:15 p.m. Shabbat service, giving recollections of Rabbi Nussbaum. Other Freedom Riders will also be in attendance.
Additional information is available online at ms50thfreedomridersreunion.org.
The Beth Israel anniversary celebration will conclude the weekend of Sept. 15 with a Homecoming Reunion for all past congregants, rabbis, family and friends.
On Sept. 16, events will include a cemetery service, art exhibit, Shabbat dinner and services honoring past rabbis. Rabbi Dan Freelander, vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism, will be the guest speaker.
On Sept. 17, there will be Shabbat services and lunch at the Henry S. Jacobs Camp. That evening, “Beth Israel Ballyhoo” at the Museum of Art will feature a performance by Joshua Nelson, “the king of kosher Gospel,” with the Mississippi Mass Choir and the congregation’s Shirim Choir.
A 150th anniversary golf tournament will be held on Sept. 18 at Deerfield Golf Course at 9 a.m.