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October 20, 1998

Shalom Y'all -- A Road Trip through Jewish Alabama

by Robert J. Bantens

Shalom Y'all, an exhibition of photographs by Bill Aron, curated by Vicki Reikes Fox and under the sponsorship of the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience, is on view in the Mobile Townhouse Gallery on the University of South Alabama campus now through October 29. The exhibition explores the presence and contributions of Alabama's Jewish communities through images that underline the charming and perhaps unexpected combination of Southernness and Jewishness. In the nineteenth century only fifteen percent of the Jews immigrating from Europe came to the Southern states, the first Jewish community of Alabama being established in Mobile, where their religious presence and contributions continue to be felt. One need only think of Mayer Mitchell, long-time trustee of the University of South Alabama and benefactor of the soon-to-be completed sports arena, the Mitchell Center, as an recent example of this.

Bill Aron, a sociologist and noted documentary photographer of contemporary Jewish life, traveled the state with Vicki Reikes Fox, curator of the show, taking photographs. Each of the forty-two images in Shalom Y'all has an accompanying text, in addition to which there are five large panels of introductory and explanatory text. The show has already been in Montgomery and is to travel to Birmingham and other cities in the state after its visit to Mobile.

The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience (MSJE), of Untica Mississippi, was founded in 1989 to document and preserve this component of the Southern experience through exhibitions, publications, and preservation of historic synagogues and sites. Shalom Y'all is the third traveling exhibition organized by the MSJE and represents an eastern expansion of focus within the South, previous attention being on Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Western Tennessee.

Shalom Y'all also has incorporated artifacts from the Mobile community for its presentation on campus. The most impressive object on view is the massive ark from the synagogue that formerly stood on Conti Street in downtown Mobile. Books, photographs of synagogues that are no longer standing, and a variety of religious and secular objects are on display.

The Mobile Townhouse Gallery is open Sundays through Thursdays from 1 to 5 p.m., and Thursday evenings from 7 to 9 p.m. The public is invited to see the exhibition.

The Harbinger, P.O. Box U-980, Mobile, AL 36688-0001