Thank you for inviting me to share with you the history of our Jewish Community in the Shoals.  Since all congregations are composed of people I will include stories of many members our congregation and hit the highlights of dates, etc. Please don’t hesitate to ask questions as we go along.  Also, I would like to call your attention to the panels along the walls.  They are our history in pictures and I think will interest you.  I designed these in connection with my book, “A History of Temple B’nai Israel”, which I wrote for our 100th anniversary.  The book is available in the Library History Room.     
Our congregation celebrated its 100th birthday last May, but when I started researching its history I found that there existed a thriving, active, influential and respected Jewish community in the Shoals area from about 1840, over fifty years before a congregation was organized or a temple built.

Early Jewish settlers in the area were true entrepreneurs, pioneers and individualists in what was essentially the U.S. Wild West in the late nineteenth century. I will comment on some of those men whose histories were available and whose lives and accomplishments are most interesting.

In the mid 1840’s brothers, Joseph and Isaac Friedman, Jewish merchants from Cincinnati established a dry goods business in Tuscumbia and later in Colbert County.  While living in Tuscumbia the brothers helped a slave named Peter Still to gain his freedom.  Peter was hired out to the Friedman brothers by his owner to do odd jobs.  The Friedmans eventually bought Still for $500 and he was allowed to hire out and keep the money he earned to purchase his freedom.  After he was freed by the Friedmans he was escorted by Isaac to Cincinnati where he was reunited with his mother and siblings and became a prominent leader in the national abolitionist movement and also established his own business.    

Deut. 23-16 says “You shall not turn over to his master a slave who seeks refuge with you from his master.  He shall live with you in any place he may choose among the settlements in your midst, wherever he pleases; you must not ill-treat him.”

We will never know whether the brothers were consciously following the biblical commandment or acting from their conscience.
Photo by Erwin Coleman