‘Shalom Y’all, The History of Jews of the South’
Beri Schwitzer

Legacy Midtown Park will host weekly JCC program Feb. 8–March 15

By Deb Silverthorn

“Shalom Y’all, The History of the Jews of the South,” a program of the Aaron Family JCC, comes to The Legacy Midtown Park beginning at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 8, through March 15. The weekly program is open to the public.

“Jews have played significant roles throughout time, and we’ll go back in time several hundred years of how we got here. The Jews of the South have incredible stories to tell and many of our own community have certainly helped write that history,” said Beri Kaplan Schwitzer, director of adult education and engagement at Temple Emanu-El, who created the curriculum and will lead the programs.

“I love the J, I love my place at Temple and, in celebrating our 150 years, I am learning so much about not just Temple’s history but how it overlaps with Dallas’ history,” she said.

The class explores the history of the Southern Jewish people through their origin stories and immigration, the impact of the Civil War and influential Jewish Southerners, assimilation and civil rights.

“I love creating new outlets of Jewish history, everything you never learned as a child. I’ve taught about Jewish pirates and Jewish thugs who knew Torah and much more. It’s a lot of fun and we’re a really interesting people — there’s so much more to learn about our past,” said Schwitzer.

The “Shalom Y’all” class came about after decades of Schwitzer’s own research of her and her husband Joel’s families. After Joel’s grandmother passed away, Schwitzer found a photo album with little identification for those pictured. More than 20 years later, the educator by profession and genealogist by hobby has accounted for everyone.

“I grew up in southern Nevada where the Jewish community really started in the 1950s,” said Schwitzer. “But my husband’s family, we traced back to the 1700s in Louisiana — the congregations they were a part of, the cemeteries in which they are buried. I wanted to know, who were these people?”

The class, modified from one Schwitzer previously taught as part of the J’s Adult Jewish Learning program, is one of many the J provides at The Legacy Midtown Park. The proximity of the organizations brings the community together.

“Beri brings to life the history of those who built the Jewish South and those of so many in our community who built it up,” said Rachelle Weiss Crane, the J’s director of Israel engagement and Jewish living.

“We are honored to have her expertise and her enthusiasm provide a truly engaging program. We are thrilled to share this experience through Temple Emanu-El and to once again bring such a great opportunity to the community and have it be at The Legacy Midtown Park,” said Weiss Crane.

“Shalom Y’all” will feature clips from the movie by the same title, by filmmaker Brian Bain, a third-generation Jew from New Orleans who made a 4,200-mile road trip though the American South. The Schwitzers, in researching their own family history, learned that people they’d known for years were relatives.

“Sitting in services at Anshai, listening to the a cappella Kol Rina choir, we never knew we were watching family. It turned out Bruce Katz is a fourth cousin. Jewish geography is real. My goal is always to bring our history to life, to share something new, to walk through the path those before us set,” said Schwitzer.

For more information, or to register, visit jccdallas.org/event/shalom-yall. Course fees are $100 for JCC members, $125 for nonmembers and no charge for residents of The Legacy.

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