On Sunday, October 12, 1958, shortly after 3:30 a.m., 50 sticks of dynamite tore through the north entrance of Hebrew Benevolent Congregation, Atlanta’s oldest synagogue. No one was hurt, but the building on Peachtree Street was heavily damaged. The Temple was one of several Southern synagogues bombed during 1958, four years after Brown v. Board of Education and one year after Martin Luther King Jr. established the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta. Its leader, Rabbi Jacob M. Rothschild, had been an outspoken supporter of racial desegregation and M.L.K., insisting that Jews should work for civil rights.
“It’s a story of an unsung human rights leader who applied the tenets of his faith to encourage a reticent congregation to stand up against segregation,” says Jimmy Maize, writer and director of a new play based on the events, The Temple Bombing, which makes its debut at the Alliance Theatre on February 22. “I was drawn to an era when our country was struggling with how to reconcile their ethics, their religion, and their mores with their laws.”
The play is based on Melissa Fay Greene’s 1996 book of the same name and also draws on first-person accounts from Janice Rothschild Blumberg, widow of Rabbi Rothschild. The curtain will go up as the congregation, founded in 1867, marks its 150th anniversary.
After the explosion, support for the Jewish community came from throughout the city. The following day, as investigators inspected the rubble, Mayor William B. Hartsfield stood outside and condemned the bombers and those who shared their ideology. “Whether you like it or not,” he said, “those who practice rabble-rousing and demagoguery are the godfathers of the cross burners and the dynamiters who sneak about in the dark and give a bad name to the South. It is high time the decent people of the South rise and take charge.”
The subject of Rabbi Rothschild’s sermon the Friday after the bombing: “And None Shall Make Them Afraid.”
This article originally appeared in our February 2017 issue.