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Judaism in the South focus of campus discussion

April 25, 2006
By cnp
Posted in Interfaith Studies

CLARKSVILLE, ARK. (April 25, 2006) -- Southern Jewishness was the focus of an April 24 discussion of issues raised in the play "The Last Night of Ballyhoo." The story of an extended Southern Jewish family was performed by Ozarks students for two nights in April. Dr. James Moses, a professor of American History at Arkansas Tech University, drew on his research and his experience growing up Jewish in Shreveport, Louisiana in talking with students about the external as well as internal prejudices of Jews in the South. "Jews want to be avoid being seen as others," said Moses. "At the same time, they have created an otherness within their group." The play takes place in Atlanta, Georgia in December 1939, a few months after World War II has broken out in Europe. Led by matriarch Beulah "Boo" Levy, family members struggle with assimilating into their environment while maintaining their Jewish identity. Family matriarch Beulah "Boo" Levy seeks to assimilate into Southern society while maintaining her Jewish identity, pushing her daughter, Lala, to marry Peachy Weil, scion of a prominent Jewish family in Louisiana while disparaging Joe Farkas, newly hired employee of the family’s successful business. "(Beulah) doesn’t see Jewishness as a religion but as a heritage," said Ozarks freshman Grace Harnish, who played Beuklah. "For her, (Jewishness) is about keeping up appearances." Moses pointed out that many Southern Jews made shifts in their faith, moving their weekly services from Friday evenings to Sundays, and replacing traditional chanting with organ music, among other shifts in their Beulah’s dimissal of Joe, Moses said, can be seen as a prejudice among some German-descended Jews, such as Beulah and her family, toward jews of Eastern European descent. The discussion was the final event in the university sponsored Omega Series of lectures for the 2005-06 school year.