The Synagogue Bombing : 1958
It was October 12, 1958, and Atlantans awakened to news that a bombing had rocked their city. The bombing of a synagogue. Pieces of a building are all that is left of that fateful day.
Reaction to the bombing was probably not what its instigators intended. Instead of resulting in cheers and silencing the voices speaking out against racial discrimination, it ignited a wellspring of sympathy and support, and became a catalyst that brought the entire Atlanta community together. The bombing marked a turning point for integration in Atlanta.
“Can you imagine the outrage that might have been expressed by our first president today had he read in the news dispatches of the bombing of a synagogue? I think we would all share in the feeling of horror that any brigand would want to desecrate a holy place of any religion.”
-President Dwight D. Eisenhower
The Jewish Community of Atlanta dates back to 1844, barely five years after the Georgia General Assembly decided to build railroads with their terminal here in Atlanta. The Temple is the home of the city’s oldest Jewish congregation, the Hebrew Benevolent Society, established in 1860 to serve the needs of the local German-Jewish immigrants.
Operating from various rented rooms and halls, the congregation built its first permanent synagogue in 1875 in downtown Atlanta. The Temple has served as a center for Atlanta’s Jewish cultural, educational and social activities since its construction in 1931.
“My friends, here you see the end result of bigotry and intolerance, and whether we like it or not, those practicing rabble-rousing and demagoguery are the godfathers of the cross burners and the dynamiters.”
- Atlanta Mayor William Hartsfield
During the era of the Civil Rights struggle in the South, The Temple’s rabbi, Jacob Rothschild, became an outspoken supporter of equality for all of Atlanta’s citizens.
White supremacists bombed the northern side of The Temple on Peachtree Street in response to the rabbi’s support of the Civil Rights movement. Although arrests were made, no one was ever convicted of the bombing.
“… a harvest, the crop of things sown. You can not preach and encourage hate for the Negro and hope to restrict it to that field. When the wounds of hate are loosed on one people, then no one is safe.”
- Ralph McGill, Executive Editor of the Atlanta Constitution
While Rabbi Rothschild’s commitment to social justice angered some, many more were outraged at the bombing. An outpouring of support came from around the world to help reconstruct the damaged portions of The Temple.
It is in honor of this support that The Temple’s social hall is named “Friendship Hall.”
In the words of Rabbi Jacob Rothschild: “Whoever lit the fuse underestimated the power of 40 or 50 sticks of dynamite.” The Temple was not the first house of worship to be attacked in the civil right war. It would not be the last, but for many it was a wakeup call, a reminder that the target of hatred includes anyone who dares to speak out.
“This despicable act has made brighter the flame of courage and renewed in splendor the fires of determination and dedication. It has reached the hearts of men everywhere and roused the conscience of a people united in righteousness. All of us together shall rear from the rubble of devastation a city and a land in which all men are truly brothers and none shall make them afraid.”
- Rabbi Jacob Rothschild
More Information can be found at www.the-temple.org
Research and Background Provided by:
1440 Spring Street, NW
Atlanta, GA 30309
Sandra Berman, Archivist
Atlanta History Center
130 West Paces Ferry Road, N.W.
Atlanta, Georgia 30305
Contact: Hillary Hardwick, Public Relations Manager