Kennesaw State University will host a lecture series on the history of Jews in the South. Historian Stuart Rockoff will present the series, “Bagels and Grits: A History of Jews in the South” for free April 24 at 6 p.m. in the KSU Social Sciences Building room 1019.
The series is co-sponsored by the KSU College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Department of Museums, Archives and Rare Books.
Series creator Norman Radow is the past chair of the KSU Foundation and president and CEO of RADOC, an Atlanta-based real estate development company. Radow is launching the series in commemoration of his parents’ contribution to culture and education.
Radow is vice president of the Southern Jewish Historical Society and former director of the history department at the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life in Jackson, Miss.
“We are so pleased that Norman Radow has created this lecture series in honor of his parents,” said Catherine Lewis, history professor at KSU and executive director of Museums, Archives and Rare Books. “He has given so much to KSU, and we believe the Paul and Beverly Radow Lecture Series on Jewish Life supports KSU’s mission and commitment to diversity.”
Radow and his parents are all Jewish, he said. His goal with the inaugural lecture to provoke discussion within the Jewish community and among non-Jews.
He also wants to get KSU on the map and bring an audience who may not otherwise visit campus. Radow plans to stimulate the 800 Jewish students at Kennesaw and appeal to metro Atlanta Jews, he said.
Originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., Radow has noticed that Jews in the South are both similar and different from those in the North.
“It’s a wonderful combination of Southern culture and Jewish tradition,” Radow said.
Rockoff, the keynote speaker, will touch on the earliest history of Jews in Savannah, Ga., in 1733. He’s studied the ways Jews have adapted to the culture of the South in terms of religious identity. His research comes from testimonies, archives and census documents. Rockoff has lived in Jackson, Miss., since 2002, classifying him as a Southern Jew for more than a decade.
“I could share my own stories, but I don’t really do that,” Rockoff said. “There are some elements that mirror my family’s story, though.”
A curiosity about his own family history inspired Rockoff to write a paper about his great-grandparents’ immigration to America and their settlement in Houston, Texas, which brought recognition of the differences among Jews in the North and South, he said.
“There’s a distinctive Southern way. They’ve adapted to that culture, and are quicker to alter their religious practices to be more like their non-Jew neighbors,” he said. “There are commonalities among all Jews, but those in the South adapt.”
Rockoff aims to challenge stereotypes through his speeches.