Marks, Rosenthal, Meyer, THREEFOOT -- names of Meridian you already know.
If those names mean anything to you... you live in Meridian, Mississippi -- but do you know the history behind those names? Many of you may not know, but we have some jewish heritage in my family. My husband's dad's side of the family is rich in jewish history that I am always wanting to learn more about. Our beloved Grandma & Grandpa (who undoubtedly give the BEST hugs) currently live in a Jewish Community Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It's been so amazing to learn how much jewish heritage is here in our town of Meridian, Mississippi.
According to Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith, “Meridian was born of the railroads. But it was the great, cultured Jewish mercantile families, mostly immigrants from Germany, who raised it up and breathed life into it.” Jews were actively involved in the creation and development of Meridian.
So much of Meridian's beautiful Downtown architecture can be attributed to the Jewish community members that established themselves by creating many successful stores along Front Street by 1880. One of the most established names of these jewish merchants was Israel A. Marks, a German born immigrant who began his career as a peddler. He formed a business selling wholesale dry goods and combined with a gentleman named Lichtenstein taking up most of Front Street with their combined effort known as Lichtenstein and Company. After Lichtenstein departed in 1887 (or maybe Marks just got tired of being the 'and company') Marks joined forces with his half brothers and began a new operation -- Marks, Rothenberg and Company which went on to become one of the largest wholesale grocery and dry goods business in the south.
Israel Marks and his brothers were a key component to a park that is known nationwide -- Highland Park. After donating much of the land for Highland Park to be established, Marks continued to serve by taking on the role of President of the park commission from the time it was established until his death in 1914. A statue of Marks still sits in Highland Park today.
Marks and his brother can not only be thanks for Highland Park, but also the Grand Opera House that they constructed next to their store. The Grand Opera House was (and is) not only a sight to see, it attracted performers from all over the United States to this railroad town.
There are SO many other Jewish community members that have really left their mark in this town. I encourage you to visit https://www.isjl.org/mississippi-meridian-encyclopedia.html and read more about this rich culture that truly made Meridian what it is today.
It’s impossible to separate the story of Meridian’s Jews from the story of the city itself. Jews have been closely involved in Meridian’s development since its founding. The Jewish role in Meridian’s history is etched in the city’s downtown buildings where the names of the great Jewish leaders who helped build the city are still visible. While the Jewish community remains historically significant, it has declined in recent years. Ohel Jacob closed in the early 1990s, and Beth Israel no longer has a full-time rabbi. In the early twenty-first century, fewer than 40 Jews remained in Meridian, most of whom were elderly.
Go out and see this statue at Highland Park. It's been sitting with no attention for too long. #KeepTheirStoriesAlive