Gemiluth Chessed (Port Gibson, Mississippi)
Gemiluth Chessed Synagogue seen from Church Street
|Location||706 Church St, Port Gibson, Mississippi|
|Country||United States of America|
|Architectural style||Moorish Revival, Byzantine Revival, Romanesque Revival|
Gemiluth Chessed (Acts of Loving Kindness) is a Moorish Revival synagogue in Port Gibson, Mississippi. It is the oldest surviving synagogue in the state and the only building of this architectural style. It was built in 1892 by a community of Jewish immigrants from German states and Alsace-Lorraine. Due to declining population, the congregation closed in 1986.
The Port Gibson Jewish community was established in the 1840s by Ashkenazi immigrants from the German states and Alsace-Lorraine. Working first as peddlers, they founded the Port Gibson Jewish cemetery in 1870 and built the synagogue in 1892 on Church Street. It is the oldest surviving synagogue in the state and the only building of this architectural style. There were about 50-60 Jewish families during the peak of population at the beginning of the twentieth century. By then most of the men worked as merchants and cotton brokers.
With the decline of the Mississippi River towns in the later twentieth century, the Jewish community dwindled as the next generations moved to larger cities. The congregation closed in 1986. They donated their Torah and artifacts to the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience in Utica, Mississippi. A non-Jewish couple bought the synagogue to ensure its preservation, when it was threatened with demolition for other development.
The exterior features the unusual combination of a Moorish-style keyhole doorway surmounted by a Russian-style dome. The windows in the turret supporting the dome are also in Moorish keyhole style. The windows on the brick main floor of the building appear from the exterior as simple arched windows.
From the interior, the intentions of the congregation to build a synagogue in the fashionable Moorish Revival style are clear: the colored glass takes the form of Moorish keyhole windows set into arched, masonry window openings, a thrifty solution that gives the effect of Moorish windows without the expense of fancy brickwork. The handsome horseshoe arch of the niche for the aron kodesh is especially graceful.
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- Carol Levy Monahan, "Port Gibson, Mississippi", Judeo-Alsatians in the Deep South, exhibit at the Museum for Southern Jewish Life, hosted at Judaisme d'Alsace et de Lorraine, (other pages in French), accessed 1 September 2011
- Peter Applebome, "Small-Town South Clings to Jewish History", New York Times, 29 September 1991,
- "Congregation Gemiluth Chassed", Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities, Institute for Southern Jewish Life, accessed 1 September 2011
- And I Shall Dwell Among Them; Historic Synagogues of the World, Photographs by Neil Folberg, Preface by Arthur Hertzberg, Essay by Yom Tov Assis, Aperture Books, pp 82-3