3.1 Vicksburg, Mississippi
Congregation Anshe Chesed, Cherry Street
Architect unknown, 1870
International Post Card Co., New York, publisher; no date; also on back: “Made in Germany”
Congregation Anshe Chesed (Men of Loving Kindness) in Vicksburg, the first purpose-built synagogue in Mississippi, originally featured Gothic details. The synagogue is pictured here in its later state, after a remodeling in 1893. The building’s most striking elements were two towers, intentionally unequal in height and fenestration, their lower corners marked with heavy quoins and the upper parts with applied classical pilasters. An entrance was placed in the base of both towers, and the center facade was distinguished by a high wide arch just beneath the gable, with two tiers of windows below. Rows of large, round–headed windows also punctuated the building’s sides.
According to the Vicksburg Herald, “The interior of the church presents a beautiful appearance and is not surpassed, if equaled, by any church in the city in point of workmanship. The structure cost about twenty-five thousand dollars and is arranged something similarly to the Presbyterian church, on Walnut street. The front part of the building is not very prepossessing, in consequence of its clumsiness; but we have been Informed that a more chaste and elegant appearance will be given it in the course of time.”1
The dedication of the synagogue in 1870 was an impressive event. The congregation marched from the B’nai B’rith hall to the new temple, escorted by police and a New Orleans brass band. The dedication was attended by Christian clergy, the mayor, the governor, and other public officials, and the featured speaker was Rabbi Max Lillienthal of Cincinnati. After the ceremonies, according to the newspaper, refreshments were “partaken of on board of the steamer Pargoud …a grand ball terminated the affair, which came off at the Prentiss House. There were a great many in attendance, and all appeared as happy as they could be. Doubtless, yesterday will be a day ever kept afresh in the memory of the Israelites of our city. They now have a place of worship of handsome structure, and one of the most learned ministers in the South, which they should feel proud of, as they doubtless do.”2
Jews had settled in Vicksburg well before the Civil War, and, in 1841, they organized as the “Hebrew Benevolent Congregation of the Men of Mercy.” By 1862, the congregation, now 50 families strong, was formally incorporated as Anshe Chesed. The synagogue was completed in 1870. Three years later the congregation adopted Reform Judaism and became a charter member of the new Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC). A local Orthodox congregation, Ahavas Achim (Brotherly Love), later merged with Reform Anshe Chesed.
Anshe Chesed was demolished in the 1960s when the congregation moved out of downtown and built a smaller temple near the National Military Park. The original ark is preserved by the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience.
1 “Dedication of the Jewish Temple,” Vicksburg Weekly Herald, May 28, 1870.