From the Eastern Mediterranean to the Deep South: Ottoman Jewish Émigrés in 20th-Century Montgomery and Atlanta
Brown, Mimi Jessica
In 1906, Ralph Nace Cohen left the island of Rhodes in the eastern Mediterranean for the United States. After sailing across the Atlantic, Cohen made his way to Montgomery, Alabama. Cohen was the first of hundreds of Ottoman Sephardi Jews to immigrate to the southern United States in the early twentieth century. Those émigrés who followed him built their communities from the ground up in Atlanta, Georgia, and Montgomery, Alabama. While they put down deep roots in the US south, these individuals remained connected to a transnational network of Ladino-speaking Jews throughout the modern Sephardi diaspora, primarily via the Ladino press. Montgomery and Atlanta were important nodes in this network in the early twentieth century. Many Jews of German and Eastern European origin also played a role in the communal formation of Or Ve Shalom in Atlanta and Etz Ahayem in Montgomery in the congregations’ early decades, more so than elsewhere in cities around the United States with larger enclaves of Ottoman-born Jews. Finally, a cursory look at the role of southern Sephardim in the trial of Leo Frank and the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s reveals the complex ways these Sephardi Jews occupied social spaces and conducted themselves in public. Using primary sources and oral history interviews from more than five archives in English, Spanish, and Ladino, this thesis reconstructs the communal histories of Or Ve Shalom, Etz Ahayem, and their congregants and reinserts Sephardi histories into American Jewish and southern historiographies.