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Murphy, North Carolina
January 11, 2006
From journal I Could Be Your Tour Guide
March 15, 2005
Tours are offered at the synagogue daily 10 to noon and 2 to 4pm. There is usually a video to watch before take a tour, but it wasn’t working when we were there. What amazed me most about the building was the stained-glass windows, I never expected to see stained glass in a synagogue. They are memorial windows donated in memory of family members.
This is still a vital community and there are descendants of some of the original 42 people who arrived here in 1733. Thirty-eight were Crypto-Jews from Portugal. who were sometimes known as Conversos, Jews who had basically gone underground and appeared to be practicing Christians. In order to preserve their religion, they escaped to London. Four Germans joined them. James Ogelthorpe's original plan didn’t have Jewish settlers in mind, but when Dr. Nunez helped save some of the victims of the epidemic that was decimating the settlers, they were welcomed with open arms. Some of the original 42 found the Spanish Catholics too close for comfort and moved farther north but the remainder became important members of the Savannah community. Cocked Hat Sheftel was prominent in the Revolutionary War period.
This building was constructed in 1876. There was a fire that destroyed the sanctuary in 1927, but much of the rest of the building is original. The same man who did the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist painted the gilt on the pillars on.
Today the synagogue is of the reform persuasion, and there are two other synagogues in the area one orthodox and one conservative. As beautiful as the building is, the reason to come for a visit is the museum. It is small but beautifully designed. It contains two historic torahs, one of them dating from the Middle Ages. It was given to the congregation in 1737 by the congregation in London who sponsored them. They also have a 16th-century megillah containing the book of Esther. The original corner stone from the building is now in the museum.
Some interesting facts surfaced in the museum; for instance, Lena Guthman Fox was the basis for her grandson’s play, "Driving Miss Daisy". There is also a wall of Presidential letters.
There is a small store when you leave, and you can pick up an "Original Hard Lox’s" T-shirt.
From journal Stately Savannah