Temple B’nai Israel of Natchez, the home of the oldest Jewish congregation in Mississippi, has received a $100,000 donation to spearhead a campaign to preserve the building after the dwindling Jewish community dies out.
Jerry Krouse, a Natchez businessman and B’nai Israel member, has committed to the $100,000 gift to help turn the building into a conference and cultural center, the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life announced Tuesday, Dec. 6.
The institute is coordinating the $3 million campaign for the building and will continue to operate a museum of Natchez’s rich Jewish history in part of the space.
The congregation dates to 1843, and the current building was constructed in 1905.
The fundraising campaign aims to pay for immediate maintenance needs to preserve the building and to plan for long-term care and use. The building will function as an accessible cultural and meeting facility with an elevator, a 350-seat sanctuary, museum exhibits, and special programming dedicated to the legacy of the Natchez Jewish community.
“We are so grateful to Jerry Krouse for his incredible gift,” ISJL President Macy Hart said. “The Natchez synagogue is a building and a story worthy of preserving and sharing with both Natchez residents and visitors. Raising these funds will be a challenge, but with lead donors like Jerry stepping forward, we know we can meet this challenge head-on.”
Natchez, once a key city in the cotton trade along the Mississippi River, now relies on tourism, with nearly three-quarters of a million visitors a year to its antebellum homes, landmarks, museums, cemetery and casino.
B’nai Israel can meet the demand for a conference facility in a historic venue. It served such a purpose as the host site of the annual Southern Jewish Historical Society conference in early November, when the sanctuary was full for a Friday night service for the first time in decades.