B'Nai Israel added to National registry


Hattiesburg’s Jewish synagogue, B’Nai Israel Synagogue, is one of four Mississippi locations to be named to the National Register of Historic Places.

Brian Rifken, congregation president said they received word on Monday of the designation.

Rifken said the process began in June with filling out applications, taking photos and measurements and submitting them to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. On the recommendation of the Mississippi National Register Review Board, the United States Department of the Interior approved the additions.

A dedication to install the National Registry plaque will be at 4 p.m. Thursday, March 1.

The other locations included the Myrtle Hall Branch Library for Negroes, Coahoma County and the Hattie Casey Elementary School, and Pearl Spann Elementary School, both in Hinds County.

Built in 1946, B'nai Israel Synagogue is located at the corner of Mamie Street and 12th Avenue South in Hattiesburg. Rifken said the congregation, which is more than 100 years old, is trying to preserve its history in the Hub City.

“We have so much history, we want to preserve,” said Rifken. “We hope this will give us some notoriety.”

The temple congregation is in the middle of a Capital Fundraising Campaign to raise $60,000 to repair and update the 70-year-old synagogue. According to Riflen, projects include roof repair, kitchen remodeling and social hall updating.

“We have so much history, we want to preserve,” said Rifken.

Jewish immigrants first began arriving in Forrest County in the 1890s and first worshipped in the home of early Jewish settler Maurice Dreyfus. In 1900 the congregation occupied the top floor of the Odd Fellows Building in downtown. The congregation officially organized in 1915. It has been used continuously since construction by Congregation B’nai Israel.

The National Register of Historic Places was established by Congress in 1966 to help identify and protect historically significant properties. National Register properties enrich our understanding of local, state, and national history by representing significant events and developments, the contributions of notable people, and important types of buildings and architectural styles. National Register listing can also help preserve these important properties through tax benefits, grant assistance, and protection from demolition or development.

National Register listing does not restrict a private owner's use of the property, unless development of the property involves federal funding, federal rehabilitation tax credits, or participation in some other federal program. There are no requirements for public accessibility, and information about sensitive sites can be restricted from the public.

The Department of Archives and History is the official State Historic Preservation Office in Mississippi and handles all requests for National Register information and assistance. Congress established the National Register of Historic Places in 1966 as a list of federally recognized properties especially worthy of protection and preservation. Mississippi has more than 1,200 National Register properties, including archaeological sites, battlefields, bridges, buildings, cemeteries, forts, houses, and historic districts. For more information call 601-576-6940 or visit www.mdah.ms.gov.