A Jewish father with his children in Charleston, circa 1890s. (Photo courtesy of B'nai Jacob Synagogue, Charleston) Click the above photo to view a section of the film.
Righteous Remnant: Jewish Survival in Appalachia
A Public Broadcasting documentary film produced by Professor Maryanne Reed West Virginia University
Most of the eastern European Jewish immigrants who entered the United States during the late nineteenthand early twentieth centuries settled into the burgeoning urban centers in the East and Midwest. Yet other Jewish Americans chose alternative living arrangements for themselves and their families. Some Jews, hearing about the opportunities in the "black diamond" mining and timbering industries, migrated across the Alleghenies into West Virginia.
David Scott, Jewish pack peddlar in Charleston, circa 1900. (Photo courtesy of Isadore M. Scott)
Righteous Remnant, a documentary film produced by Maryanne Reed, examines the history and present-day concerns of the small Jewishcommunity in Beckley, West Virginia. The story of the Jewish citizens in Beckley is somewhat representative of the the narratives of other small Jewish commmunities in the southern part of the state. When the West Virginia coal industry was booming, Jewish people came to the area and established businesses that supported the coal-based economy. When the coal industry suffered decline in the late 1950s and '60s, many Jewishfamilies, along with their Gentile neighbors, left the state for economic opportunities in other partsof the country. Typically, young adult Jews did not return, in part for economic reasons, but also becauseof the cultural challenges they encountered as a matter of course in small Appalachian communities. For example, Conservative Jews found it difficult to purchase Kosher foods, find a Jewish member of the opposite sex,or obtain a suitable Jewish education for their children.
West Virginia Jews migrated to large cities like Charleston and Cincinnati, Ohio. Consquently, the Jewish population in the southern rural eastern counties declined dramatically after 1960. The film producer's great grandfather, Simon Fox, and his family were at one time the onlyJewish family living in the small town of Davis in Tucker County. With no synagogue in the area, The Fox family attended a local church to experiencea sense of religious community. The family never converted to Christianity, but they went to churchin order to worship God in a corporate setting. Simon Fox and his family eventually left Davis because he wanted to find Jewish husbands for his daughters. The family settled in Akron,Ohio, where there was a significant Jewish population.
Righeous Remnant was funded by a West Virginia University SenateResearch grant and received additional generous support from the Lucius Littaeur Foundation, the West Virginia Humanities Council, and the Southern Jewish Historical Society.