Dear Friends of Lexington Odd Fellows Cemetery:
We are pleased to announce that LOFC and Temple Beth El Cemetery (TBEC) have reached an agreement whereby LOFC will assume the maintenance and preservation of TBEC. In exchange, TBEC has transferred $72,679.28 to be invested in the LOFC Endowment. Although TBEC appears to lie within the boundaries of LOFC, it is a separate legal conveyance recorded in Holmes County Chancery Deed Book 20, page 452. In 1902 J. H. and E. M Watson conveyed two acres of land, adjacent to the Odd Fellows Cemetery, to I. Flower, Isidore Hyman, Sam Herrman, Morris Lewis, Abe Herrman, Sol Auerbach, S. J. Fisher and H. A. Fisher as Trustees of the Hebrew Cemetery, and their successors in interest. It is this property that comprises TBEC. According to Phil Cohen, the first burial in TBEC was Carrie Sontheimer Rosenthal in 1904. Prior to this time, members of the Jewish faith had been buried in Odd Fellows Cemetery.
In his book, A House of David in the Land of Jesus,1 Robert Lewis Berman writes that Carrie was one of six daughters of Jacob Sontheimer and Mary Auerbach. Although there were numerous Jewish peddlers who traveled the area selling their wares, it was Jacob Sontheimer, who was Lexington’s first permanent Jewish resident. He was also Berman’s great, great grandfather. Born in Germany in 1819, he and his family immigrated to the States when he was a young man. Originally settling in New Orleans, the family later moved north to Natchez. Like many Jewish immigrant men, Sontheimer began his career as a peddler, traveling the Mississippi territory recently opened by the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. In the mid 1850's Sontheimer opened the first store built of brick on the northeast corner of the square in the newly incorporated town of Lexington. After years of operation, the Sontheimer mercanile store became one of the largest retail businesses in the state.
Other Jewish families followed Sontheimer to Holmes County, many of whom became merchants and opened stores on the Lexington square and later were buried in TBEC. Family names in addition to Sontheimer are: Flowers, Schur, Cohen, Kaplan, Stern, Hyman, Herrman, Lewis, Paris, Berman, Rosenthal, Flower, Flink, Applebaum, Fisher and Jacobson. By the 1930’s, the Jewish community in Lexington at its pinnacle totaled 89. Most were merchants, but there were also food brokers, bankers, wholesale grocers, retail grocers, tailors, salesmen, farmers and a plantation owner, as well as a lawyer, insurance agent, cattle trader, oil man, theater owner, scrap metal dealer, manufacturer, baker and butcher. As Parham Williams once wrote, “I have often thought that Lexington’s Jewish community lifted that little town from the commonplace to an enviable level of culture and business entrepreneurship.
As a child I often attended temple on Sunday afternoon with my best friend Anne Flowers. In contrast to the Anglican service at St. Mary’s, the service in Hebrew seemed exotic to my young and impressionable mind. At the end of the service Rabbi Nussbaum would invite the children to come down to the front of the temple to kiss the rabbi. On one such occasion Anne turned to me and whispered in my ear, “I am not going to kiss the rabbi.” Always eager to please those in authority, I turned to Anne and said, “Don’t worry, Anne. I will kiss the rabbi for you.” So, I joined the queue and kissed Rabbi Nussbaum on his cheek. When I returned to my seat, Anne exclaimed, “I can’t believe you did that!”
Following the service there would be a reception for the congregation in a small room off the sanctuary. I remember it vividly as if it were yesterday. Dimly lit with candlelight and the fading sunlight streaming in through the windows only added to the mystical quality of the day. The table was set with perfectly starched and pressed linens and filled with a sumptuous array of delicious tea sandwiches, cakes and sweets. It was the first time I ate a tongue sandwich.
Sadly, we have come full circle since the mid 1850’s when Jacob Sontheimer settled in Holmes County as its first Jewish resident. Many of Lexington’s Jewish families did not return after World War II, moving to other places. Temple Beth El no longer holds services nor celebrates its High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah (the celebration that marks the start of the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the day of atonement and repentance). Cohen’s Department Store -- the last of the Jewish merchants on the square -- closed April 2017. However, it is the descendants of those early families who have entrusted the stewardship of TBEC to LOFC and its Board. Their names have been added to the Donor page on the LOFC website and are marked with an asterisk. If you would like to know who they are and thank them,
Since posting the photographs of the ten monuments/headstones that are designated for repair in Section 12 -- the old section of the cemetery -- we continue to receive contributions toward those repairs. Virginia Cook has donated toward the repair of the marker of Anzo Gulledge. In addition, Nancy Williams Murrill and Parham Williams have committed to pay for the cost to repair the tombstone of John S. Rule. Parham shared the following amusing, albeit cautionary tale about Rule and his passion for dancing:
I was intrigued to see the tombstone of John S. Rule among those ancient ones that the Endowment plans to restore. Rule was the youngest child of Thomas and Christeana Rule of Ebenezer, and the brother of Cynthia Rule Nance, my great, great grandmother. In 1859, at the age of 29, he was elected Circuit Clerk of Holmes County. Elated over his victory he rushed to propose to the love of his life, a beautiful young lady from the Bowling Green community. A few days after Christmas, 1859, a pre-wedding soiree, featuring a small dance band and copious quantities of the finest Holmes County corn whiskey, was held in honor of the forthcoming nuptials. John Rule loved to dance, and did so continuously the whole evening, tripping the light fantastic with each of the many ladies present. Toward midnight, exhausted and dripping with perspiration, Rule went out onto the front gallery, removed his coat, and attempted to cool off. The night was bitterly cold and, predictably, the next day he was in bed with a fever and all of the symptoms of the flu. His condition rapidly deteriorated into pneumonia. Though the medical resources of Lexington were summoned to his bedside, the case was hopeless. Sadly, John Rule died a few days later, clasped in the arms of the beautiful lady who would never be his bride.
Keen to know the name of the “beautiful young lady from Bowling Green” betrothed to John Rule, Parham requests that if anyone in the LOFC community might remember her name, please let us know.
In addition to the generous contributions already received, we are pleased to report that Johnny Davidson of the Davidson Monument Company in Kosciusko, Forest and DeKalb has begun the repair of the headstones/monuments. In an unexpected gesture of goodwill and generosity, Davidson made the repairs free of charge as a contribution to LOFC. I know that the entire LOFC community joins me in thanking the Davidson Monument Company for its contribution to the preservation of our historic cemetery. In light of this contribution of labor and services, LOFC is able to undertake further repairs and resets of monuments, which shortly will be added to the page below on our website. Please check back to see if a monument or headstone belonging to your family is scheduled for repair, and if so, consider funding its repair.
If you would like to make a contribution to LOFC you may send a check made payable to LOFC, Post Office Box 1213, Lexington, MS 39095 or donate on line by clicking below:
In light of the new alliance of LOFC and TBEC, it propitious that Rosh Hashanah, the first of the Jewish High Holy days, began yesterday September 18 and concludes on sundown Sunday, September 20. As our Jewish friends celebrate the beginning of the new year, we wish them good health and happiness.
Thank you for your past and continued support of LOFC. Stay safe and be well.
Amanda Povall Tailyour, Editor
1 Grateful thanks to Bob Berman for allowing me to “plagiarize” his book.