Building Businesses, Creating Communities
Finding the doors to many professions closed, Southern Jews depended on trade for survival.
Beginning as peddlers, Jews established themselves as dry goods store owners and, later, some became industrialists. They brought commerce to the countryside, helping to transform a poor rural society into an urban, industrial South.
Along the way, these leaders in commerce became central to community life in their towns. Their stories became gathering places and training grounds for new business people: shop owners became members of civic clubs, fraternal lodges and, sometimes mayors; and following the Jewish tradition of tzedakah (charitable giving), some merchant families became leading philanthropists, building hospitals, baseball diamonds, schools and museums in the communities where they had prospered.
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