During her stay in the Hinds County Jail in June 1965, Roberta Galler first encountered the Jackson Jewish community in the form of Rabbi Perry Nussbaum. Nussbaum, who had been quietly supporting civil rights against the wishes of his congregation, came into the cell where Galler and several other Jewish women were jailed. Holding up toothbrushes, soap, and other small necessities, Galler recalls that he said, "Okay, who in here are my people?" Galler stepped forward and said, "Either all of us are your people or none of us are your people."
Galler's defiant declaration highlights both the self-righteousness and the universalist spirit in which young Jewish activists saw their civil rights activism. She did not know that Nussbaum was going out on a limb to visit civil rights workers in jail, nor could she have known that his decade of efforts addressing civil rights questions would lead to the bombing of his home and synagogue two years later. With little patience for the situation of southern Jewish communities and little desire to be identified as Jews themselves, young Jewish activists in SNCC recoiled from any sign of what they saw as Jewish ethnic particularism. Nevertheless, they had walked into a landscape where Jewishness mattered.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Your People." (Viewed on February 9, 2016) <http://jwa.org/media/your-people>.