The Bomb That Healed Atlanta

ATLANTA (AP) — The bombing of a prominent Atlanta synagogue in 1958 claimed no lives, but the community outrage that it prompted helped galvanize the city’s nervous Jewish community to embrace the civil rights movement.

Members of The Temple gathered Sunday for the blast’s 50th anniversary, recalling its terrifying aftermath and the way it changed their congregation’s mission to promote racial equality.

The Reform congregation, housed in a handsome cluster of buildings on one of Atlanta‘s busiest streets, had for years discouraged conflicts with Atlanta‘s dominant Christian community. But the synagogue’s message changed when it hired Rabbi Jacob Rothschild to lead the congregation in 1946.

Sermons encouraging racial equality soon became an annual tradition on Jewish holidays, and the rabbi slowly pushed his congregants to work for integration.

"We were so naive at the time," said Jill Shapiro Thornton, a Temple member and a ninth-grade student at the time of the bombing.

"It is high time the decent people of the South rise and take charge."

Rothschild, meanwhile, continued to urge his flock to embrace racial equality. Some 20 percent of the event’s donors were Jewish, Rafshoon said.

"The rabbi had pushed the congregation to take a stand, to support the civil rights movement. Some said it cemented the Jewish community’s role in Atlanta.

That helps explain the surprising name she coined for the blast that shook Atlanta: "The bomb that healed."

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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