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 home >> Civil Rights History Project >> Survey of Collections and Repositories >> Collections >> Collection Record

The Civil Rights History Project: Survey of Collections and Repositories

Ben-Ami (Rabbi David Z.) papers

Repository: University of Southern Mississippi. McCain Library and Archives

Collection Description (Extant): The contents of Rabbi David Z. Ben-Ami Papers concern his rabbinate duties in Hattiesburg, Mississippi were he also worked as a part-time Sociology instructor at the University of Southern Mississippi. A part of these materials are photographs, some of the contents relate to his civil rights activities in Mississippi, where he knew, worked with, or corresponded with, such prominent civil rights activists as Charles Evers, Dick Gregory, Drew Pearson, Reverend Bob Beech, Rabbi Arthur J. Lelyveld, Reverend John E. Cameron, Reverend Bernard Law, Marion Barry, and Dr. Aaron Henry. He also participated in the interfaith "Committee for Concern," the interfaith committee to raise money for the rebuilding of the burned African-American churches in Mississippi.

By late January of 1964, Ben-Ami, the only local minister to do so, visited nine Presbyterian ministers arrested for civil rights activities in Hattiesburg. In June of 1964, Ben-Ami received appointment to the Mississippi State Advisory Committee of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. In December of 1964, Ben-Ami became the Mississippi distribution coordinator of the "Christmas for Mississippi" project. The project, viewed as a civil rights activity, had the goal of dispensing turkeys to the state's impoverished citizens.

But Ben-Ami's involvement with the "Christmas for Mississippi" project became public knowledge from an exchange of letters between him and the local Salvation Army. The synagogue leaders of Temple B'Nai Israel, fearing the possibility of violence from such an involvement and the possibility of a loss of their livelihoods, did not renew his contract as rabbi. By February 13, 1965, Ben-Ami and his family had moved to Washington, D. C. to work as a consultant to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW). He also became an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania.

By 1967, Ben-Ami became the Director of the Neighborhood Youth Development Center, in Cardoza, the African-American section of Washington, D. C. Also, he, along with his wife, became the founders of the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation in Reston, Virginia, in 1967. By late 1969, Ben-Ami (and his family) moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he became the first Director of Jewish Family Services. In 1970, the Jewish Community in Harrisburg, with Ben-Ami as its founding Rabbi, established Temple Beth Shalom ("House of Peace").


Collection Title: Ben-Ami (Rabbi David Z.) Papers

Collection Number: M365

Dates: 1924-2003

Volume: .5 cubic feet

Provenance: Materials in this collection were donated by Rabbi Dr. David Z. Ben-Ami between 2001 and 2003.

Copyright: This collection may be protected from unauthorized copying by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).

Biographical/Historical Sketch:

David Z. Ben-Ami was born in Germany, on December 13, 1924, emigrated to the United States, and settled in New York City in October of 1937, during the time before Adolph Hitler’s policies prevented such Jewish emigration. David matured in New York City, entered the U. S. Army in 1945, and married his wife, Evelyn, on December 31, 1949. He received from New York University a Bachelor of Science in Hebrew Culture, a Masters in Education, and a Masters in Social Work. By 1958, Ben-Ami obtained a Rabbi’s Diploma and Ordination, and a Doctorate in Theology from the Academy of Higher Jewish Learning.

Before accepting the rabbinate at Temple B’Nai Israel, and moving his wife, and their three children, Raphael, age 11, Aviva, age eight, and Hillel, age six, to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, in early July of 1963, Ben-Ami, noted for his interfaith services, his outspoken advocacy for peace, and his stand against discrimination of African-Americans, served at synagogues in Geneva, New York, Rochester, New York, and Brewster, New York.

In Hattiesburg, Ben-Ami, in addition, to his rabbinate duties, worked as a part-time Sociology instructor at the University of Southern Mississippi, and, as time progressed, became more involved in civil rights activities in Mississippi. Ben-Ami knew, worked with, or corresponded with, such prominent civil rights activists as Charles Evers, Dick Gregory, Drew Pearson, Reverend Bob Beech, Rabbi Arthur J. Lelyveld, Reverend John E. Cameron, Reverend Bernard Law, Marion Barry, and Dr. Aaron Henry. He also participated in the interfaith “Committee for Concern,” the interfaith committee to raise money for the rebuilding of the burned African-American churches in Mississippi.

By late January of 1964, Ben-Ami, the only local minister to do so, visited nine Presbyterian ministers arrested for civil rights activities in Hattiesburg. In June of 1964, Ben-Ami received appointment to the Mississippi State Advisory Committee of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. In December of 1964, Ben-Ami became the Mississippi distribution coordinator of the “Christmas for Mississippi” project. The project, viewed as a civil rights activity, had the goal of dispensing turkeys to the state’s impoverished citizens.

But Ben-Ami’s involvement with the “Christmas for Mississippi” project became public knowledge from an exchange of letters between him and the local Salvation Army. The synagogue leaders of Temple B’Nai Israel, fearing the possibility of violence from such an involvement and the possibility of a loss of their livelihoods, did not renew his contract as rabbi. By February 13, 1965, Ben-Ami and his family had moved to Washington, D. C. to work as a consultant to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW). He also became an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania.

By 1967, Ben-Ami became the Director of the Neighborhood Youth Development Center, in Cardoza, the African-American section of Washington, D. C. Also, he, along with his wife, became the founders of the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation in Reston, Virginia, in 1967. By late 1969, Ben-Ami (and his family) moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he became the first Director of Jewish Family Services. In 1970, the Jewish Community in Harrisburg, with Ben-Ami as its founding Rabbi, established Temple Beth Shalom (“House of Peace”).

In 1980, Ben-Ami became the Founder and Chairman of the American Forum for Jewish-Christian Cooperation (AFJCC), whose mission is to foster an understanding between Jews and Christians based on the common biblical and moral grounds. A cursory look at Ben-Ami’s ministry reveals he has spent his life in the promotion of peace, and in the promotion of religious and racial cooperation.

The inclusive dates of the collection are 1924 to 2003, but the bulk of the collection consists of newspaper clippings, correspondence, and other materials, from the early 1960s to 2001, that document the life and career of Rabbi Dr. David Z. Ben-Ami. Specifically, the collection reveals Ben-Ami’s stance against discrimination of African-Americans, his outspoken advocacy for peace, and his interfaith / American Forum for Jewish-American Cooperation (AFJCC) activities in Mississippi and in other locales. Of particular interest in the collection are photographs / computer scans related to his ministry. Further, many of the clippings, correspondence, and other materials in Box 1 have duplications in Box 2, which contains the oversized materials.

Date(s): 1924-2003

Digital Status: Partial

Existing IDs: M365

Extent: .5 cubic feet

Finding Aid URL: http://www.lib.usm.edu/legacy/archives/m365.htm External Link

Language: English

Related Archival Items: M 352 Speer (Klaus & Elisabeth C.) Papers
M 327 Mantinband (Rabbi Charles) Papers
AM 99-56 Grupper (Ira) and Beech (Bob) Civil Rights Collection, 1960s
AM 98-42 Lelyveld (Rabbi Arthur J.) Collection, 1964
Am 98-59 Temple B'Nai Israel Records

Rights (CRHP): Contact the repository which holds the collection for information on rights

Subjects:

African Americans--Civil rights--Mississippi
African Americans--Relations with Jews
Civil rights movements--Mississippi
Clergy
Jews

Genres:

Manuscripts
Photographs
Speeches

 

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   May 15, 2015
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