Georgia's Oldest Congregation

Within the context of a bar mitzvah, Rabbi R.A. Belzer tells the story of the arrival of Georgia’s first Jewish settlers. Colonial America’s reputation as a haven for those seeking religious freedom is a well-known historical fact. The city of Savannah can boast that it is the home of Congregation Mickve Israel, Georgia’s oldest Jewish congregation and the third oldest in the country. For centuries Jews had been persecuted and forced to hide their beliefs because openly practicing their religion could result in torture and death. In the early 1700s, a small group of Jews living in Portugal sailed for England and then Georgia. Just three months after Oglethorpe and the first colonists arrived in Georgia there was a malaria outbreak, and this second group of colonists made a very timely arrival. In the midst of these Jewish settlers was Dr. Samuel Nunez, a physician knowledgeable in the treatment of infectious diseases. Oglethorpe called Nunez Georgia’s first hero because of the many lives he saved.

Teacher tip: Colonial Georgia set the stage for many religions to coexist as new settlers arrived. Using dates from the video and other sources create a timeline of the arrival of different groups in the Georgia colony up until statehood and indicate the religious preference of each group.