MERIDIAN, Miss. (May. 28)
The Federal Bureau of Investigation joined today with local police authorities in a probe of the bombing last night of Temple Beth Israel, a Reform synagogue, which caused considerable damage to its religious school. The nearby sanctuary and assembly hall of the building complex, erected three years ago at a cost of $400,000, escaped serious damage. FBI agents roped off the area as they began a search for clues to the bombers.
The FBI indicated that apparently several sticks of dynamite were combined in a home-made explosive which blew out one wall of the synagogue. The building was empty at the time, put at about 12:30 a.m. Windows in nearby homes were blown out and one girl was cut by flying glass. Meridian, a city of 54,000 about 90 miles east of Jackson, the state capital, has been the scene of five night rider incidents since last Jan. 11. It was recalled that Temple Beth Israel in Jackson was damaged last September by a bomb and that the home of its rabbi. Perry E. Nussbaum, also was blasted but there were no injuries. Damage to the Jackson synagogue was estimated at $25,000.
A member of Temple Beth Israel here, who chose to remain anonymous, posted a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the persons responsible for the blast last night.
Rabbi Milton I. Schlager, the bombed synagogue’s spiritual leader, is a member of a Committee of Conscience that was formed about a month ago to deal with the problem of the night bombings of houses of worship, which included five Negro churches. At services here last Friday night, a collection was taken up at Temple Beth Israel on behalf of the Negroes. In a statement today, Rabbi Schlager declared “This hasn’t happened to me. It happened to the people of Meridian. It is not a Jewish matter, it is not my synagogue, it is one of the synagogues of Meridian.”
CHURCHES IN MERIDIAN OFFER FACILITIES TO BOMBED SYNAGOGUE
The rabbi, who lives about 10 minutes’ drive from his synagogue, was home with his wife, when they both heard the blast. “That’s the temple,” he declared, and rushed off. Mrs. Schlager told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that churches in Meridian have offered Beth Israel the use of their buildings for any events that may have to be cancelled because of the damage. She said that “miraculously” a “beautiful” stained glass mosaic window called “The Window of God” near the school remained intact. Also undamaged was a marble monument to the six million Jews killed in the holocaust which was given last year by three members of local Baptist churches and which stands in a courtyard near the school.
A special meeting of the City Council was called this morning by Mayor Al Key to see what could be done to combat the night attacks. Police said there had been a previous effort to enter Beth Israel at night, but gave no other details.
Harold O. Chester, pastor of the Poplar Springs Baptist Church, chairman of the Committee of Conscience, told the Meridian Star, the local daily newspaper, that about 3 o’clock this morning he had received a telephone call. A voice said “Do you know what happened to the synagogue?” He said “yes.” The soft-spoken voice told him, “You’re next.”
Rabbi Schlager told the JTA that ten classrooms and the synagogue library were damaged in the blast. He said that the bomb had been placed against the door of the school and that the concussion had left a hole a foot deep. He was told that persons five miles away had heard the blast.
Beth Israel, he said, has less then 100 families in its membership. He estimated that there are about 300 Jewish families in the city. “I still think that, despite this incident, Meridian is a fine, honest and dignified community in which to live,” Rabbi Schlager said.