Thursday’s Deli Luncheon at the Hebrew Union Congregation is another in a more-than-100-year-tradition in the city of Greenville.
The Luncheon, lasting from 11:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the temple on Main Street downtown, started in the late 1800s by the sisterhood of the congregation. The meal is a corned beef sandwich ordered from Manny’s Deli in Chicago and includes potato salad, sauerkraut cooked with brisket, a kosher dill pickle and a chocolate brownie. The cost is $12 per plate and tickets are available at the door.
LeAnne Silverblatt, a member of the congregation, said, “The money raised is donated to local and Jewish charitable organizations and is used to help with repairs and refurbishment at the temple.”
The temple, finished in October 1906, cost an estimated $30,000 in that day’s money to construct the building, install the furnishings and purchase the pipe organ.
Almost 100 years later, the temple membership took bids to repair the pipe organ, member Benjy Nelken said, “The cost of $30,000 was the same amount it took to build the entire synagogue.”
At the time of its construction, the synagogue was the home to a growing and thriving Jewish community. At its peak, it was home to 200 families and was the largest in the state of Mississippi.
There have been additions to the temple building itself over the years. In 1950 the Sunday School buildings were added and 1970 the lounge was added.
In the 1960s, Sabbath attendance began to decline and a consensus among some of the leadership in the church was the uncomfortable pews were keeping people away from church.
“So, a member in the church offered to pay for the entire amount to replace the pews with theatre seating,” Nelken said.
With a slight chuckle in his voice, Nelken related one of the stories in the lore of the temple.
“In the 1930s First Methodist Church leaders decided to build the new building on Washington Avenue.
“Since the synagogue is empty on Sundays, we let them use the building.
“A couple was driving down Main Street when the Methodists were leaving the church.
“The husband turned to his wife and said, ‘That’s the poorest looking bunch of Jews I’ve ever seen.”
While the congregation has declined in numbers over the years, the size and scope of physical plant of one of Greenville’s most historic buildings hasn’t.
The number of people who attend the luncheon hasn’t waned much either.
“Last year, we served or sent out in take-outs close to 1,500 plates” Silverblatt said. “Quite an undertaking for our little group. We could not continue to do it without the help of many of our sweet Christian friends.”
The membership recommends ordering ahead by calling the synagogue at 662-332-4153 and tickets can be purchased from any member. Take-out service begins at 11 a.m.