Suzanne Ruta
April 19, 1996 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The Temple Bombing

Current Status
In Season
Melissa Fay Greene
History, Nonfiction

We gave it an A-

Praying for Sheetrock, Melissa Fay Greene’s eyewitness account of civil rights breakthroughs in rural Georgia, was a miracle of small-town gossip and heartache. The Temple Bombing, relying heavily on secondary sources, doesn’t quite repeat the miracle. Atlanta, ”the city too busy to hate,” reeled on Oct. 12, 1958, when white supremacists destroyed part of the local Reform synagogue. The bombers meant to terrorize Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, a vocal champion of integration. Instead, they roused his timid congregation into social activism. Homely similes (democracy as a beach packed with sunbathers) and telling paradoxes (a committee to honor Martin Luther King Jr. meeting at a whites-only club) enrich Greene’s intimate living-room-and-church-basement view of Southern history. Country-club bigots, assimilated and Yiddish-speaking Jews, anti-Semites with German shepherds named Adolph, the black bourgeoisie of Auburn Avenue, and hood-wearing Ku Klux Klan members all benefit equally from her bemused, tolerant assessment of human stupidity and courage.

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