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Sig Davidson: Reflections on a Jewish Roanoke

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On February 18th, the second night of Interfaith week, Wortman Ballroom began filling with students, faculty and a large number of members of the community. As a college, this is our fourth annual Interfaith week at Roanoke College, a string of events that show we can work together and embrace our differences. Two students worked together to introduce the event. After introductions were completed, the film began. Ninety two year old Sig Davidson was filmed reflecting on his life as a member of the Jewish community in Roanoke his entire life. He is a respected member of the community as well as a former Roanoke College Board member. His filmed lecture began with his own history. More than that though, he discussed the history of Roanoke, the history of his ancestors, the Jews and the times when they overlapped in history. He followed the stories of many of the prominent Jews in Roanoke’s history as well as the buildings, businesses, and temples that they influenced. Roanoke Jews did not only affect the community, they also served in World War One and continued contributing even despite anti- semitism- something Sig himself experienced in the thirties, where there were swimming pools saying “no Jews, Niggers or dogs allowed,” a particularly potent statement that stayed with him for eighty years. Through everything though, the country’s hardships, the community’s hardships or the race’s hardship, they took care of their own- a theme Sig expanded on. For example, as the Jews were fleeing from Germany, some of the Jews in Roanoke would claim that upwards of seventy refugees were relatives in order for them to be allowed into the country. They stayed strong through hundreds of years and hundreds of trials big and small. He ended the video lecture by saying that they have come a long way and that,├é┬ádespite everything, Sig says “I’m proud to be a Jew. I wouldn’t want to be anything else.”

After the film ended, Sig Davidson and the director of the film went to the front of the room to answer questions from the audience. Questions includes topics such as how much location affected the Jewish experience, given how much it affected the African American experience; whether the north or south was kinder to the Jews in the time of anti-semitism in the country. The second question was whether the Jewish communities were involved in desegregation movements, which they were. And third, a student stood and asked about the Jewish experience specifically as a student at Roanoke College, a situation some students in the room found themselves in on that very night.