The Struggle to Stay: Jewish Appalachians

Dec 8, 2017

Joni Deutsch with her grandfather Stanley Deutsch, the first Jewish person to be elected in the W.Va. state legislature.
Credit courtesy Joni Deutsch

Jewish communities across West Virginia are struggling to keep their traditions alive.

“It is actually kind of scary. I worry because a lot of people my age are moving away for, like, school or jobs and because of that the communities are getting smaller,” said Kirston Kennedy, a young Jewish Appalachian who inspired our show. 

The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah begins December 12, and continues through December 20th at sundown. In light of Hanukkah, this week's show features Jewish Appalachians, a group that’s not really talked about a whole lot. 

Children eating brisket and matzo ball soup at The Taste of Jewish Cuisine, at the Temple Israel in Charleston, W.Va.
Credit Scotty White/ WVPB

Back in 2015, Kennedy sent a message to Inside Appalachia's host, Jessica Lilly, wondering if we had ever done an episode about Jewish Appalachians.  “I thought you may be able to let people know that we are here as well. We are small, but we are here.” 

Thanks to Kirston Kennedy’s inspiration, this week’s episode of Inside Appalachia features stories from an award-winning series, “Story of the Jews”, produced by West Virginia Public Broadcasting in 2014.

  • We’ll hear from two West Virginians who survived the Holocaust.
  • We’ll stop by the Temple Israel in Charleston to break bread for a traditional meal. People in Charleston, West Virginia, recently got a chance to taste some foods that might not have been familiar to them - like noodle Kugel and Matzoh ball soup.
  • This week’s show also features Jewish music. For help with the episode’s soundtrack, Inside Appalachia’s Roxy Todd went to the Temple Israel to speak with Rabbi Jim Cohn. She found out that Rabbi Cohn’s collection of Jewish music is vast and varied.


Music in today’s show was provided Ben Townsend, Rabbi Cohn, Josh Barrett, the Maccabeats, and Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn as heard on Mountain Stage.  Our Appetite Appalachia music is by the Carolina Sunshine Trio.