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Rabbi David Z. Ben-Ami Papers

Identifier: M365

Scope and Contents

The inclusive dates of the collection are 1924 to 2003, but the bulk of the collection consists of newspaper clippings, correspondence, and other materials, from the early 1960s to 2001, that document the life and career of Rabbi Dr. David Z. Ben-Ami. Specifically, the collection reveals Ben-Ami’s stance against discrimination of African-Americans, his outspoken advocacy for peace, and his interfaith / American Forum for Jewish-American Cooperation (AFJCC) activities in Mississippi and in other locales. Of particular interest in the collection are photographs / computer scans related to his ministry. Further, many of the clippings, correspondence, and other materials in Box 1 have duplications in Box 2, which contains the oversized materials.


  • Creation: 1924-2003


Conditions Governing Access

Noncirculating; available for research.

Conditions Governing Use

This collection may be protected from unauthorized copying by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).

Biographical / Historical

David Z. Ben-Ami was born in Germany, on December 13, 1924, emigrated to the United States, and settled in New York City in October of 1937, during the time before Adolph Hitler’s policies prevented such Jewish emigration. David matured in New York City, entered the U. S. Army in 1945, and married his wife, Evelyn, on December 31, 1949. He received from New York University a Bachelor of Science in Hebrew Culture, a Masters in Education, and a Masters in Social Work. By 1958, Ben-Ami obtained a Rabbi’s Diploma and Ordination, and a Doctorate in Theology from the Academy of Higher Jewish Learning.

Before accepting the rabbinate at Temple B’Nai Israel, and moving his wife, and their three children, Raphael, age 11, Aviva, age eight, and Hillel, age six, to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, in early July of 1963, Ben-Ami, noted for his interfaith services, his outspoken advocacy for peace, and his stand against discrimination of African-Americans, served at synagogues in Geneva, New York, Rochester, New York, and Brewster, New York.

In Hattiesburg, Ben-Ami, in addition, to his rabbinate duties, worked as a part-time Sociology instructor at the University of Southern Mississippi, and, as time progressed, became more involved in civil rights activities in Mississippi. Ben-Ami knew, worked with, or corresponded with, such prominent civil rights activists as Charles Evers, Dick Gregory, Drew Pearson, Reverend Bob Beech, Rabbi Arthur J. Lelyveld, Reverend John E. Cameron, Reverend Bernard Law, Marion Barry, and Dr. Aaron Henry. He also participated in the interfaith “Committee for Concern,” the interfaith committee to raise money for the rebuilding of the burned African-American churches in Mississippi.

By late January of 1964, Ben-Ami, the only local minister to do so, visited nine Presbyterian ministers arrested for civil rights activities in Hattiesburg. In June of 1964, Ben-Ami received appointment to the Mississippi State Advisory Committee of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. In December of 1964, Ben-Ami became the Mississippi distribution coordinator of the “Christmas for Mississippi” project. The project, viewed as a civil rights activity, had the goal of dispensing turkeys to the state’s impoverished citizens.

But Ben-Ami’s involvement with the “Christmas for Mississippi” project became public knowledge from an exchange of letters between him and the local Salvation Army. The synagogue leaders of Temple B’Nai Israel, fearing the possibility of violence from such an involvement and the possibility of a loss of their livelihoods, did not renew his contract as rabbi. By February 13, 1965, Ben-Ami and his family had moved to Washington, D. C. to work as a consultant to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW). He also became an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania.

By 1967, Ben-Ami became the Director of the Neighborhood Youth Development Center, in Cardoza, the African-American section of Washington, D. C. Also, he, along with his wife, became the founders of the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation in Reston, Virginia, in 1967. By late 1969, Ben-Ami (and his family) moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he became the first Director of Jewish Family Services. In 1970, the Jewish Community in Harrisburg, with Ben-Ami as its founding Rabbi, established Temple Beth Shalom (“House of Peace”).

In 1980, Ben-Ami became the Founder and Chairman of the American Forum for Jewish-Christian Cooperation (AFJCC), whose mission is to foster an understanding between Jews and Christians based on the common biblical and moral grounds. A cursory look at Ben-Ami’s ministry reveals he has spent his life in the promotion of peace, and in the promotion of religious and racial cooperation.


.50 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials



Materials pertaining to the life and work of Rabbi David Z. Ben-Ami, who served at Temple B'Nai Israel in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, in 1963 and 1964.


Materials in this collection were donated by Rabbi Dr. David Z. Ben-Ami between 2001 and 2003.

Existence and Location of Copies

For Digitized Materials from this collection, see: External Documents link at bottom of page.

Photograph Log

M365-1 House in Hattiesburg of the Ben-Ami’s 8 X 10 (b & w) (photograph) ca. 1963-1965 The picture of the house in Hattiesburg, at 2008 Adeline Street, is the home of Rabbi and Mrs. Ben-Ami during the family’s stay in Hattiesburg. (Box 1, Folder 19)

M365-2 Jewish Religious Service (Bar Mitzvah) 7 X 9 ½ (b & w) (computer scan) ca.1952-1958 The picture shows Ben-Ami (the man in the middle), and two unidentified young men (on each side of Ben-Ami) after a Bar Mitzvah ceremony. (Box 1, Folder 19)

M365-3 Religious Service 8 ½ X 10 (color) (computer scan) undated The picture is a religious service in progress. (Box 1, Folder 19)

M365-4 Collage (collage) 8 ½ X 11 (color) (computer scan) undated The collage is of varied pictures, including two religious services, and a possible picture of Rabbi and Mrs. Ben-Ami at the White House. (Box 1, Folder 19)

M365-5 Religious Military Service 8 ½ X 11 (b & w) (computer scan) undated The picture is of a religious service with the U. S. military participating. (Box 1, Folder 19)

M365-6 Interfaith Passover Seder 3 ½ X 5 ½ (color) (computer scan) 1998 The picture is of the Interfaith Passover Seder at the Washington Hebrew Congregation with Washington, D. C. Mayor and Mrs. Marion Barry, Rabbi and Mrs. Ben-Ami, and granddaughter sitting at the Head Table. (Box 1, Folder 19)

M365-7 Rabbi Ben-Ami in the pulpit. 6 ¾ X 5 (color) (computer scan) undated The picture is of Rabbi Ben-Ami in the pulpit during a religious service. (Box 1, Folder 19)

M 365-8 National Day of Prayer 11 X 5 ½ (b & w) (photocopy) May 6, 1982 The picture is of the National Day of Prayer, May 6, 1982, with President and Mrs. Reagan and religious leaders at the White House. (Box 1, Folder 19)

M365-9 President Reagan Signing a Document (With Inscription) 9 ½ X 6 ½ (b & w) (photocopy) undated The picture, which has his signature on it, shows him signing a document. (Box 1, Folder 19)

M365-10 Christmas Time Service 4 X 6 (color) (computer scan) undated The picture is of an interfaith religious service during Christmas time. (Box 1, Folder 19)

M365-11 Prayer Breakfast in Honor of Israel 4 X 6 ¾ (b & w) (computer scan) February 2, 1983 The picture is (from left to right) of Mr. & Mrs. Ed McAteer, Reverend Dr. Jerry Falwell, Rabbi David Panitz, and Ben-Ami on the dais. (Box 1, Folder 19)

M365-12 Religious Service in Progress 8 ½ X 11 (color) (computer scan) undated The picture is of a religious service in progress. (Box 1, Folder 19)

M365-13 Jewish Holy Book & Bar Mitzvah 3 ½ X 4 ¼ (b &w) (computer scan) undated 2 ¾ X 2 ½ (b &w) (computer scan) ca. 1952-1958 The first picture (3 ½ X 4 ¼) is of a Jewish holy book. The second picture (2 ¾ X 2 ½) shows Ben-Ami and an unidentified young man after a Bar Mitzvah ceremony. (Box 1, Folder 19)

M365-14 Presentation of Plaques 4 X 6 (color) (computer scan) undated 4 X 5 1/2 (color) (computer scan) undated The first picture (4 X 6), with Ben-Ami to the extreme right, is part of a presentation of a plaque from Julian M. Miemczyk, U.S. Ambassador to Prague, to the Polish Ambassador to the U. S., K. Dzievanovski. The second picture (4 X 5 ½) is of Ben-Ami receiving a plaque from Mrs. Peter Zwack, wife of the Hungarian Ambassador to the U. S. (Box 1, Folder 19)

M365-15 Interfaith / AFJCC Inaugural Convocations (collage) 11 X17 (color) (computer scan) 1981, 1989 The collage is of varied pictures of interfaith / AFJCC activities for the Inaugural Convocation of Presidents Reagan and Bush in 1981 and 1989. (Box 2, Folder 2)

M365-16 Interfaith / AFJCC Activity—woman speaker 5 X 7 (color) (computer scan) undated The picture is of a woman speaker with Ben-Ami and other religious leaders present. (Box 2, Folder 2)

M365-17 Interfaith / AFJCC Activity 5 X 7 (color) (computer scan) undated The picture is of interfaith / AFJCC religious activity. (Box 2, Folder 2)

M365-18 Interfaith / AFJCC Activity (collage) 11 X 17 (color) (computer scan) undated The collage is of varied pictures of interfaith / AFJCC activities. Ben-Ami appears in the top right picture (on the right), and in the top left picture (of two people) on the right. (Box 2, Folder 2)

M365-19 Ben-Ami Standing With Two People 7 ½ X 9 ¾ (b & w) (computer scan) undated In the picture, of three religious people standing, Ben-Ami is the person on the extreme right. (Box 2, Folder 2)

M265-20 Norman Rockwell Scene 7 ½ X 7 ½ (color) (computer scan) undated The picture is a Norman Rockwell scene with the words, “Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.” (Box 2, Folder 2)

M365-21 Passover Seder Scenes (collage) 11 X 17 (color) (computer scan) ca. 1992-1998 The collage is of varied1982-1998 Passover Seder Scenes held in Washington, D. C. with Ben-Ami present. (Box 2, Folder 2)

M365-22 Interfaith / AFJCC Inaugural Convocations (collage) 11 X 17 (color) (computer scan) ca. 1981-1989 One picture is of the Inaugural Interfaith Convocation in 1981 for President Reagan; another picture is from 1989 of President Bush’s Inaugural Interfaith Convocation; and another picture is of the, then, future President Bush (the second President Bush) with Ben-Ami. (Box 2, Folder 2)

M365-23 National Day of Prayer 5 ½ X 10 (color) (computer scan) May 26, 1982 The picture is of the National Day of Prayer, May 6, 1982, with President and Mrs. Reagan and religious leaders at the White House. (Box 2, Folder 2)

M365-24 Religious Military Service 8 X 10 (color) (computer scan) undated The picture is of a religious service with the U. S. military participating. (Box 2, Folder 2)

M365-25 Interfaith / AFJCC Leaders (collage) 7 X 8 ½ (color) (computer scan) ca. March 1984 The collage is of varied pictures of a White House religious leadership briefing and reception in March of 1984 for interfaith / AFJCC Leaders. (Box 1, Folder 19)

M365-26 Ben-Ami Interfaith / AFJCC Activity (collage) 8 ½ X 11 (color) (photocopy) undated The collage is of pictures of Ben-Ami engaged in varied interfaith / AFJCC activities. (Box 1, Folder 19)

M365-27 Ben-Ami and Romanian Ambassador to the U. S. (collage) 8 ½ X 11 (b & w) (photocopy) March 15, 1995 The collage is of pictures of Ben-Ami and the Ambassador of Romania to the U. S., Mihai H. Botez, on March 15, 1995. (Box 1, Folder 19)
Rabbi David Z. Ben-Ami Papers
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Historical Manuscripts and Photographs Repository

118 College Drive - 5148
Hattiesburg MS 39406-0001