They came from Poland, Germany and other countries in Europe but also places such as Ireland and Egypt.
Jewish families often moved to the United States to escape persecution. They had very little to pass down, said Jackie Cohen, whose efforts to organize events for the Augusta Jewish Community Center's 150th anniversary this year are drawing to a close with the opening of an exhibit Thursday at the Augusta Museum of History.
Several families saved mortars and pestles as keepsakes.
"It is amazing what people did bring with them. Some things are sort of a mystery," Dr. Cohen said.
The Jewish center, the second-oldest in the United States, is on Weinberger Way in Evans. It is a social and cultural hub for generations of Jewish families.
Framed immigration papers, photographs, military uniforms and commercial signs from early years of doing business in Augusta tell the history of a people who wanted to be a part of the broader community while preserving their Jewish identity.
One of the stars in the exhibit is an embroidered silk wedding canopy. Below it stands a mannequin in a bridal gown. The canopy, or chuppah, represents a bride and groom's first home together, said Dr. Cohen, who teaches math at Augusta State University.
A book written in English and Hebrew on keeping Kosher, a menorah, an antique Torah and other ritual items also are part of the collection. Visitors can hear Jewish music, including cantoring.
More than objects, the items passed on their owners' ethics, values and stories, Dr. Cohen said.
Organizers want the display to represent as wide a cross-section as possible of the center and the 500 families it serves. Jewish families that were reluctant or didn't take the time to contribute to the exhibit before it opened can still do so by adding personal history to a scrapbook available in the display, she said.
Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: Augusta Jewish Community Center sesquicentennial
Where: Augusta Museum of History, 560 Reynolds St.
When: Thursday through Sept. 4;10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 1-5 p.m. Sundays; closed Mondays and legal holidays
Cost: $4 adults; $3 senior citizens; $2 ages 6-18; ages 5 and younger, free; group discounts available; Sundays free