In 1733, shortly after the colony of Georgia was founded, an epidemic (thought to be Yellow Fever) started killing off the settlers. Because Savannah’s only doctor died early on, a ship carrying Sephardic Jews was allowed entry on the condition that a doctor onboard, Samuel Nunis, would treat the sick.
Soon after their arrival, the Jews organized what would later become Congregation Mickve Israel, one of America’s oldest Jewish communities. Robert Haas, Mickve Israel’s current rabbi, explained to me that at one point as much as 35 percent of Savannah’s population was Jewish. (Today the number is closer to 2.5 percent.)
Savannah has had several Jewish mayors and judges; Jews have been involved in prominent social clubs, and helped found the city’s Rotary Club and Girl Scout troop. Savannah’s Jewish Education Alliance had several competitive athletic squads.