The Last Jews of Natchez

Elise Abrams Rushing

Overdue in sharing this story, which I reported and produced for the Southern Foodways Alliance podcast “Gravy.”

There has been a Jewish community in Natchez, Mississippi for 175 years—and my family has been part of it for 160 of them. But now the number of Jews in Natchez has dwindled to only a handful. I went home to Natchez to explore what traditions, culinary and otherwise, might disappear when they’re gone.


Elise Abrams Rushing lights the candles at Temple B’Nai Israel in Natchez every Friday night because she says she is the last Jewish woman around to do it. 

Me and my mother on the bimah of Temple B’Nai Israel in Natchez during the 1994 Natchez Jewish Homecoming. 

Eugene’s Gary

A portrait of one Gary neighborhood through the eyes of one resident.

Part 1, 7:50

Part 2, 5:05

Part 3, 6:02

Eugene’s Gary is a portrait of one Gary, Indiana neighborhood through the eyes of Eugene Pawlak. Pawlak, who fixes up houses and is a life-long Gary resident, is the kind of guy you want as your neighbor. He looks out for kids riding bikes in the middle of the street, helps octogenarians carry in their groceries and knows everyone on the block.

But Pawlak’s happy-go-lucky disposition belies a starker past. As he joshes with his neighbors, slowly a portrait of Eugene himself emerges. A freak, on-the-job accident at U.S. Steel left him physically and emotionally broken; only by channeling his energy through his children was he able to find his footing again.

Produced in the style of cinema verite using complex but subtle on-site field recordings, (local birds, bicycle bells, the slow rumble of a passing train) the sparse but purposeful use of sound in Eugene’s Gary highlights and supports the unique timbre of each character’s voice.

This series was originally recorded and aired on during several live broadcasts in August of 2007.

Eugene’s Gary won 3rd place in the category of Best Use of Sound from the Indiana Chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists.

Lease Eugene’s Gary for broadcast through the Public Radio Exchange (PRX).

Ghosts of Gary

The story of one abandoned movie theater is the story of this very post-industrial city. People haunt places, and places haunt people.

The Palace Theater in Gary, IN.
The Palace Theater in Gary, IN.


Ghosts of Gary is an exploration of Gary, Indiana’s semi-abandoned downtown and historic past. Dorothy, a non-Indiana native, stumbles into Gary on a road trip and sees the remnants of its once vibrant downtown. Among the shuttered buildings is the stately Palace movie theater, long-closed. But how long closed? Has it been closed since the Jackson Five, still advertised on the theater’s marquee, were last together? Has Gary’s downtown been a ghost town that long?

With the help of some life-long Gary residents, an urban explorer, and an investigative journalist, Ghosts of Gary unravels the mystery of the Palace Theater and how long it has been closed. On the way the story touches upon John Dillinger’s escape from the Crown Point jail, the subbasements of Broadway Avenue and the economic exploits of Donald Trump.

The individual stories and interviews in this series originally aired on as part of several different live broadcasts between June and October of 2007. Production by Robin Amer. Additional production of title segment by Adam Yoffe and Tom Herman. Music by Mudboy and Black Forest/Black Sea. Voices, in order are: Dorothy Fennell, Laura Jones, Mr. Matthews, Eugene Pawlak, “Syd,” and Steve Walsh. Above photo by Dorothy Fennell.

Ghosts of Gary won Best Radio Documentary 2007 from the Indiana chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists. It was also nominated for a Peter Lisagor Award from the Chicago Headline Club in the Radio Documentary category.

Lease Ghosts of Gary for broadcast through the Public Radio Exchange (PRX).