Rabbi's name might go on Springfield highway neo-Nazis 'adopted'

Wednesday, March 2, 2011 | 4:12 p.m. CST; updated 5:48 p.m. CST, Wednesday, March 2, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY — Two members of the Missouri House of Representatives have renewed efforts to rename a stretch of highway adopted by neo-Nazis after a prominent Jewish rabbi.

Reps. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, and Charlie Denison, R-Springfield, held a committee hearing Tuesday seeking to name a stretch of U.S. 160 near Springfield after the late Rabbi Ernest I. Jacob. The rabbi was an activist for equality while living in Springfield after surviving a concentration camp.

The Springfield News-Leader reported that the House Transportation Committee approved the bill Tuesday, sending it on to another committee and then for a floor vote.

This is Lampe's third attempt to name the stretch after a prominent Jewish person since a local chapter of the National Socialist Movement adopted the highway in 2008 under a state-sanctioned litter control program.

Lampe said she hopes to put up a sign with the name of the rabbi next to the National Socialist Movement sign. She said the goal is to show that "not all people in southwest Missouri have that belief."

The local chapter of the National Socialist Movement did not immediately return an e-mail or phone messages seeking comment Wednesday.

In 2009, Lampe succeeded in getting the portion of highway named the Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel Memorial Highway, but that name would be repealed under her new proposal. While that is the current official name, there has been no sign designating it because Heschel's family objected, saying he would not have been honored by having his name used for the highway stretch adopted by neo-Nazis.

Lampe also then tried to change the name to honor Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, but Denison objected because Wiesenthal had no ties to the Springfield area.

But when Denison attended a banquet late last year in honor of Walter Jacob, Denison thought he would be a good candidate for the highway name.

"He was very much loved in Springfield and was a person of high character," Denison said.

Rabbi Walter Jacob, son of the late Ernest Jacob, said he approved renaming the highway stretch after his father. He said the move is an extension of his father's activism.

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