Ralph Geldbart tells the story of his father, Israel Geldbart, who immigrated to New York from Mogielnica, Poland, early in the 20th century. He used his mother’s maiden name, Goldberg, on the advice of relatives living in New York, who believed it would be an easier name for Americans to understand. (The family later reverted to Geldbart.) Israel, who began working as a tailor in New York, volunteered to serve in the United States Army during World War I and was sent to France, where he was wounded. After the war he brought his wife, Rebecca Cygielman, and their daughter, Sylvia, to the United States. They settled in Charleston, South Carolina, where Israel opened an army surplus store on King Street. The family, which grew to include Helen, Ralph, and Jack, belonged to Brith Sholom, one of the city’s two Orthodox synagogues. Ralph describes relations among members of Orthodox Brith Sholom and Beth Israel, and the Reform temple, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim. He discusses his family’s Shabbes traditions, local Jewish merchants, and the Kalushiner Society, an organization founded by landsmen from Kaluszyn, Poland. Ralph was a sophomore at The Citadel when he joined the army to fight in World War II. He recalls landing at Omaha Beach on D-Day in the second wave. About a month later, while his unit was pushing into Normandy, Ralph was wounded, and he describes his experiences during transport and hospitalization in Europe and the United States. Ralph completed college at the University of Chicago and earned his optometry degree at Northern Illinois. After returning to Charleston, he opened an optometry office on George Street near the College of Charleston. He was the first contact lens fitter in the Southeast. He married Madolyn Cohen of Lincolnton, North Carolina, and they raised two daughters, Laurie and Jill, in Charleston. Note: the transcript contains additions and corrections made by the interviewee during proofing. For related material, see the Goldberg family papers, Mss. 1051 and Family tree, descendants of Oise Sokol, Mss. 1034-035 in Special Collections, Addlestone Library, College of Charleston.
Leonard Cohen grew up in Latta, South Carolina, the son of dry goods merchants, Isadore and Hannah Horowitz Cohen. Isadore emigrated circa 1910 from Lithuania and, after working briefly in Baltimore, followed his brother Harry’s advice and came south. His train ticket got him as far as Dillon, South Carolina. He peddled first, and then worked for Mr. Blum in his Latta store. Baltimore Bargain House extended credit to Isadore to start his own business, which prospered, enabling him to expand his store and, eventually, buy his own building. Two other Jewish families lived in Latta at that time, the Blums and the Kornbluts, and Leonard recalls being the only Jewish child in his classes at school. The Cohens attended services in Dillon, with Rabbi Jacob Raisin of Charleston officiating. Leonard remembers the Fass family, prominent members of the Dillon congregation. At Camp Osceola in Hendersonville, North Carolina, Leonard studied Hebrew with Rabbi Solomon and prepared for his bar mitzvah. He attended The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, from 1941 until 1943, when he was drafted into the army. He describes his experiences in the military, particularly the action he saw in Europe as a soldier serving in the 102nd Division. After the war, on a visit to Baltimore, he met Mildred Friedman, daughter of emigrants from Poland. Leonard and Mildred married in 1948 and settled in Latta, where he had already joined his father in business. They raised three children in Latta and were members of Temple Beth Israel in Florence, South Carolina. Faced with competition from discount chains, the Cohens closed their store in 1987. Other topics mentioned in the interview include: Baltimore Bargain House and changes in the wholesale industry, Charleston Jews Leonard met while attending The Citadel, Mildred’s mikvah experience before her wedding, and the first bat mitzvahs at Temple Beth Israel.