Albert Jacob Ullman, born in New York in 1923, discusses his family background. His father, Samuel Ullman, emigrated from Russia around 1912 and worked for a time in New York, before following landsmen, men from the same town in Europe, to Savannah, Georgia, where he met and married Freda Wolson in 1922. He brought his bride to New York, but they returned to Savannah about seven years later. Samuel soon took over a cousin’s Bluffton, South Carolina, business, Planter’s Mercantile Company, known locally as the Jew Store. Albert describes the store and growing up in Bluffton, where, in 1932, his father was elected mayor. The family moved to Ridgeland, South Carolina, in 1938, after Freda opened a second, more successful store in that town. In 1941 Albert attended The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. He recalls the local families who hosted Jewish cadets on Shabbat, and the appeal of the St. Philip Street neighborhood’s Yiddishkeit. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in December 1941, Albert volunteered for the army and served as a paratrooper and medic in the Pacific theater. When he returned from three years of active duty, he joined his parents in the Ridgeland store, and he met Harriet Birnbaum of Savannah, Georgia. Harriet had emigrated from Kobrin, Poland, in 1937, at the age of ten. Her mother, Chamke Birnbaum, widowed when Harriet was nine months old, agreed to marry Samuel Tenenbaum, who came from her hometown of Kolonie, Poland. Sam, himself a widower, had immigrated to Savannah with his family and established a scrap metal business. When he received word from a visiting landsman that Chamke had lost her husband, he returned to Poland, married her, and brought her and her two children to the United States. Harriet describes growing up in Kobrin and Savannah. The Tenenbaums were members of Agudath Achim, the Conservative synagogue in Savannah, co-founded by Samuel. Albert and Harriet married in 1947 and ran Ullman’s Department Store in Ridgeland, where they raised four boys, started a private kindergarten, and Albert served as mayor. Fifteen years later they moved to Savannah and, soon after, Harriet gave birth to a daughter. Among other topics discussed are Agudath Achim Congregation’s controversial vote to increase women’s direct involvement in the synagogue, and Albert’s experiences with the Ku Klux Klan and his work for the Anti-Defamation League.
Irving “Itchy” Sonenshine (Zonenschein), son of Polish immigrants, talks about growing up in the St. Philip Street neighborhood of Charleston, South Carolina, and recalls many of the Jewish families that operated stores on King Street. He discusses the two Orthodox synagogues, Beth Israel and Brith Sholom, his experiences in Hebrew school and at AZA (Aleph Zadik Aleph) functions, his service as a navigator on bombers in the Pacific theatre during World War II, his partnership with Arthur Kahn in the electronics business, and his wife, Mildred “Mickey” Breibart Sonenshine, also a native of Charleston. Sonenshine also mentions the synagogue his son Stanley attends, B’nai Torah, a “Conservadox” congregation in Atlanta. Note: a videotape of this interview is available for viewing in Special Collections, Addlestone Library, College of Charleston.
Irving “Itchy” Sonenshine (Zonenschein), in this follow-up to his September 30, 1997 interview, describes growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, in the 1920s and ’30s, including stories about childhood playmates, his participation in AZA (Aleph Zadik Aleph), and local Jewish merchants, including those who closed their businesses on the Sabbath. He recalls the religious leaders and the merger of the two Orthodox synagogues, Brith Sholom and Beth Israel, and the split that occurred when Emanu-El, the Conservative congregation, was established. Among the topics discussed: Friendship Lodge; the Kalushiner Society; Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform practices; and the status of Charleston’s Orthodox community at the time of the interview.
Joseph Schafer, raised in Little Rock, South Carolina, was the grandson of Abraham Schafer, who emigrated from Germany around 1870. Abraham married Rebecca Iseman of Darlington, South Carolina, and established a dry goods store in Little Rock. Joseph describes his family history, race relations in Dillon County, and how his father, Sam, got started in the beer distribution business in the 1930s. He also discusses his children and his siblings, particularly his brother Alan, who was the founder of South of the Border, the all-inclusive rest stop for travelers on I-95 in Dillon.
Frances Solomon Garfinkle, daughter of Morris and Rina Chachevski Solomon, relates her mother’s stories of life in Zabludow, Poland, before she immigrated to the United States. Frances, a native of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, recalls visiting relatives in Charleston, South Carolina, as a child. She married Nathan Garfinkle, son of Sam and Annie Garfinkel, emigrants from, respectively, Divin and Grozny, Russia. Nathan, who remembers living in Charleston’s East Side before moving to the St. Philip Street neighborhood, attended Beth Israel, one of two Orthodox synagogues, with his father. Frances and Nathan discuss Charleston’s Jewish merchants, particularly wholesaler Sam Solomon, whose Sullivan’s Island summer home was a gathering place for Jewish families on Sundays. They describe Charleston and Jewish food traditions, including African-American street vendors and Jewish-owned markets, and the prevalence of Yiddish speakers among members of the Jewish community in the first half of the twentieth century. Even some African Americans who worked for Jewish store owners spoke Yiddish. Louisa Simmons kept house for Sam and Annie Garfinkel, and later for Nathan and Frances, for a total of than more than fifty years. “She was one of the family . . . we loved her.” Note: Other family members spell the name Garfinkel. The interviewee has spelled his name Garfinkle since his military service during World War II, when a typographic error was made and never corrected.
Ida Berry, one of four daughters of Bessie Freed and Samson Berry (Berazin), was born in 1923 and raised in Columbia, South Carolina. In this interview she discusses her family history and her experiences growing up in the capital city. Samson emigrated from Visnea, Russia, early in the 20th century, and found his way to Columbia where he opened a small dry goods store on Assembly Street. Bessie, also from Russia, followed her father and sister to New York City, and was visiting her uncle in Columbia in 1917 when she met Samson. Two months later David Karesh, the shochet, cantor, and rabbi for Columbia’s Orthodox Jews, presided over their marriage ceremony in the House of Peace Synagogue (later called Beth Shalom) on Park Street. Ida recalls Columbia’s Jewish merchants, how her family observed the holidays, and the traditional foods her mother prepared in her kosher kitchen. While growing up she felt that there was an atmosphere of mutual respect between Jews and non-Jews, and she remembers that the city’s gentiles, including the Ku Klux Klan member who lived next door to the Berrys, were friendly and helpful. Ida describes Beth Shalom Congregation’s gradual transition from Orthodox to Conservative practices, from families sitting together at the Marion Street location to women reading the Torah from the bimah in the suburban Trenholm Street synagogue. Note: the transcript contains additions and corrections made by the interviewee during proofing.
Max Kirshstein relates the experiences of his father, Nathan, and uncle, Abe, natives of Kaluszyn, Poland, who immigrated to the United States in 1920 to avoid conscription into the Polish army. They followed their three sisters to Charleston, South Carolina. Nathan’s wife, Sarah Ingberman, and their two sons, Yankel and Max, both born in Sarah’s hometown of Laskarzew, Poland, joined him in Charleston a year later. Max credits Sam Rittenberg with helping newly-arrived immigrants and notes that Etta Gaeser was one of several teachers who provided instruction in English. Nathan, who peddled to support the family, which had grown to include three more children, died in 1930, when Max was only ten years old. After graduating from Murray Vocational School in 1936, Max took a job in Isadore and Dave Solomon’s pawn shop on King Street. Four years later, Ben Barkin offered him a position as an administrative assistant in Aleph Zadik Aleph’s (AZA) Washington office. Two and a half years at the national headquarters “changed the whole course of my life, my thinking, and everything else.” While serving in the navy during World War II, Max continued his association with AZA as an advisor for Virginia’s Tidewater chapters. After the war he returned to Charleston and, in addition to his advising duties, he became the first chairman of AZA’s southern region, and, later, helped to organize a new local chapter to accommodate the growing number of Baby Boomer teens. In 1946 Max opened Metropolitan Credit Company, which he renamed Metropolitan Furniture Company. A year later he married Sylvia Lazarus and together they raised three children. Max touches on the antisemitism he experienced growing up, the breakaway of a number of Brith Sholom members to form Emanu-El, Charleston’s Conservative synagogue, and the merger of the two Orthodox congregations, Brith Sholom and Beth Israel. Note: comments on the transcript made by Larry Iskow, the interviewee’s son-in-law, are in brackets with his initials.
George Chaplin, in follow-up to his September 27, 1995, interview (Mss. 1035-040), recalls some of the other Jewish families that lived in his native city, Columbia, South Carolina, in particular his relatives, the Berkovitzes. He remembers sensing a separation between Columbia's German Jews and the more recent Jewish immigrants from Russia and Poland. He describes incidences of antisemitism he experienced in school, noting he was "made to feel something of an outsider." When Chaplin was in high school, his family moved to Greenville, where his father opened Piedmont Pawnshop across the street from Zaglin's kosher meat market. The interviewee attended Clemson Agricultural College, at that time a military academy, and was responsible for ending compulsory church attendance each Sunday for the cadets. Chaplin, who comments on the necessary functions of newspapers and their editors, discusses his long career in newspaper journalism. First he worked for the conservative Greenville Piedmont in Greenville, South Carolina, right out of Clemson (he took a leave of absence from the Greenville Piedmont to accept the year-long Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, where he studied race relations and formed a discussion group consisting of Nieman fellows and black graduate students); then the Stars and Stripes Pacific during World War II; David Stern's Camden, New Jersey, papers, prior to and during a strike in 1947; the liberal San Diego Journal in the late 1940s, when the paper won a national award for investigative reporting; David Stern's "crusading paper," the New Orleans Item, which ultimately was sold to its competitor, the Times-Picayune; and finally the Honolulu Advertiser, from 1958 to retirement, during which time the paper won sixty national awards. Chaplin talks about his younger sister, Kay, and her family; his perception of race relations in Charleston in the late 1940s; his religious practices, and why he and his wife, Esta Solomon Chaplin, who both came from strict Orthodox families, chose to raise their two children in the Reform tradition. He is joined briefly during the interview by Esta. His daughter, Jerri, provided comments and corrections to the transcript during proofing.
Selma Blick Dickman of Columbia, South Carolina, is joined by her daughter Janis Dickman in this interview, which focuses on social issues dating to the late 1940s. Selma, a New York transplant, describes how she feels about living in the South. After moving to Sumter, South Carolina, in 1949, her tendency to talk about New York was greeted with advice from the Jewish natives: talk less about New York and more about her new home. Selma discusses her past perceptions of Jewish-Christian relations and notes how they have changed over time. She and Janis respond to questions about antisemitism and Janis recalls that as a child growing up in Columbia, "I always remember feeling different." Both describe their reactions to learning of the Holocaust and Selma remembers the arrival in Columbia of survivors Jadzia Sklar and Ben Stern, the interviewer's parents. Selma considers how her views of African-Americans have changed during her lifetime; both interviewees talk about racism, segregation, and present-day race relations, including the controversy surrounding the presence of the Confederate flag on the South Carolina State House grounds. Selma's husband, Max Dickman, who died thirty years before this interview, co-founded the scrap metal business, Columbia Steel and Metal. The Dickmans raised three daughters in Columbia. In a postscript to the interview, Janis describes the Dickman family's relationship with Florida Boyd, an African-American woman who worked in their home for forty-three years. The transcript also includes comments and corrections made by Janis during proofing and additional background information she provided upon request.
Harold Jacobs, the only child of Sam and Mignonette Cohen Jacobs, discusses his family history and growing up in Charleston, South Carolina. Sam’s father, Isaac Jacobs (Karesh) emigrated from the area of Europe described by Harold as eastern Germany or Prussia. (Isaac Jacobs, grandson of the aforementioned Isaac and Harold’s cousin, states in his account of the family origins in a 1995 interview that the Karesh/Jacobs family came from Trestina, near Bialystok, Poland.) Isaac, the immigrant, made his way to Cincinnati, Ohio, during the Civil War and joined the Union Army. He married Jeanette Slager, and the couple settled in Charleston where they ran a dry goods store on King Street. Sam, Mignonette, and Harold lived in the St. Philip Street neighborhood before moving to Hampton Park Terrace in the northwest section of Charleston, where they opened Harold’s Cabin, a small store that sold snowballs and a few convenience items. Harold describes the family’s holiday and Sabbath customs, his aunt and uncles on the Jacobs side, the differences between “uptown” and “downtown” Jews, and the expansion of the family business, including how he came to be one of the first merchants in Charleston to sell frozen foods. As a child, Harold attended services at Brith Sholom, the Orthodox synagogue in which his father was raised, and Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE), where his mother, who was raised in the Reform tradition, was a member. Sometime after becoming a bar mitzvah at Brith Sholom, he began to “drift” more toward services at KKBE, ultimately becoming a lifelong member of the historic Charleston temple. Harold served in the army in North Africa and Italy during World War II and, after the war, married Lillian Breen, who grew up on a farm in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, where there were too few Jews for a congregation. Lillian’s parents were from Riga, Latvia, and they ran a furniture store in Rocky Mount. The family traveled to Fayetteville, North Carolina, for the High Holidays.