Leon Banov, Jr., a retired proctologist at the time of this interview, was the grandson of Alexander Banov, an emigrant from Poland who ran a dry goods store in Red Top, South Carolina, a small, rural community a few miles from Charleston. Alexander’s son, Leon Sr., who was eight years old when he arrived in America, attended Charleston’s Orthodox synagogue, Brith Sholom, but received his confirmation instruction from Ellen de Castro Williams, a woman of Sephardic ancestry and member of the Reform synagogue, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE). Leon Jr. credits her with starting the first Orthodox Sunday school in South Carolina, and his father was a member of its first confirmation class. To show his appreciation for Mrs. WiIliams’s efforts, Leon Sr. gave her a napkin holder shaped as a deer from his family’s modest collection of silver pieces. She, in turn, gave the napkin ring to Leon Sr.’s son, the interviewee, upon the occasion of his bar mitzvah. Thus began a tradition whereby the deer is passed down alternately to a descendant of the Banov and Williams families as a gift to a new bar or bat mitzvah. Leon Sr., a pharmacist and an M.D., became the first health director of the Charleston County Health Department in 1920, a position he held for forty-one years. He recorded his experiences in As I recall: the story of the Charleston County Health Department. He married Minnie Monash, whose family was from Germany and practiced Reform Judaism. The couple raised their three children in the Reform tradition and attended KKBE. Leon Jr. discusses his siblings and reports that he did not experience any antisemitism growing up. He organized the first cub scout pack in Charleston and received several honors for his involvement in and promotion of the Boy Scouts of America, including the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award in 1989. His numerous contributions to the medical community include serving on an advisory panel for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and acting as chairman of the Charleston County Board of Health. He also recalls certain former KKBE rabbis and describes how he met his wife, Rita Landesman. Note: the transcript contains comments made by members of the Banov family during proofing.
This is a panel discussion held in 1997 at the 4th annual meeting of the Jewish Historical Society of South Carolina, convened on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the founding of Charleston’s Conservative congregation, Synagogue Emanu-El. Topics include the reasons for establishing Emanu-El, who the leaders were, and how the controversial split from the Orthodox Brith Sholom affected individuals and families in both congregations. Among the speakers is Lewis Weintraub, Emanu-El’s first rabbi, who provides details of many of the synagogue’s “firsts.”
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.
Judy Kurtz Goldman was raised in Rock Hill, South Carolina, the youngest of three children born to Margaret Bogen (Katzenellenbogen) and Benjamin Kurtz. The Kurtzes, who owned The Smart Shop, a women’s clothing store, were one of twelve Jewish families living in Rock Hill in the 1940s and ’50s. Although the family was observant and highly involved with the local Jewish community, they were fully assimilated into non-Jewish life, which, according to Judy, was not the case with all the Jewish residents in town. Benjamin was on the board of Guardian Fidelity, a mortgage company, and was a founder of the Rock Hill Country Club. Margaret put up Christmas decorations every December and their house was on the tour of homes one year. Judy attended Winthrop Training School, a K-12 school where Winthrop College’s student teachers trained. As a cheerleader and a member of the “in” crowd, she felt fully accepted. Judy discusses her siblings, family history, the saleswomen at The Smart Shop, and Mattie, the black woman who worked in the Goldman home and was a second mother to her. She recalls her feelings, as a child, when she observed the Jim Crow laws in action and their effect on Mattie. After college Judy taught for two years at Roosevelt High School in Atlanta, where she witnessed first-hand the start of integration in Georgia. She describes the response of the white students and her fellow teachers to events such as the end of segregation and the assassination of President Kennedy. Judy married Henry Kurtz, an optometrist who was practicing in Charlotte, North Carolina, a few miles from Rock Hill. Just prior to this interview, her first novel, The Slow Way Back, was published. She discusses the characters and the scenes in the story and the degree to which they are derived from her life. Judy notes that while she “felt more aligned with the gentile community” than the Jewish while growing up, in the process of writing her book, “I had sort of come back home again . . . into my Jewish skin. . . . I became comfortable with my Jewishness through writing the novel.”
Helen Greher Kahn grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, two blocks from House of Peace, the Orthodox synagogue on Park Street. Her mother, Rebecca Cohen, a Polish immigrant, followed her sister to Wilmington, North Carolina. Helen’s father, Isaac Greher (Kerschbaum), came south after arriving in the United States from Austria-Hungary, and made a living by peddling between Charleston and Columbia. While in the capital city, he stayed with the Karesh family, headed by Rabbi David Karesh. The rabbi, who had served the Wilmington congregation before moving to Columbia, introduced Rebecca and Isaac. Helen recalls visiting the Kareshes regularly as a child, and notes that they were an important influence in her life. Karesh served as cantor for the House of Peace congregation, prepared the boys for their bar mitzvahs, visited the sick in the local hospitals, and slaughtered chickens at his work table in the Dent’s grocery store. Helen admired Helen Kohn Hennig, who ran the Sunday school classes at Tree of Life, the Reform synagogue. The Grehers were members of House of Peace, but because it lacked a Sunday school, Helen and her sister attended Mrs. Hennig’s classes. The interviewee touches on a number of subjects including Columbia’s Jewish families, the Columbia Jewish boys’ social organization, the Yudedum Club, and attending dances in Charleston and Folly Beach. Helen married Saul Kahn, also of Columbia, the son of Meyer B. Kahn, an immigrant whose car broke down in Columbia on his way from Florida to Ohio. He decided to stay, and he became successful in commercial construction. Helen contrasts the Orthodox traditions of her youth with those of the contemporary community, especially Beth Shalom’s (formerly House of Peace) Conservative congregation.
Isaac Jacobs, in a follow-up session to his previous interviews that were poor in audio quality, tells many of the same stories recorded in 1995 (see Mss. 1035-005 and Mss. 1035-009). He discusses his immigrant grandfathers, Louis Pearlstine and Isaac Jacobs, the changes in the family surnames, and his aunts and uncles on both sides. He tells several anecdotes involving Louis Engelberg of Ridgeville, South Carolina, the family’s interactions with African Americans, and his father’s dealings with wholesalers. He recalls many of the Jewish merchants in Charleston, South Carolina, particularly food retailers such as the Zalkins, Rudichs, Mazos, and Kareshes. Jacobs also describes the origin of the West Ashley minyan house located in South Windermere subdivision. Note: this interview is also available in VHS (original) and DVD (use copy) formats to be accessed in person in Special Collections, Addlestone Library, College of Charleston.
Isaac Jacobs, who grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, discusses his family history, including the 1855 immigration of his grandfathers Louis Pearlstine, who settled in Branchville, South Carolina, and Isaac Jacobs (Karesh). Jacobs, a native of Poland, operated a dry goods store in Charleston and was a founder of the Orthodox synagogue Brith Sholom. The interviewee’s father, Louis Jacobs, ran a shoe store in Charleston for 28 years before switching to the hosiery business. In 1931, he opened Jacobs’ Hosiery Company, and was joined by his sons, Isaac and Melvin. Isaac describes how his father got started in the wholesale sock industry and his own experiences as a traveling salesman selling merchandise to immigrant Sephardic store owners in Myrtle Beach, among others. Isaac briefly worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps, and served in the army in the Pacific theater during World War II. He married Ruth Bass of North, South Carolina, who joins him in this interview. Note: The audio quality of this recording is poor. Corrections and additions to the transcript were made by Isaac and/or his wife, Ruth, during proofing. See Mss. 1035-009 for the second part of this interview, dated February 22, 1995, and Mss. 1035-173 for another interview on January 26, 1998.
In the second part of an interview, Isaac Jacobs continues his discussion of his family history, including how his mother’s family name, Farber, was changed to Pearlstine in Trestina, Poland. His mother, Ethel Pearlstine of Branchville, married Louis Jacobs (Karesh) in 1908, and the couple raised eight children in the Hampton Park Terrace neighborhood of Charleston, South Carolina. Isaac describes his siblings, his aunts and uncles on the Jacobs side, and relays anecdotes passed down in the family about life in Charleston. Isaac also talks about his experiences in the military during World War II. He married Ruth Bass of North, South Carolina, who joins him in this interview. Note: The audio quality of this recording is poor. Corrections and additions to the transcript were made by Isaac and/or his wife, Ruth, during proofing. See Mss. 1035-005 for the first part of this interview, dated February 1, 1995, and Mss. 1035-173 for another interview on January 26, 1998.
Helen Berle, a daughter of Harry and Tillie Hufeizen Laufer, immigrants from Mogelnitsa, Poland, reminisces about her parents’ business, Laufer’s Kosher Restaurant on King Street in Charleston, South Carolina. Popular among local merchants and military servicemen stationed in Charleston and Beaufort, the eatery served Jews and non-Jews for about two decades beginning in the early 1930s. Berle describes some of the kosher-style dishes that Jews from the Old Country brought with them to America. “Everything was just good, plain, old, basic cooking. . . . I think seasoning had a lot to do with it.” While blacks could not eat at Laufer’s, they were hired to work in the kitchen, and she recalls that the relationship between members of the Jewish and black communities of Charleston were good in the years before the Civil Rights Movement. She briefly mentions a branch of her mother’s family, the Hufeisens of France, who were also in the restaurant business. Note: the transcript contains additions and corrections made by Helen during proofing.
In this brief interview, Henry Berlin, a son of Charleston, South Carolina, natives Sam and Bertie Livingstain Berlin, describes growing up in the coastal city where his grandfather, Henry Berlinsky, a Polish immigrant, opened a dry goods store on lower King Street in the 1880s. The family name was changed from Berlinsky to Berlin when Sam Berlin and his brother took over the store. Their father, an observant Jew, did not want his name to be associated with a business that opened on the Sabbath. Sam was active in political and civic affairs, and was one of the first Jewish Charlestonians to become a member of the St. Andrews Society, a charitable organization. A big sports fan, he owned Charleston minor league baseball teams and supported local boxing matches. Henry notes that they were one of the few Jewish families living south of Broad Street and, as a result, most of his friends were gentiles. Nevertheless, the Berlins attended the Orthodox synagogue Brith Sholom, and Sam led the effort to merge Brith Sholom and Beth Israel. Henry mentions the split that occurred prior to the merger, resulting in the creation of Emanu-El, Charleston’s Conservative congregation. Note: the transcript contains additions and corrections made by Henry during proofing.