Rabbi Gerald Isaac Wolpe, a descendant of Polish and Lithuanian Jews, grew up an only child in Roxbury, Massachusetts, surrounded by extended family. After graduating from rabbinical school in 1953, he served as a chaplain in the United States Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune. Two years later, his civilian career was launched in Charleston, South Carolina, where he led the Conservative Synagogue Emanu-El until 1958. The rabbi discusses far-ranging topics including the Jewish businessmen of Charleston, his view of what fueled the Conservative movement, how he balanced his personal beliefs about segregation with the concerns of his southern congregants, the making of Porgy and Bess, and how South Carolina Representative L. Mendel Rivers got his name. After serving Temple Beth El in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for eleven years, Wolpe moved to Har Zion in Philadelphia, where he led the congregation for three decades before retiring.
Ella Levenson Schlosburg, the daughter of emigrants from Lithuania, recounts her family history and describes growing up in an Orthodox Jewish family in the small midlands town of Bishopville, South Carolina. Her father, Frank Levenson, one of a handful of Jewish merchants in Bishopville in the early 1900s, ran a general store that sold everything from groceries to mules. Ella married Elihu Schlosburg, the son of Anna Karesh and Harry Schlosburg, and they moved to Camden, South Carolina, where they established a liquor business.
Sura Wolff Wengrow grew up in Allendale, South Carolina, in the first quarter of the twentieth century where her father, Henry Wolff, a German immigrant, ran a general merchandise store. In 1901, Henry married Rachel Pearlstine of Branchville, South Carolina. The family kept kosher and observed the holidays, but Sura did not receive a Jewish education, formal or otherwise. With no other Jewish families in town, she socialized, as a child, with gentiles and attended their church events, a pattern of assimilation she would repeat while living in Allendale during the early years of her marriage to Sam Wengrow of Beaufort, South Carolina. Longing for a connection to Judaism, and wanting her children to be involved in synagogue life, the Wengrows moved to Columbia when their oldest son was twelve. Note: This transcript appears to have been heavily edited with corrections, deletions, and additions by the interviewee and/or her son during proofing. Therefore, the transcript differs somewhat from the audio.
Marian Birlant Slotin discusses the history of her fathers antique business, George C. Birlant & Company, which he established in 1929 in Charleston, South Carolina. George married Lillian Marcus of Kingstree, South Carolina, and despite their Orthodox backgrounds, they raised Marian, their only child, in the Reform tradition. Marian reminisces about her childhood and many of her close and distant relatives. She married Phil Slotin of Georgia, and they raised two boys. As of 2011, the antique shop remains in the family, run by their son, Andrew.
Louis Funkenstein of Athens, Georgia, married Caroline Geisberg, a native of Anderson, South Carolina, and the couple settled in Caroline’s hometown where Louis established a paper box company. The Funkensteins describe their family histories and discuss a variety of topics including religious practices and Jewish-gentile relations in Anderson.
Caroline, Irvin, and Raymond Rosenblum reminisce about growing-up in Anderson, South Carolina, recalling their older siblings, relatives, neighbors, and Jewish religious observance. Their parents, Nathan and Freida Rosenblum, Polish immigrants, lived in several small South Carolina towns and Miami, Florida, before settling in Anderson in 1933. Caroline recounts her work history, and Irvin describes his eleven months in the navy at the end of World War II. Raymond served in the Naval Reserves while he attended medical school. Under the Berry Plan, his active duty was deferred until he completed his residency in urology.
Max and Trude Schönthal Heller discuss growing up in Vienna, Austria, in the 1920s and ’30s, and the hardships and losses their families experienced as a result of the Anschluss, the German invasion of Austria in 1938. They describe how they and their family members escaped Austria and made their separate ways to the United States. Max, by chance, had met Mary Mills of Greenville, South Carolina, while she was visiting Vienna in 1937. He appealed to her for help in leaving Austria. Mary contacted Shep Saltzman, a Jewish man who owned a shirt factory in Greenville, and he sponsored Max’s immigration and gave him a job. Max and Trude, who met at a summer resort in Austria in 1937, married in the United States in 1942, and Trude joined Max in Greenville, where they raised their three children. Max served on Greenville’s city council from 1969-1971, and then was elected mayor for two terms, during which he spearheaded a major revitalization of the city’s downtown.
Doris Levkoff Meddin recalls her experiences growing up in Augusta, Georgia, where her parents, Shier and Rebecca Rubin Levkoff, ran The Smart Set Dress Shop. Shier and Rebecca, descendants of Russian and Polish immigrants, were born in Charleston, South Carolina. They and their children frequently visited Charleston and summered on Sullivan’s Island and the Isle of Palms. Doris married Hyman Meddin, who was born and raised in Savannah and ran a meat-packing business in Charleston. While raising three children, she devoted her time and energy to philanthropic work. Among her many contributions to local organizations, Doris helped to establish the Pink Ladies, a volunteer group at Roper Hospital, and served as president of the Charleston Area Mental Health Association. As a member of the National Council of Jewish Women, she assisted German refugee Margot Freudenberg after she arrived in Charleston.
Helen "Elkie" Rosenshein recalls childhood friends and neighbors from the 1920s and ’30s in Charleston, South Carolina. Her parents, Sam and Hannah Garfinkel, immigrants from Divin, Russia, followed Sam’s brother to the coastal city and opened a mattress factory. She describes the traditional Jewish foods served by her mother, who kept a kosher home with the help of an African American woman named Louisa. After working at the Charleston Navy Yard, Helen and her good friend, Freda Goldberg, spent a year in San Francisco, where they took advantage of local cultural events and volunteered at the Jewish Community Center.
Nathan Addlestone, son of Abraham and Rachel Lader Addlestone, immigrants from Bialystok and Lithuania respectively, describes growing up in Charleston, Oakley, and Sumter, South Carolina. His father got his start by peddling and owned a number of dry goods stores before opening a small scrap metal yard. The family was Orthodox and Rachel managed to keep a kosher house all her life. In the 1930s Nathan joined his father in his scrap metal business and, by the next decade, became successful in his own right. Nathan married Ruth Axelrod and they raised two daughters, Carole and Susan, in Sumter and Charleston, South Carolina. After their divorce, he married Marlene Laro Kronsberg.