In this interview Rabbi Lewis Aryeh Weintraub provides details of his personal history leading up to his arrival in Charleston, South Carolina. He was born in Uscilug, Wolin Gubernia, Poland, in 1918 and immigrated with his family to Montreal, Canada, when he was twelve years old. He graduated from Yeshiva College in New York in 1941 and from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1944, the same year he joined the Canadian Army Chaplaincy Service. After discharge from the army in 1946, he served as assistant rabbi to Rabbi C. E. H. Kauvar of Beth haMedrosh Hagadol Congregation in Denver, Colorado. In August 1947 Rabbi Weintraub became the first rabbi of a newly formed Conservative congregation in Charleston, South Carolina. The founders had just broken away from Brith Sholom, one of the city’s Orthodox synagogues. Weintraub discusses the dissension in the Jewish community surrounding the split and the decisions involved in the creation of a new congregation, such as choosing a name—Synagogue Emanu-El—acquiring property, and hiring Jacob Renzer as cantor. He mentions a number of the founders and explains how Dr. Matthew Steinberg came to be the congregation’s mohel. The rabbi provides dates and some details regarding the start of Hebrew and Sunday school classes, the first bar mitzvah, the first confirmation, and other “firsts” in the congregation. To enhance the adult education program begun in January 1948 and to aid in “molding the ideology of Conservative Judaism for the community,” he brought to Charleston as guest speakers Jewish scholars such as Arthur Hertzberg, Max Arzt, and Robert Gordis. Rabbi Weintraub credits his parents for his decision to enter the rabbinate. He discusses why he chose Conservatism, the aspects of Conservative Judaism that appeal to Jews, and how a break with certain traditions is not necessarily a renunciation of “other basic, central, ideological principles of Judaism.” He married Fannie Goldberg, a native Charlestonian, four years after arriving in the Holy City, as Charleston is called. “With great regrets” the rabbi resigned at the end of his seventh year at Emanu-El. He and Fannie left Charleston for the sake of their two young children—they wanted them to attend a Jewish day school, not available at that time in Charleston. Note: the transcript contains additions and corrections made by Rabbi Weintraub during proofing.
Klyde Robinson continues his account of growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, begun in his first interview on August 26, 1997. His father’s business was a bicycle and toy store on the corner of King and Ann Streets, and everyone in the family worked there. Even as a U.S. district attorney and circuit court judge, Klyde helped out at Christmastime when sales peaked for the year. The Robinsons lived in the Hampton Park and upper King Street neighborhoods, and summered on Folly Beach and, later, on Sullivan’s Island where, Klyde recalls, a number of Jewish families had houses beginning in the 1930s. Emma Brown, the African-American woman who worked for the family for nearly 50 years, was well-versed in keeping kosher. Klyde attended The Citadel and at the end of his junior year, he and some of his classmates joined the army to fight in World War II. Despite near-blindness in one eye, Klyde was allowed to serve; ultimately, he went to Europe with the 141st Antiaircraft Artillery Gun Battalion. He notes that while he was aware of the existence of the concentration camps before he left the States, German townspeople claimed to know nothing about them. When he was discharged from the army, almost three years after signing up, he returned to The Citadel to complete his undergraduate education. While attending Harvard Law School, he met Claire Zuckernik of Boston, Massachusetts. In 1949 he graduated from Harvard and was admitted to the South Carolina Bar. He and Claire married in 1950 and she joined him in Charleston, where they raised their children and he started a law practice. Klyde describes his career, including how he acquired his positions as Charleston County’s attorney, assistant U.S. attorney, and circuit court judge. Among the other topics discussed: the social barriers among the Jewish community in the first half of the 20th century; the establishment of the Conservative synagogue, Emanu-El, in 1947; the merger, referred to by the interviewee as an amalgamation, of Charleston’s two Orthodox synagogues, Brith Sholom and Beth Israel, in 1954; joining the Masonic lodge, Friendship Lodge, No. 9; and the debate about whether to open the Jewish Community Center on the Sabbath and High Holidays. Also mentioned are Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch, leader of the congregation at the newly merged Brith Sholom Beth Israel from 1955 to 1963, and Bill Ackerman, developer of the South Windermere neighborhood who ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for mayor of Charleston in 1971. Note: see transcript for corrections made by interviewee during proofing. See Mss. 1035-165 for the preceding interview on August 26, 1997. See the Klyde Robinson Collection, Mss. 1024, in Special Collections at the College of Charleston Library for related material.
Klyde Robinson, son of Eva Dora Karesh and Mitchel Robinson, describes his family history, including the possibility that William Robinson, the first of his father’s side of the family to come to America, may have been a Christian. Klyde’s grandfather Rudolph Robinson died a young man and his wife, Nettie Meyer, subsequently married Harry Goldberg of Charleston, South Carolina. Although Rudolph and Nettie had attended Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE), Charleston’s Reform synagogue, Nettie joined Harry at the Orthodox synagogue, Brith Sholom, once they married. She kept a strictly kosher home and observed all the Jewish holidays. Klyde’s mother, who was born in Elloree, South Carolina, died when Klyde and his two older brothers, Rudolph and Irving, were very young. Anticipating her death, she asked Mitchel to marry her niece, also named Eva Dora Karesh, after she passed away. Mitchel complied and, later, the second Eva Dora gave birth to his fourth son, Melvin. Klyde discusses the loss of the Hanover Street Cemetery, where several members of the Robinson family were buried, to foreclosure in the 1930s. He recalls the social distance between members of KKBE and Orthodox Jews, and between members of the two Orthodox synagogues, Brith Sholom and Beth Israel, during his childhood. He explains why, after raising his children in the Reform synagogue, he returned to the Orthodox tradition of his youth, and notes a trend in Charleston where some Jews, who were raised in KKBE, are switching to Orthodoxy. Note: see transcript for corrections made by interviewee during proofing. See Mss. 1035-166 for a follow-up interview on September 5, 1997. See the Klyde Robinson Collection, Mss. 1024, in Special Collections at the College of Charleston Library, for related material.
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.