In the second of two interviews conducted on September 28, 2021, Sandra Lee Kahn Rosenblum describes how she came to marry, in 1955, Raymond Rosenblum, a native of Anderson, South Carolina. They lived first in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Raymond, an M.D. who had signed on with the U.S. Navy under the Berry Plan, was in residency, and then in Great Lakes, Illinois. By the time Raymond was discharged from service, the Rosenblums were parents to Rachel, Fred, and Bruce. They decided to settle in Charleston, South Carolina, Sandra's hometown, and Raymond went into private practice. One reason they chose Charleston was they wanted their children to grow up in a city where there was a significant Jewish presence. Sandra notes that Charleston's Jewish community was "pretty cohesive. . . . like one big extended family." Just as the Jewish Community Center (JCC) on St. Philip Street was a focal point in her life when she was growing up in Charleston, the new JCC in the suburbs became a central meeting place after she returned with husband and children in 1960. Sandra and interviewer Dale Rosengarten discuss how a heavily-packed public events calendar sponsored by the Jewish Studies Program at the College of Charleston was a factor in the eventual demise of the JCC and its programming. Sandra and Raymond's fourth child, Elaine, was born in 1963. With household help and childcare provided by Lavinia Brown and Albertha Blake, Sandra immersed herself in volunteer work in local Jewish organizations and with the medical wives auxiliary. The interviewee explains the reasoning behind the decision to send Rachel to public school, while sending the other three children to Charleston Hebrew Institute (later renamed Addlestone Hebrew Academy). When her second child, Fred, was about to enter college, Sandra started taking classes at the College of Charleston. She majored in early childhood education and special education and earned a degree in six years. She talks about being a resource teacher at Murray-LaSaine School on James Island and working with disabled children as an itinerant teacher for Charleston County. Among other topics she touches on: Raymond's family in Anderson, South Carolina; Nat Shulman, JCC director from 1945 to 1972; traveling with Raymond; vacationing with family on Sullivan's Island; and Raymond's bar mitzvah at age seventy. In 1996, Sandra began volunteering with the Jewish Historical Society of South Carolina, recording interviews with South Carolina Jews for the Jewish Heritage Collection Oral History Archives. Considering recent interviews she conducted regarding the acrimony among members of Brith Sholom Beth Israel (BSBI) and the events that led to a split in the congregation and the establishment of the Modern Orthodox synagogue Dor Tikvah, Sandra lends her view of what transpired. She also shares her feelings, as a lifelong member of BSBI, about the changes that have taken place and what she thinks the future holds for Orthodoxy in Charleston. Sandra and interviewer Dale Rosengarten talk about the changes taking place across the country in how Judaism is observed by participants in each of the major traditions and the responses of those traditions to societal conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sandra reflects on how her identity is rooted in being American, southern, and Jewish. She reports having conflicting feelings about how the Civil War and the lives of Confederates such as Robert E. Lee are being interpreted in the twenty-first century, which leads to a brief discussion about critical race theory. Sandra added comments and corrections to the transcript during proofing. See also the interview (Mss. 1035-582) that precedes this one. For related oral histories, see interviews with Sandra's cousins Ellis Kahn in 1997 (Mss. 1035-142) and Jack Kahn in 1998 (Mss. 1035-182); and Sandra's husband, Raymond Rosenblum, and his siblings in 2008 (Mss. 1035-134).
Ben Chase, who served as president of the Orthodox synagogue Brith Sholom Beth Israel (BSBI) in Charleston, South Carolina, for two years, beginning in January 2004, discusses the circumstances that led to the founding of the breakaway congregation, Dor Tikvah (Generation of Hope), across the Ashley River from downtown Charleston. Before his term as president, he was on BSBI's board for ten years, during which time most of the congregation's members, whose average age was seventy, were happy with the status quo. Most members did not live within walking distance of the synagogue, which is located on the Charleston peninsula. While many drove to services on the Sabbath, getting to the synagogue was a hardship for young families who lived West of the Ashley and wanted to be strictly observant. Further complicating matters, a small contingent preferred to meet in the congregation's long-standing minyan house in the West Ashley subdivision of South Windermere. As president, Ben felt it was his "duty to make sure that anyone that wanted to practice strict Orthodoxy would be able to do that at BSBI." He also believed that Charleston's Orthodox Jews should be united under one roof and that the future of BSBI rested on the younger members. He describes the steps he took to push the congregation into making a decision about whether to move off the peninsula, and recalls the nature of the resistance he met from members who wished to stay in the downtown building. In 2004, the year Ben became president, Rabbi David Radinsky retired after thirty-four years at BSBI, and the congregation hired Rabbi Ari Sytner. Ben talks about how the new, very young rabbi meshed with members and performed his duties after dropping into a tense situation. Opposition efforts by members reluctant to move caused a delay in bringing the decision to a vote, which did not take place until 2006, just after Ben's two-year term as president ended. The interviewee provides details about the outcome of the first round of voting that failed to produce a majority and the second round of voting in which the group that wanted to stay on the peninsula prevailed. In 2006, the West Ashley Minyan (WAM) was formed. Worshipers met in homes initially, and then rented space on the Jewish Community Center campus on Wallenburg Boulevard in West Ashley. After four years, they hired Rabbi Michael Davies, and, in 2012, Dor Tikvah was incorporated. At the time of this interview, Chase, a member of the relatively new Modern Orthodox congregation, insists, "To this day, I still believe that the Orthodoxy in Charleston should be under one roof."
Sandra Lee Kahn Rosenblum was born in 1935 in Charleston, South Carolina, the eldest of two children of Julius and Edna Goldberg Kahn, both of whom immigrated to the United States from Lithuania. She talks briefly about her parents' families and how Julius, who lived in Charleston, was introduced to Edna, a Baltimore, Maryland, resident. They married in 1934, and Edna moved to Charleston, where Julius, with his brother Robbie Kahn, was in the wholesale grocery business on East Bay Street. Sometime later, the siblings parted ways, each setting up his own shop on King street. Sandra remembers living in the Frewil Apartments on the corner of Smith and Vanderhorst streets, as a young child, followed by a move to Rutledge Avenue, near Bogard Street, a location she describes as "idyllic." When she was fifteen, the Kahns moved to a house at 45 Spring Street, where her father built a small store on the same lot. She says, the neighborhood was like a "slum," but they could no longer afford the rent for the apartment on Rutledge. "Ultimately, he (Julius) went belly up. . . . He was not a businessman." The Kahns were members of the Orthodox synagogue Beth Israel, but Sandra's mother sent her to Hebrew school at Brith Sholom, the older of the two Orthodox shuls in the city. Sandra was confirmed at Brith Sholom. She discusses with the interviewers Brith Sholom adopting the practice of confirmation for girls. Interviewer Dale Rosengarten notes that she was told by a Beaufort resident that their synagogue began offering confirmation to satisfy mothers who wanted a rite of passage for their daughters. Sandra states that, as a child, being Jewish was a significant part of her identity and the Jewish youth groups Young Judaea and Aleph Zadik Aleph (AZA) were central to her life (she was an AZA Sweetheart). She responds to questions about Brith Sholom's junior congregation; recalls Seymour Barkowitz, her homeroom teacher in high school; and reports that she never experienced any overt antisemitism as a child. Interviewee provided comments and corrections to the transcript during proofing. See the follow-up (Mss. 1035-583) to this interview also conducted on September 28, 2021. For related oral histories, see interviews with Sandra's cousins Ellis Kahn in 1997 (Mss. 1035-142) and Jack Kahn in 1998 (Mss. 1035-182); and Sandra's husband, Raymond Rosenblum, and his siblings in 2008 (Mss. 1035-134).
Benedict "Dick" Rosen, in the third of three interviews, talks about his children, Andrew, Greg, and Heidi, and his grandchildren. He identifies primarily as a southerner, rather than a Jew. "That's because being Jewish has never made any difference in my life." And yet, interviewer Dale Rosengarten observes, he and his children married within the faith. He revisits the subject of growing up in Georgetown, South Carolina, noting that he did not experience any antisemitism. "I never had a feeling I was different than anybody else." The same has been true for him as an adult. Rosengarten speculates about the reasons why that may be so. Dick's recollection of segregation prompts a discussion of present-day issues of police brutality, black-on-black crime, mass shootings, gun control, and the death penalty. Dick and Dale share their personal views on Israel. Dick has no special affinity for Israel and doesn't see it as a Jewish homeland. "Being Jewish is not a nationality. It's a religion." Both Rosen and Rosengarten have served as trustees on the board of the Belle W. Baruch Foundation of Hobcaw Barony in Georgetown. Dale raises the question of how their Jewish identity might have been considered useful to the board's mission. Both touch on the effect the Holocaust has had on their lives. The transcript contains corrections made during proofing by Dick's son Andy. For a related interview, see Sylvan and Meyer Rosen, Mss. 1035-035.
In this second of three interviews, Benedict "Dick" Rosen continues a discussion about intermarriage. When he was growing up in Georgetown, South Carolina, his family was strongly tied to its Jewish identity. The Rosens were members of Beth Elohim in Georgetown, and Dick took Hebrew lessons from Rabbi Allan Tarshish of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim in Charleston. His family observed the holidays to some degree. Dick discusses why he doesn't go to synagogue services anymore, with the exception of Yom Kippur. He and his wife, Brenda, nevertheless donate to two synagogues: Beth Elohim in Georgetown, "for Mom and Dad," and Temple Emanu-El in Myrtle Beach. One gift went toward Emanu-El's Rosen Education Center, completed in 2002. Dick talks about meeting his wife, Brenda Wekstein, while he was attending Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They married in 1958 in Boston. Interviewer Dale Rosengarten mentions the role Sumter native Elizabeth Moses played in reviving the Georgetown congregation in 2004. Rosen outlines his career in engineering, starting at Sprague Electric in Massachusetts designing capacitors. Then he joined AVX, first in Massachusetts, then Myrtle Beach. Ultimately, he became CEO of AVX. Dick recalls his travels while in management at AVX. The company built factories all over the world and, when Kyocera bought AVX, he became their representative director. He mentions AVX CEO Marshall Butler and briefly describes the trichloroethylene lawsuits filed against the company. For a related interview, see Sylvan and Meyer Rosen, Mss. 1035-035.
Benedict "Dick" Rosen was born on April 20, 1936, in Columbia, South Carolina, the first of two children, to Erma Levkoff and Sylvan Rosen. Sylvan completed law school a month later, and the Rosens moved to Sylvan's hometown, Georgetown, South Carolina. In this interview, the first of three sessions, Dick talks about the different branches of his South Carolina Jewish family tree, including the Suraskys, the Weinbergs, the Schneiders, and the Lewenthals. He notes that he lacks information about the Rosens. Dick describes growing up in Georgetown. At that time, there were no other Jewish children to play with, and he didn't belong to any Jewish youth groups. As a young child, nothing he ate agreed with him, and he was not thriving. When the doctor told his mother that bacon was the solution, her mother, Jennie Surasky Levkoff, who kept a kosher kitchen, stepped in to help. Rosen married Brenda Wekstein of Massachusetts. He says all his kids have Jewish spouses, but his grandchildren are marrying outside the faith. Dick discusses his father's education, political career, and involvement in Jewish organizations. Sylvan Rosen opened a law practice in Georgetown, where he served as councilman and mayor. For a related interview, see Sylvan and Meyer Rosen, Mss. 1035-035.
Peter Rosenthal, who moved with his wife and children from South Africa to Charleston, South Carolina, in 1989, discusses the events that led to the formation of the West Ashley Minyan (WAM) and Congregation Dor Tikvah in Charleston. WAM formed in 2006 after several members of Charleston's Orthodox synagogue, Brith Sholom Beth Israel (BSBI), began meeting for Sabbath services in their homes. They were reluctant to return to BSBI after a contentious meeting during which a controversial vote determined the congregation would remain downtown instead of moving to a suburban location. Rosenthal outlines changes at BSBI and WAM that occurred in the years leading up to the founding of the Modern Orthodox Dor Tikvah in 2012 by members of WAM. He believes "that the trends that gave rise to WAM and Dor Tikvah arose from within, but also from outside . . . BSBI." He identifies key figures and events in WAM's formation and growth and Dor Tikvah's establishment. Interviewer and Charleston native Sandra Rosenblum notes that "the Jewish community of Charleston, at some point, became a big extended family." Rosenthal feels the intermingling of Jews of different traditions that she refers to is behind the origins of WAM. He describes WAM's founding as organic and spontaneous, fueled by young adults who wanted to be more observant.
Jefferson "Jeff" Tobias Figg was born in 1936, and raised in Charleston, South Carolina, the youngest of three children of Sallie Alexander Tobias and Robert McCormick Figg, Jr. Sallie was descended from Joseph Tobias, founding president of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, established in Charleston in 1749. Jeff talks about growing up south of Broad Street and shares stories about various family members, including his elder siblings, Robert and Emily; his paternal uncle, Thomas Jefferson Tobias, and Thomas's wife, Rowena Wilson; his cousins David and Judith Tobias; and his maternal grandmother, Hortense Alexander Tobias. Jeff observes, "We have never been a particularly Jewish or Christian family." His mother, Sallie, was not notably observant as a Jew, though her mother was, and, according to Jeff, her brother, Thomas Tobias, "was obsessed with Judaism." Jeff's father, Robert, was raised by Baptists and did not adhere to any organized religion as an adult. The interviewee notes: "I've always considered myself Jewish. I feel it inside of me." For several summers, he attended Sky Valley Camp, near Hendersonville, North Carolina, run by an Episcopalian minister. Jeff describes his father's career as a lawyer, particularly his role in representing the state of South Carolina in Briggs v. Elliott. He briefly covers his father's tenure as the head of the law school at the University of South Carolina and his involvement with the South Carolina Port Authority. Jeff married Catherine "Kitty" Louise Cox in 1961, and they raised three children, Susan, Catherine, and Robert, in Charleston. Figg touches on his career with Xerox and the Adolph Coors Company, where he headed the sales department. He tells stories about prominent South Carolinians Strom Thurmond, James Byrnes, and Burnet Maybank; and he recalls Jewish Charlestonians Milton Pearlstine, Walter Solomon, and Solomon Breibart. Jeff's daughter Susan, who joined him in this interview, contrasts the message of the bestselling book "The Help" with her relationship with the black woman who worked for her grandmother. For a related collection, see the Thomas J. Tobias papers, Mss. 1029.
In her second interview for the Jewish Heritage Collection, Leah Feinberg Chase describes how she was drawn to journalism. The Georgia native earned a certificate from the University of Georgia's Peabody School of Journalism after taking classes for one year as a special student. The abbreviated program accommodated her plan to marry Philip Chase of Charleston, South Carolina, in 1957. The couple raised their four children in Charleston. Leah provides details about her career at WCSC-TV in Charleston, including the various positions she filled from copy writing to producing and cohosting shows in the 1960s and '70s. She credits WCSC owner John Rivers, Sr., with fostering creativity and independence in the work environment, and that extended to the women working at the station. Leah never encountered sexual harassment there, nor did she feel as though she had to prove herself to the men with whom she worked. She experienced one antisemitic incident that Rivers responded to with a vehement threat to fire the culprit, in the event that person's identity was revealed. Otherwise, being Jewish did not pose any difficulties, for example, when Chase wanted to take time off for religious holidays. Around 1980, the interviewee was hired by John Rivers, Jr., to produce videos for a company called Custom Video. Leah discusses working for that outfit and for United Christian Broadcasting Company of Atlanta, for whom she produced video in Israel for the film "Where Jesus Walked." In the 1980s, she turned down an offer to produce Mike Hiott's WCSC TV program to become editor of Charleston Jewish Federation's newspaper, "Center Talk," later renamed "Charleston Jewish Journal." She briefly outlines her work as editor and the recognition the Journal received from the General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations and the Advertising Federation of Charleston. Leah revisits her involvement in the Foreign Affairs Forum, mentioned in her first interview, remarking that while she held the positions of secretary, treasurer, and vice president, she believes the male-dominated group would not have elected her president had she pursued the office. The transcript contains comments and corrections made by the interviewee during proofing. See Mss. 1035-563 for Chase's January 31, 2020, interview.
Paul Garfinkel, member and past president of the Orthodox Brith Sholom Beth Israel Synagogue (BSBI) in Charleston, South Carolina, talks about events leading to the formation of Congregation Dor Tikvah in 2012 by former members of BSBI. He notes that the idea of moving the synagogue out of the downtown area was a topic of discussion even before he took his first position on the BSBI board as recording secretary in 1973. Leaders of the synagogue on Rutledge Avenue resisted moving but did allow the establishment, in 1965, of the South Windermere Minyan House, in association with BSBI. The Minyan House, located in the South Windermere subdivision just across the Ashley River from downtown Charleston, was home to many Jewish Charlestonians who had moved off the peninsula to the suburbs in the 1950s. Decades later, a number of observant Jewish families had settled in the neighborhoods surrounding the Jewish Community Center (JCC), which in 1966 had relocated west of the Ashleyâ€”too far to walk to BSBI or the South Windermere Minyan House. Paul describes the efforts of Ben Chase, president of BSBI from 2004 to 2006, to lead the congregation in settling the question of whether to move. The vote, which took place right after Chase's term ended, found that a slim majority of congregants wished to stay downtown. Besides wanting to have a synagogue nearby, some members who lived near the JCC were dissatisfied with how the congregation was being run. They felt decisions were being made by a select few in leadership positions. In 2006, they formed the West Ashley Minyan (WAM). A few BSBI congregants tried to find a way for the WAM to become a second minyan associated with BSBI, but members of WAM found the conditions required by synagogue leaders too difficult to meet. Paul discusses reasons some BSBI members did not want to move the synagogue. One person, who lived a block from the downtown synagogue, was determined it would not move. He was "such a powerful force in the congregation that people did not want to go against him personally." Another strong factor has been sentimental attachment to the building itself. Paul remains a member of BSBI, remarking that he was "literally brought up in that building," and he thinks "it's important to keep the family tradition going." However, he points to the depletion of BSBI's financial resources. Although membership is declining, the congregation continues to spend large amounts of money to repair ongoing structural problems on the property. He believes a small city like Charleston will be unable to support two Orthodox synagogues and would like to see the congregations reunited. See transcript for a correction made by the interviewee during proofing.