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.
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.
Bernice Berlin Silver, one of four children of Sam and Bertha Livingstain Berlin (Berlinsky), talks about growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, several blocks from the Jewish immigrant neighborhood north of Calhoun Street. Bernice grew up in an Orthodox home, but her father opened the family store on the Sabbath out of “necessity.” She attended Crafts School and Memminger High School, where she was valedictorian of her graduating class. While most of her friends were gentiles, she participated in AZA (Aleph Zadik Aleph) activities and was an AZA Sweetheart. Bernice married Sam Silver (Zilberman) of Augusta, Georgia. The couple moved to his hometown where she became active in Hadassah and started a chapter of the NCJW (National Council of Jewish Women). After about 25 years, the Silvers relocated first to Columbia, South Carolina, and then California, before settling in Charleston, where they operated a restaurant supply business for over two decades. Bernice discusses her immediate and extended family members. Interviewer Ruth Jacobs reads from material obtained from Charleston city directories regarding business and home addresses of the Livingstains (Bernice’s mother’s family) and the Goodmans (Bernice’s maternal grandmother’s family) in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Alex Garfinkel discusses his father, Harry Louis Garfinkel, who emigrated from Divin, Russia, around the turn of the twentieth century to avoid conscription. He was followed to the United States by two sisters, four brothers, and his father. Harry heard there were landsmen (countrymen) from Divin in Charleston, South Carolina, so he moved there and worked as a shoemaker until he bought a mattress factory. He married Celia Hannah Lapidus of Charleston. At some point, Harry turned over the mattress business to his brother Sam and opened a junk yard, which grew into a successful scrap metal business. Alex grew up on Line Street, one of eight children. He attended Hebrew school at Beth Israel and briefly mentions the split between Beth Israel and Brith Sholom, the Orthodox synagogues. Alex talks about King Street merchants, his father’s businesses, and taking over the scrap yard as a young man, which exempted him from military service during World War II. He invited his cousin Max Garfinkel of Baltimore to join him in the growing business, and they remained partners for over forty years. See also interviews with other members of the Garfinkel family: Helen Rosenshein, Olga Weinstein, Sandra Shapiro, Nathan and Frances Garfinkle (Nathan spells the family name differently), Max and Jennie Garfinkel, and Philip Garfinkel.
Jennie Kaufman Garfinkel’s parents, Benjamin and Dora Kirshstein Kaufman, emigrated from Kaluszyn, Poland, around 1912. They settled in Charleston, South Carolina, where they owned, first, a dress shop, and then a grocery store. To help support the household, Jennie left high school before graduating and took a job. She met her husband, Max Garfinkel, when he came to Charleston to work for his uncle H. L. Garfinkel in his scrap yard. Max grew up in Baltimore, the son of immigrants Molly Blacher and Hyman Garfinkel of Divin, Russia. He and his cousin Alex Garfinkel partnered in the scrap metal business in Charleston for over forty years. Max and Jennie talk about their children and grandchildren, and consider how their experiences as Jews differed from previous generations. Interviewer Leah Barkowitz, the Garfinkels’ niece, who grew up in Charleston in the 1930s and ’40s, mentions the Villa Margherita, a Charleston inn that excluded Jews until about 1950. She discusses the “five o’clock shadow,” which meant that Jews and gentiles socialized with one another before, but not after, five o’clock. See also interviews with other members of the Garfinkel family: Helen Rosenshein, Olga Weinstein, Nathan and Frances Garfinkle (Nathan spells the family name differently), Philip Garfinkel, Sandra Shapiro, and Alex Garfinkel.
Bertha Lazarus Breibart, daughter of immigrants Louis and Rose Lazarus (Lazarowitz), discusses growing up in Charleston and Summerville, South Carolina, in the 1920s and ’30s. Louis arrived in New York in 1902, worked as a tailor, and, later, his wife and their first child, Max, joined him. The family moved to Charleston, where Louis ran a shoe repair shop in various locations on King Street. When they moved to Summerville, he reopened on Main Street. Bertha remembers that her father struggled to make a living; they were a “very poor family,” one that included three brothers, Max, Morris, and Herman, all much older than Bertha. The family traveled to Charleston to attend holiday services at Brith Sholom, one of Charleston’s two Orthodox synagogues. Bertha recalls the traditional foods her mother made, their Jewish neighbors in Charleston and Summerville, and her experiences attending Summerville public schools. When she was eighteen she represented Summerville in Charleston’s 1935 Azalea Festival beauty contest and won. Bertha attended AZA and B’nai Brith dances and other social events in Charleston, and on one of her many visits to the city, she met her husband, George Breibart. Note: the transcript contains additions and corrections made by the interviewee during proofing.
Ethel Lapin Draisin, born in 1908 in Charleston, South Carolina, is joined by her husband, Louis Draisin in recounting her family history. Ethel’s maternal grandparents, Nathan and Ethel Goldstein, emigrated from Poland and arrived in Charleston in the 1870s. Nathan ran a wholesale dry goods business on Meeting Street. Their daughter Dora (Ethel Draisin’s mother) married Israel Lapin, a Lithuanian immigrant who ran a clothing store on King Street from 1909 until 1953. Ethel Lapin met Louis Draisin, who emigrated from Bobruisk, Russia, as a young child, while she was visiting relatives in New York. In 1940, shortly after marrying, the couple settled in Charleston, where they raised two children, Neil and Judy. Ethel, the oldest of six, recalls Jewish merchants, neighbors and friends of the Lapin family, and the food her mother prepared. Louis describes his World War II tour of duty as a quartermaster in Patton’s Third Army. Both Draisins discuss Charleston’s “uptown” and “downtown” Jews, and the Orthodox synagogues, Brith Sholom and Beth Israel.
Claire Krawcheck Nussbaum, daughter of Polish immigrants Jack and Esther Bielsky Krawcheck, describes growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, in the 1930s and ’40s. Her parents were Orthodox Jews who observed the Sabbath and kept a kosher kitchen, with the help of Agnes Jenkins, who worked for the family for decades as housekeeper, cook, and third parent to Claire and her three siblings. The Krawchecks lived downtown on Colonial Street, many blocks from the uptown neighborhood, north of Calhoun Street, where the majority of immigrant Orthodox Jewish families lived at the time. Claire was close to a Catholic girl who lived on the same street, and she attended Ashley Hall, a private girls’ school. She had few Jewish friends, but became quite familiar with Catholic and Episcopalian traditions. Her father had men’s clothing stores both north and south of Calhoun Street—Jack’s on the corner of King and Vanderhorst Street, and Jack Krawcheck’s on King Street between George and Liberty Street. Claire discusses the buildings that housed the latter of the two stores, 311 King Street, which her father built, and 313 King Street, which he restored. Changes to the properties included gardens behind the buildings featuring iron work by Philip Simmons, and specially-designed, second-floor meeting rooms, used by local clubs, with paintings by William Halsey. Jack and Esther were members of Brith Sholom and they were active in a number of Charleston’s civic organizations, such as the Preservation Society and the Garden Club. Claire, who had difficulty relating to Judaism as a child—she couldn’t understand the Hebrew services and no one explained why they were following certain rules—convinced her parents to allow her to attend services and Sunday school at the Reform synagogue, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE). It was there that she became connected to the spiritual and religious aspects of Judaism. In 1950 Claire married Maurice Nussbaum of Ehrhardt, South Carolina, and they raised four children in Charleston. She discusses her siblings, children, and grandchildren, and her views on religion, antisemitism, and the changes in KKBE’s congregation since she began attending as a teen.
Hannah Prystowsky Rubin, born in Charleston in 1916, recounts the story of her grandparents’ immigration to the United States from Zabludow, Poland, circa 1890. Ezra and Mollie Prystowsky followed the Jacobs family, also from Zabludow, to Charleston, South Carolina, where Ezra repaired shoes for a living before opening a men’s clothing store. Hannah’s father, Mike Prystowsky, was a tailor and worked with his brothers in the family’s King Street store, “E. Prystowsky & Sons, Mike-Sam-Jake.” She describes growing up on St. Philip Street, surrounded by extended family, and recalls members of two branches of the Mazo family—the Uptown Mazos and the Downtown Mazos—who operated delicatessens above and below Calhoun Street. In 1938 Hannah married Samuel Rubin of Columbia, son of wholesaler Joseph Rubin and Bessie Peskin Rubin. Within five years they had three small children. Hannah discusses Sam’s two-year stint in the army during World War II, and how she helped two German Jewish families, who survived the war, become acclimated to life in America after settling in Columbia.