Morris Rosen is joined by his cousin Dorothy “Dutch” Idalin Gelson Cohen and her husband, Mordecai “Mortie” Cohen, in this interview. Morris’s son Robert is also present as interviewer and videographer. Morris, born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1919, was one of four children of Annie Blatt and Sol Rosen. Sol and his siblings, including Dutch’s parents, Zelda Rosen and Louis Gelson, emigrated from Russia in the first decade of the twentieth century, following their older sister Ida and her husband, David Goldberg, to Poughkeepsie, New York, where Dutch was born in 1919. The cousins talk about the Rosen (Rachelkin) and Gelson (Getchen) families of Poughkeepsie and their ancestors in Russia. Morris briefly mentions his maternal grandparents, Mamie Wildman and Morris Blatt, who ran a bakery in Columbia, South Carolina, before moving to Charleston. Morris and Dutch describe how the Rosens wound up in Charleston. Their uncle Sam Rosen moved to the area from Poughkeepsie for reasons unknown and opened a store in Awendaw, a small settlement about twenty-five miles north of Charleston. In about 1919, Sol Rosen and Zelda and Louis Gelson followed and bought an established country store from a member of the Geraty family in Yonges Island, nearly twenty miles south of Charleston. Louis died within a year, and Sol sold his interest in the store to Zelda, who moved the business and her three children to Meeting Street in Charleston after a few years. Sol was in the grocery business and later opened liquor stores. Morris traces his father’s moves from Yonges Island to King and Romney streets in Charleston, to the town of Meggett, and back to Charleston at King and Race streets. Morris and Dutch discuss growing up in Charleston in an area of the city where there were no other Jewish families. They did not experience antisemitism and Morris blended easily with the Catholic teens who lived nearby. The cousins did connect with other Jewish children when they frequented the neighborhoods around the synagogues and while attending religious school. They didn’t notice any friction between Charleston’s Reform and Orthodox Jews and played with children from both groups. Dutch was confirmed and Morris became a bar mitzvah at Brith Sholom on St. Philip Street. The two consider the degree to which their parents were observant Jews and speculate as to why their parents and others of their generation did or did not adhere to certain Jewish traditions. Mordecai “Mortie” Cohen was born in 1916 in St. Matthews, South Carolina, where his father, Isaac, ran a dry goods store and two farms. All the general merchandisers in St. Matthews while Mortie and his two brothers were growing up were Jewish. They met for High Holiday services in the town’s Masonic temple and were joined by families from Orangeburg, Ehrhardt, and Elloree. Most of Mortie’s friends were Christians; he doesn’t remember experiencing any antisemitism in St. Matthews. Mortie recalls how he came to know the Rosens, and he and Morris describe the role of the drummers, or sales reps, who visited retail storeowners when their fathers were in business. Morris talks about how he met his wife, Ida Tanenbaum. Her brother Lou Tanenbaum came to Charleston and opened a clothing store with his brother-in-law Louis Lesser. Morris, an ensign in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II, was assigned to a LST (Landing Ship, Tank) in the Pacific. The group discusses what they and other American Jews knew about what was happening to Jews in Europe under Hitler.
Joan Weisblum Steinberg Loeb, born in 1918 in Brooklyn, New York, married Matthew Steinberg and moved to his native city of Charleston, South Carolina, in 1936. Joan, a daughter of Elsie Aleskowitz and Philip Weisblum, recounts some of her family history, and describes how she met Matthew, who earned his M.D. from the Medical College of South Carolina, and their wedding in the Weisblum’s Brooklyn home. Her mother-in-law, Anna Bell Kaminski Steinberg, taught her how to keep a kosher home. The interviewee, who had no formal religious upbringing, recalls attending High Holy Day services at her husband’s Orthodox congregation, Brith Sholom. She notes that Matthew served as mohel for the congregation following Reverend Feinberg, who was also the cantor and the shochet. Interviewer Sandra Rosenblum reports that her husband, Raymond Rosenblum, a urologist, later assumed the role. In 1947, Joan and Matthew left Brith Sholom and joined roughly seventy families in becoming founding members of the Conservative Synagogue Emanu-El. Joan points to the leadership of Charleston native, Macey Kronsberg, the congregation’s first president, as pivotal in organizing the faction that was dissatisfied with Orthodox practices. Joan notes the source of discontent: “It was the fact that the women were not part of the service at all, and the families did not sit together. This didn’t satisfy this generation. They wanted the children to be part of it and to learn and to have an interest, and not to have to just be banged over the head in Hebrew school to learn enough for a bar mitzvah, and goodbye Charlie.” Joan and Matthew donated the first sanctuary, an army chapel, for Emanu-El’s Gordon Street property. Joan lists many of the names and professions of the charter members. She discusses the differences among Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism, and some of the changes that have taken place in her lifetime. Participants recall the mid-twentieth century practices and attitudes of Charleston’s Reform congregants (Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim) and the two Orthodox congregations, Brith Sholom and Beth Israel, and they examine their own, and others’, experiences of keeping kosher—or not. Joan briefly mentions the three women’s organizations she joined in Charleston: the National Council of Jewish Women, the Daughters of Israel, and the Happy Workers. She goes into some detail about why her father thought U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was the “biggest hypocrite and enemy of the Jews.” Matthew Steinberg died in 1968. Three years later, Joan married B. Frank Loeb of Montgomery, Alabama, where she was living at the time of the interview. She provides a brief history of Montgomery’s Reform congregation, Temple Beth Or.