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.
Ralph Geldbart tells the story of his father, Israel Geldbart, who immigrated to New York from Mogielnica, Poland, early in the 20th century. He used his mother’s maiden name, Goldberg, on the advice of relatives living in New York, who believed it would be an easier name for Americans to understand. (The family later reverted to Geldbart.) Israel, who began working as a tailor in New York, volunteered to serve in the United States Army during World War I and was sent to France, where he was wounded. After the war he brought his wife, Rebecca Cygielman, and their daughter, Sylvia, to the United States. They settled in Charleston, South Carolina, where Israel opened an army surplus store on King Street. The family, which grew to include Helen, Ralph, and Jack, belonged to Brith Sholom, one of the city’s two Orthodox synagogues. Ralph describes relations among members of Orthodox Brith Sholom and Beth Israel, and the Reform temple, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim. He discusses his family’s Shabbes traditions, local Jewish merchants, and the Kalushiner Society, an organization founded by landsmen from Kaluszyn, Poland. Ralph was a sophomore at The Citadel when he joined the army to fight in World War II. He recalls landing at Omaha Beach on D-Day in the second wave. About a month later, while his unit was pushing into Normandy, Ralph was wounded, and he describes his experiences during transport and hospitalization in Europe and the United States. Ralph completed college at the University of Chicago and earned his optometry degree at Northern Illinois. After returning to Charleston, he opened an optometry office on George Street near the College of Charleston. He was the first contact lens fitter in the Southeast. He married Madolyn Cohen of Lincolnton, North Carolina, and they raised two daughters, Laurie and Jill, in Charleston. Note: the transcript contains additions and corrections made by the interviewee during proofing. For related material, see the Goldberg family papers, Mss. 1051 and Family tree, descendants of Oise Sokol, Mss. 1034-035 in Special Collections, Addlestone Library, College of Charleston.
Marion Hornik discusses his family history and growing up in Charleston, South Carolina. His father, Morris, born in 1863, left his hometown of Jaroslaw, Austria-Hungary, now Poland, when he was fourteen years old. He worked in London, England, and New York City before moving to Bonneau, South Carolina, where, at eighteen, he took a job in Mr. Nagel’s country store. Eventually he moved to Charleston, married his first wife, Julia Dessauer, and, in 1886, opened a clothing store on King Street. In 1893 Morris switched to selling wholesale goods from his new business on Meeting Street, Hornik’s Bargain House (later he changed the name to M. Hornik & Company). Julia died five years later, leaving Morris with three children. He remarried after a few years, this time to Rebecca Klein of Walterboro, South Carolina. Tragedy struck again in 1915 when Rebecca died. Morris brought his sister Rosa to the United States to help him with John and Marion, his two young sons by Rebecca. The Horniks were members of the Reform temple Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE). Marion attended Porter Military Academy and graduated from the College of Charleston in 1929. He worked on oil tankers during summer breaks and, after college, he worked for an Atlanta company as a traveling salesman. In 1934 his father requested he return to Charleston to help with the family’s wholesale business. When Morris died three years later, Marion and John became partners in the business. Marion recalls his mother’s father and brother who ran Klein’s Drugstore in Walterboro, and discusses the tendency, in recent years, toward more traditional services at KKBE. Note: the transcript contains additions and corrections made by Marion’s wife, Ruth, during proofing. For related material, see HF5429 .H67 1907 and Mss. 1034-097 in Special Collections, Addlestone Library, College of Charleston.
Isadore Cohen (b. 1918) and Samuel Rosen (b. 1929), Charleston natives and sons of immigrants from Russia and Poland, share their early memories of the Orthodox synagogues, Beth Israel and Brith Sholom, and discuss the relationship between the two congregations before and after their merger in the mid-1950s. They describe their Hebrew education, including their teachers—a number of rabbis plus a Mrs. Allen, daughter of Rabbi Gillman. Topics relating to the first half of the twentieth century covered in the interview include Jewish merchants, the Kalushiner Society, founded by immigrants from Kaluszyn, Poland, popular venues for Jewish functions, and the Cohen and Rosen family businesses, both small grocery stores. Interviewer Professor Jeffrey Gurock from Yeshiva University also provides information he discovered while conducting research for his book Orthodoxy in Charleston: Brith Sholom Beth Israel and American Jewish History.
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.
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.
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.