Sisters Frances Deborah “Debby” Baruch Abrams and Carolyn Baruch Levenson grew up in Camden, South Carolina, in the 1920s and ’30s in a community where a handful of Jewish families maintained a close relationship with their gentile neighbors. Their mother, Theresa Block, daughter of German immigrants, met her husband, Herman Baruch, Jr., when she came to Camden from New York to help her recently widowed uncle, Louis Block, with his three girls. Debby and Carolyn do not recall experiencing any anti-Semitism as children, and Debby was active in the Baptist and Methodist church youth groups. Raised in the Reform tradition, they attended Sunday school in Camden and were confirmed by Rabbi Samuel Shillman at Temple Sinai in Sumter. Despite growing up in Camden, the sisters had strong ties to the coastal region of South Carolina north of Georgetown. Debby remembers visiting her cousin Bernard Baruch, financier and advisor to Presidents Wilson and Roosevelt, at Hobcaw, his plantation northeast of the city. The girls spent their summers in Pawley’s Island, which included visits to their uncle Joe Baruch in Murrells Inlet. Debby met her husband, Helmar Abrams, a pharmacist, in 1942, when she moved to Georgetown to begin teaching. She discusses life in Georgetown, including Temple Beth Elohim’s congregation, the businesses that lined Front Street after World War II, and the relations between Jews, gentiles, African Americans, Lebanese, and Syrians. Note: the transcript contains additions and corrections made by Debby during proofing.
Anita Rosen Levine, the daughter of Rose Rosenfeld of Romania and Jacob Rosen of Vitebsk, Russia, grew up in Port Chester, New York, a small town with a vibrant Jewish community. She received her Jewish education from students of New York City’s Jewish Theological Seminary, who traveled by train to the suburb to teach Sunday school. Anita was visiting a friend in Charleston, South Carolina, when she met Sol Levine, a native of Savannah, Georgia. His parents, Harry Levine, a cantor from Yekaterinoslav, Ukraine, and Freda Wasserman, a native of Warsaw, Poland, emigrated from Russia in 1906 with their two daughters and Harry’s mother. After Freda died in 1932, Harry and his two youngest sons, Sol and David, moved from Savannah to Charleston, where his daughter Rose lived with her family. Nearly two years later, Harry and Sol moved to Columbia, joining Sol’s older brother Max. David, still a young boy, stayed behind with Rose. Sol belonged to the Herzl Club in Savannah and was the first president of Columbia’s Jewish youth group, AZA, Aleph Zadik Aleph. He clerked in stores in the South Carolina towns of Allendale and Bamberg before returning to Charleston where he worked for his brother-in-law at LeRoy’s Jewelers on King Street. Sol and Anita, who married and settled in Charleston in 1942, talk about their social life, downtown shop owners, and their three children. In the early 1950s, when construction of the Savannah River Site, a nuclear production facility, was underway, Sol was hired to run a store in Barnwell, one of the South Carolina towns experiencing rapid growth associated with the new plant. The Levines lived in Barnwell for two years before returning to Charleston in 1955, the year after the two Orthodox synagogues, Brith Sholom and Beth Israel, merged. Prior to moving to Barnwell, they had been members of Brith Sholom; upon their return to Charleston, they joined Brith Sholom Beth Israel (BSBI). They discuss the merger and comment on the breakaway of Brith Sholom members to establish the Conservative congregation Emanu-El in 1947. Other topics covered include Sol’s contributions to BSBI through the Men’s Club, Anita’s involvement with the Daughters of Israel Sisterhood, the St. Philip Street and Rutledge Avenue mikvahs, and the rabbis, cantors, and sextons who served the Orthodox community. Anita began working for the BSBI rabbis in the mid-1950s, running the office for the synagogue and the Charleston Hebrew Institute (CHI), BSBI’s Hebrew day school. She describes the growth of CHI from just a kindergarten in 1955 to graduating the first class of seventh graders in 1964. “It was like my fourth child,” she says, referring to CHI.
Connie Karesh Franzblau was born in Brooklyn, New York, where her father, Leroy Karesh, ran a shooting gallery in Coney Island until he was drafted at the outbreak of World War II. His wife, Frances Frankel, and their four children moved to Eutwaville, South Carolina, where Leroy’s parents, Abram and Katie Cohen Karesh, and a number of Katie’s relatives lived. Leroy was excused from military duty when Frances became ill, and the family moved to Charleston where he took a job at the shipyard. Although they lived only briefly in Eutawville, Connie recalls fond memories of the town where she spent her summers and extended family gathered for holidays. Connie’s family was Orthodox and kept kosher, but the Orthodoxy was “southern style.” “You do what you can, and then after a while you do what’s easy, and then after a while you do what you can get away with . . . .” When they moved to Charleston, they attended the Conservative synagogue, Emanu-El, because it was in their neighborhood and, therefore, convenient. Connie discusses her family history, how she met Arnold, and Camp Baker when it was located in Isle of Palms. Arnold, the son of Nathan and Nettie Franzblau, was born and spent his early childhood in New York City. When he was seven years old, the family moved to Aiken, South Carolina, where they hoped Nathan, who had a lung condition, would enjoy better health. The Franzblaus joined a small, close-knit community of immigrant Jewish families who, generally, did not socialize with the town’s gentiles. Arnold recalls attending Sunday school and holiday parties at the synagogue, Adath Yeshurun, and identifies some of the Jewish families in town. He moved to Charleston to attend The Citadel and the Medical College of South Carolina. He met Connie while working as a urology resident at Roper Hospital and the two married in 1953. They lived in a number of locations across the United States, and raised their two children in New Mexico. Arnold describes his family background and the antisemitism he encountered in Aiken and among medical school fraternities. Both interviewees discuss intermarriage and assimilation, and recall the discrimination blacks faced in the South before the civil rights era.
Judy Kurtz Goldman was raised in Rock Hill, South Carolina, the youngest of three children born to Margaret Bogen (Katzenellenbogen) and Benjamin Kurtz. The Kurtzes, who owned The Smart Shop, a women’s clothing store, were one of twelve Jewish families living in Rock Hill in the 1940s and ’50s. Although the family was observant and highly involved with the local Jewish community, they were fully assimilated into non-Jewish life, which, according to Judy, was not the case with all the Jewish residents in town. Benjamin was on the board of Guardian Fidelity, a mortgage company, and was a founder of the Rock Hill Country Club. Margaret put up Christmas decorations every December and their house was on the tour of homes one year. Judy attended Winthrop Training School, a K-12 school where Winthrop College’s student teachers trained. As a cheerleader and a member of the “in” crowd, she felt fully accepted. Judy discusses her siblings, family history, the saleswomen at The Smart Shop, and Mattie, the black woman who worked in the Goldman home and was a second mother to her. She recalls her feelings, as a child, when she observed the Jim Crow laws in action and their effect on Mattie. After college Judy taught for two years at Roosevelt High School in Atlanta, where she witnessed first-hand the start of integration in Georgia. She describes the response of the white students and her fellow teachers to events such as the end of segregation and the assassination of President Kennedy. Judy married Henry Kurtz, an optometrist who was practicing in Charlotte, North Carolina, a few miles from Rock Hill. Just prior to this interview, her first novel, The Slow Way Back, was published. She discusses the characters and the scenes in the story and the degree to which they are derived from her life. Judy notes that while she “felt more aligned with the gentile community” than the Jewish while growing up, in the process of writing her book, “I had sort of come back home again . . . into my Jewish skin. . . . I became comfortable with my Jewishness through writing the novel.”
Helen Greher Kahn grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, two blocks from House of Peace, the Orthodox synagogue on Park Street. Her mother, Rebecca Cohen, a Polish immigrant, followed her sister to Wilmington, North Carolina. Helen’s father, Isaac Greher (Kerschbaum), came south after arriving in the United States from Austria-Hungary, and made a living by peddling between Charleston and Columbia. While in the capital city, he stayed with the Karesh family, headed by Rabbi David Karesh. The rabbi, who had served the Wilmington congregation before moving to Columbia, introduced Rebecca and Isaac. Helen recalls visiting the Kareshes regularly as a child, and notes that they were an important influence in her life. Karesh served as cantor for the House of Peace congregation, prepared the boys for their bar mitzvahs, visited the sick in the local hospitals, and slaughtered chickens at his work table in the Dent’s grocery store. Helen admired Helen Kohn Hennig, who ran the Sunday school classes at Tree of Life, the Reform synagogue. The Grehers were members of House of Peace, but because it lacked a Sunday school, Helen and her sister attended Mrs. Hennig’s classes. The interviewee touches on a number of subjects including Columbia’s Jewish families, the Columbia Jewish boys’ social organization, the Yudedum Club, and attending dances in Charleston and Folly Beach. Helen married Saul Kahn, also of Columbia, the son of Meyer B. Kahn, an immigrant whose car broke down in Columbia on his way from Florida to Ohio. He decided to stay, and he became successful in commercial construction. Helen contrasts the Orthodox traditions of her youth with those of the contemporary community, especially Beth Shalom’s (formerly House of Peace) Conservative congregation.
Isaac Jacobs, in a follow-up session to his previous interviews that were poor in audio quality, tells many of the same stories recorded in 1995 (see Mss. 1035-005 and Mss. 1035-009). He discusses his immigrant grandfathers, Louis Pearlstine and Isaac Jacobs, the changes in the family surnames, and his aunts and uncles on both sides. He tells several anecdotes involving Louis Engelberg of Ridgeville, South Carolina, the family’s interactions with African Americans, and his father’s dealings with wholesalers. He recalls many of the Jewish merchants in Charleston, South Carolina, particularly food retailers such as the Zalkins, Rudichs, Mazos, and Kareshes. Jacobs also describes the origin of the West Ashley minyan house located in South Windermere subdivision. Note: this interview is also available in VHS (original) and DVD (use copy) formats to be accessed in person in Special Collections, Addlestone Library, College of Charleston.
Isaac Jacobs, who grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, discusses his family history, including the 1855 immigration of his grandfathers Louis Pearlstine, who settled in Branchville, South Carolina, and Isaac Jacobs (Karesh). Jacobs, a native of Poland, operated a dry goods store in Charleston and was a founder of the Orthodox synagogue Brith Sholom. The interviewee’s father, Louis Jacobs, ran a shoe store in Charleston for 28 years before switching to the hosiery business. In 1931, he opened Jacobs’ Hosiery Company, and was joined by his sons, Isaac and Melvin. Isaac describes how his father got started in the wholesale sock industry and his own experiences as a traveling salesman selling merchandise to immigrant Sephardic store owners in Myrtle Beach, among others. Isaac briefly worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps, and served in the army in the Pacific theater during World War II. He married Ruth Bass of North, South Carolina, who joins him in this interview. Note: The audio quality of this recording is poor. Corrections and additions to the transcript were made by Isaac and/or his wife, Ruth, during proofing. See Mss. 1035-009 for the second part of this interview, dated February 22, 1995, and Mss. 1035-173 for another interview on January 26, 1998.
In the second part of an interview, Isaac Jacobs continues his discussion of his family history, including how his mother’s family name, Farber, was changed to Pearlstine in Trestina, Poland. His mother, Ethel Pearlstine of Branchville, married Louis Jacobs (Karesh) in 1908, and the couple raised eight children in the Hampton Park Terrace neighborhood of Charleston, South Carolina. Isaac describes his siblings, his aunts and uncles on the Jacobs side, and relays anecdotes passed down in the family about life in Charleston. Isaac also talks about his experiences in the military during World War II. He married Ruth Bass of North, South Carolina, who joins him in this interview. Note: The audio quality of this recording is poor. Corrections and additions to the transcript were made by Isaac and/or his wife, Ruth, during proofing. See Mss. 1035-005 for the first part of this interview, dated February 1, 1995, and Mss. 1035-173 for another interview on January 26, 1998.
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.
Eileen Strauss Rubin grew up in Sumter, South Carolina, the only child of Isaac and Pearl Weinreich Strauss. Isaac, who was born in New York, moved in the 1870s as a teenager, first to Mayesville, South Carolina, where relatives, the A. A. Strauss family, owned a store. After relocating to Sumter, he invested in land and helped a nephew get started in the printing business. He died when Eileen was only five years old. Eileen recalls celebrating the holidays and attending Sunday school at Sumter’s Temple Sinai, where she was confirmed. As a girl, she visited her mother’s family in Ohio and, having made a number of friends there, decided to go to Ohio State University (OSU). She met her husband, Herman Rubin, at a fraternity dance at OSU. Herman was an M.D. and practicing in Akron. About a year after they married and shortly after their first daughter was born, Herman, who was in the army reserves, was called up for active duty. After five years in military service, the Rubins returned to Akron, where their second daughter was born. In the early ’50s, in search of a milder climate, the Rubins moved to Sumter. Eileen discusses her family history, her daughters, and the family’s real estate business. Interviewer Robert Moses, a Sumter native and friend of the Rubins, contributes to the conversation. Note: daughters Ellen Rubin Eber and Gayle Rubin provided additional information noted in the transcript during proofing.