Aaron Small, born in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1939, to Sara Berry and Harry Smolowsky, changed his surname when he was eighteen years old because it "was not a business name." Aaron graduated from mortuary school in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1959 and returned to Columbia to work for a funeral home that also had an ambulance service. While working as an EMT on the ambulance service, he met his wife, Betty, an emergency room nurse. They married in 1961. Betty, a Christian, converted to Judaism prior to the wedding, but returned to the church sometime later. Aaron was drafted into the army in 1962 and served for eighteen months in the Fort Bragg mortuary outside of Fayetteville, North Carolina. In 1965, after returning to civilian life, Aaron bought a funeral home in Denmark, South Carolina. There were a number of industries in the small town about fifty miles south of Columbia, which he felt was a positive indicator for growth. However, in the following decade, companies began leaving. The interviewee believes this was attributable to white parents pulling their children from the public schools. Aaron describes daily life in Denmark and mentions the other Jewish families living there at the time—the Druckers and the Nesses. The Small family moved back to Columbia around 1975 and Aaron sold firetrucks to South Carolina municipalities while working on establishing a new funeral home business. In 1978, he opened McMillan-Small Funeral Home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with Stephen McMillan, Sr. After developing an allergy to formaldehyde, Aaron left the partnership, and took a position with the Myrtle Beach Fire Department, assuming command of the volunteer rescue squad in 1987. Up to that point, he had been a volunteer firefighter-EMT in the various places he had lived and had launched the volunteer rescue squad in Denmark. Aaron discusses the other firefighting jobs he held in Myrtle Beach, Richland County, and the state. By 1997, the family had returned to Columbia to help care for Aaron's mother. Aaron talks about antisemitism he experienced in Columbia while in high school; his two children, Michelle and Stuart; the Jewish community of Myrtle Beach, in particular, the recent Israeli immigrants; and how the FBI handled student protesters at Voorhees College (HBCU) in Denmark in the late 1960s. "The FBI came in one day and they just took over the funeral home" so they could make use of the two-way communication system he used for his ambulance service.
Rosemary Smith and Keller Barron share their memories of South Carolina Democratic Senator Hyman Rubin (1913–2005), who was elected in 1966 and served for eighteen years. Rosemary, who grew up in Nazi Germany, was the administrative assistant to the Senate Medical Affairs Committee that Rubin chaired. Keller was the research director for the Joint Legislative Committee on Aging, also headed by Rubin. Both women describe Rubin’s attributes and tell stories about his contributions to the city of Columbia and the state. He was a founding member of the Columbia Luncheon Club and the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council, both organized in the early 1960s to facilitate racial integration. The interviewees note that although the senator did not “wear” his Jewishness “on his sleeve,” he did decline invitations to attend functions at Forest Lake Club in Columbia, where Jews were not accepted as members. For related materials, see Hyman Rubin’s May 24, 1995, interview, Mss 1035-024, and Rose Rudnick Rubin’s May 5, 1996, interview, Mss. 1035-072.
Richard Gergel, born in 1954 in Columbia, South Carolina, is joined in this interview by his wife, Belinda Friedman Gergel. He is the youngest of three children of Meri Friedman and Melvin Gergel, who owned a number of stores in the capital city. Richard provides background on his immigrant grandparents and how they came to the United States. His paternal grandfather, Joseph Gergel, was from Ukraine; he married Jean Fingerhut of Toronto, Canada. Before running Gergel?s Men?s Shop on Main Street in Columbia, Joseph peddled and operated a store on Assembly Street. The interviewee explains how his maternal grandparents, Rebecca Dreiziak/Dreiszek and Sam Friedman, ended up in his hometown after raising Meri and her sisters in Kingstree, South Carolina. Richard describes growing up in Columbia and talks about the merchants who lined Main Street, most of them Jewish and many related to the Friedmans. He attended Keenan High School and served as the student body president in 1970?71, the year the school transitioned from a junior high to a high school and became fully integrated. ?I was very committed to this issue of making school desegregation work.? Regarding antisemitism in Columbia, Richard remembers ?isolated episodes in my childhood, but they were so unusual that they actually stood out because that was not the norm. Jews were generally very accepted.? However, he does cite instances of antisemitism in earlier decades reported to him by his father. Richard notes ?there was no institution more important to my family than the Tree of Life Congregation,? and recalls studying with Rabbi Gruber in preparation for his bar mitzvah at the Reform synagogue. He discusses his family?s involvement on the boards of the congregation and the Columbia Hebrew Benevolent Society. After earning his law degree at Duke University, Richard returned to Columbia to work in private practice; in 2009 he was nominated to the United States District Court for South Carolina by the Obama administration. The interviewee recounts how, about a decade ago, he learned of Gergel relatives living in Russia. When his grandfather Joseph and Joseph?s three brothers, Isidore, Max, and Gustave, came to Columbia, they left behind four brothers and a sister in Ukraine. The separated branches of the family confirmed their connection when both were able to produce the same family photo, taken on the occasion of Isidore Gergel?s visit home after immigrating to America. Note: see also interviews with Melvin Gergel?s sister, Shirley Gergel Ness, January 21, 2016, Mss. 1035-449 and Meri Friedman Gergel and her sister Rae Friedman Berry, July 17, 1997, Mss. 1035-154.
Bernard "Nard" Fleischman was born in 1946 in Columbia, South Carolina, to Marian Daniel and Bernard S. Fleischman. Marian's family, mostly from southern Georgia, has been traced back to 1750 in North America. Her mother was Jewish, her father was Christian, and they raised the children as Jews. On his father's side, Bernard notes that stories from his great-grandmother and Columbia native Rosa David Berman have been passed down to his generation. He relates one of her tales about the invasion of the capital city by Union General William Tecumseh Sherman's troops in 1865. Rosa's husband, Barnett Berman, a Polish immigrant, was president of the Columbia Hebrew Benevolent Society from 1888 to 1914, a long period of leadership that set a precedent for Bernard's father, who served the Society for decades as secretary-treasurer, and Bernard, who took over the role in 2003. The interviewee talks about his paternal grandparents, Tillie Berman Fleischman and Sol Fleischman. After Sol died in 1936, Tillie bought a house on Sullivan's Island, South Carolina, and Bernard and his family spent their summers there. The family included Bernard, his older sister Lynn, and younger sister Marianne. The interviewee describes his parents' religious observances and their experiences as members of the Reform synagogue in Columbia, Tree of Life. He recalls Jewish merchants, the neighborhoods where he grew up, and childhood friends. He was the only Jewish person in his junior high school and admits he tried to hide that he was Jewish: "I didn't want to stand out." Nevertheless, he experienced no "blatant" antisemitism growing up. "Columbia was a very accepting town, it really was, at least from my perspective." Bernard lists the civic organizations he has been active in, emphasizing his significant involvement in the Jewish organizations. "We think that's something that is important to us, to keep Jewish tradition here in Columbia alive." He sees his family's legacy as one of "service to not only the Jewish community, but we're also very involved in the non-Jewish."
Ida Berry, one of four daughters of Bessie Freed and Samson Berry (Berazin), was born in 1923 and raised in Columbia, South Carolina. In this interview she discusses her family history and her experiences growing up in the capital city. Samson emigrated from Visnea, Russia, early in the 20th century, and found his way to Columbia where he opened a small dry goods store on Assembly Street. Bessie, also from Russia, followed her father and sister to New York City, and was visiting her uncle in Columbia in 1917 when she met Samson. Two months later David Karesh, the shochet, cantor, and rabbi for Columbia’s Orthodox Jews, presided over their marriage ceremony in the House of Peace Synagogue (later called Beth Shalom) on Park Street. Ida recalls Columbia’s Jewish merchants, how her family observed the holidays, and the traditional foods her mother prepared in her kosher kitchen. While growing up she felt that there was an atmosphere of mutual respect between Jews and non-Jews, and she remembers that the city’s gentiles, including the Ku Klux Klan member who lived next door to the Berrys, were friendly and helpful. Ida describes Beth Shalom Congregation’s gradual transition from Orthodox to Conservative practices, from families sitting together at the Marion Street location to women reading the Torah from the bimah in the suburban Trenholm Street synagogue. Note: the transcript contains additions and corrections made by the interviewee during proofing.
George Chaplin, in follow-up to his September 27, 1995, interview (Mss. 1035-040), recalls some of the other Jewish families that lived in his native city, Columbia, South Carolina, in particular his relatives, the Berkovitzes. He remembers sensing a separation between Columbia's German Jews and the more recent Jewish immigrants from Russia and Poland. He describes incidences of antisemitism he experienced in school, noting he was "made to feel something of an outsider." When Chaplin was in high school, his family moved to Greenville, where his father opened Piedmont Pawnshop across the street from Zaglin's kosher meat market. The interviewee attended Clemson Agricultural College, at that time a military academy, and was responsible for ending compulsory church attendance each Sunday for the cadets. Chaplin, who comments on the necessary functions of newspapers and their editors, discusses his long career in newspaper journalism. First he worked for the conservative Greenville Piedmont in Greenville, South Carolina, right out of Clemson (he took a leave of absence from the Greenville Piedmont to accept the year-long Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, where he studied race relations and formed a discussion group consisting of Nieman fellows and black graduate students); then the Stars and Stripes Pacific during World War II; David Stern's Camden, New Jersey, papers, prior to and during a strike in 1947; the liberal San Diego Journal in the late 1940s, when the paper won a national award for investigative reporting; David Stern's "crusading paper," the New Orleans Item, which ultimately was sold to its competitor, the Times-Picayune; and finally the Honolulu Advertiser, from 1958 to retirement, during which time the paper won sixty national awards. Chaplin talks about his younger sister, Kay, and her family; his perception of race relations in Charleston in the late 1940s; his religious practices, and why he and his wife, Esta Solomon Chaplin, who both came from strict Orthodox families, chose to raise their two children in the Reform tradition. He is joined briefly during the interview by Esta. His daughter, Jerri, provided comments and corrections to the transcript during proofing.
Henry Miller, accompanied by his wife, Minda Miller, describes growing up in Columbia, South Carolina, in the 1950s and 1960s. His parents, Cela Tyczgarten and David Miller were survivors of the Holocaust; their move to Columbia in 1949 was sponsored by the city and Beth Shalom Synagogue. The Millers summarize David and Cela’s experiences during World War II, in particular, David’s participation in the ghetto uprising in his native city of Warsaw, Poland. David and Cela met and married in Landsberg, Germany, where they were living in a displaced persons camp. Henry observes how his parents’ status as Holocaust survivors and refugees affected their outlook on life, as well as how it affected him and his sister as children. He discusses his parents’ liquor store business, the neighborhoods where they lived, and his memories of downtown Columbia on Saturdays. He also reflects on school desegregation, antisemitism, and the effects of prejudice on blacks and Jews. Henry met Minda in Memphis, Tennessee, where he attended optometry school; they married in 1978. They have a daughter, Dawn, and a son, Bret. Henry practiced optometry for thirty-seven years in Columbia.
Terri Wolff Kaufman, in this second of two interviews, talks about growing up in Columbia, South Carolina, where she was born in 1955 to Elsie Benenson and Louis Wolff. Louis, an architect, designed the large modern house in which Terri and her younger siblings, Frances, Michael, and Bruce, were raised. Terri notes instances of antisemitism that she experienced as a child and tells the story of how her father and his business partners at Lyles, Bissett, Carlisle & Wolff handled discriminatory treatment directed at Louis by the Summit Club in Columbia. Louis's awareness of prejudice against Jews and African Americans in Columbia was evident when he discouraged Terri from meeting a black friend out in public, knowing that the association would make life more difficult for Terri and the family. The interviewee shares stories about her siblings, describes her parents' social life and civic activities, and recalls the African Americans who worked for her family in their home. The Wolffs belonged to Columbia's Reform congregation, Tree of Life, and observed the Sabbath by lighting candles on Friday nights before going to services. While they did not keep kosher, Louis insisted that a couple of food restrictions be followed. Terri was studying to be an actor in New York when her father died suddenly. She ended up earning a graduate degree in media arts and working in the television industry in Los Angeles. Terri and her ex-husband, Jack Kaufman, raised their son, Alex, in the Jewish tradition in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. The interviewee finds it more "comfortable" living as a Jew in large northern cities as compared with the South, where Judaism is not as familiar or well understood. However, she thinks Jews who live in places with smaller Jewish populations are more likely to get involved in Jewish organizations as a way to connect with other Jews, as she has since her recent move to the Charleston area. Terri is married to a non-Jewish man, Vernon Dunning, and they are members of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim in Charleston, South Carolina. See Mss. 1035-564 for Terri's first interview and Mss. 1035-212 for an interview with Terri's aunt Sura Wolff Wengrow. For a related collection, see the Wolff family papers, Mss. 1045.