Adath Yeshurun in Aiken, South Carolina, celebrated its 75th anniversary on May 4, 1996. Presentations by Sunday school students and performances by guest singer Gloria Greenbaum and the men’s chorus were followed by a series of speakers who shared their memories of the Jewish community and congregation, as well as histories of some of Aiken’s early Jewish families—Efron, Franzblau, Persky, Panitz, Polier, Rudnick, Sawilowsky, Schneider, Surasky, and Wolf. Other subjects of discussion included the Sons of Israel Cemetery, the murder of Abraham Surasky, and a short-lived Jewish farming association established in nearby Montmorenci in 1905, dubbed “Happyville” by its promoters.
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.
Rose Surasky Seldin, born in 1917, and her sister-in-law Evelyn Goodman Surasky Caplan, born in 1918, describe growing up in Aiken, South Carolina. Rose’s parents, Annie Sarah Rudnick and Solomon Surasky, emigrated from Knyszyn, Poland, joining his brothers and brother-in-law H. L Polier in Aiken. The interviewees recall the family businesses, including Augusta Polier’s lingerie shop and millinery. Augusta was married to Morris Polier, Evelyn’s grandfather. When Augusta died, Evelyn’s mother, Rebecca Polier Goodman, took over the store. Rose and Evelyn discuss several family members, in particular, Rose’s first cousin, Mina Surasky Tropp. Among the topics covered: prejudice; keeping kosher; the Jewish farming community called “Happyville,” established in 1905 by its promoters in nearby Montmorenci; and how locals responded to and were affected by the building of the Savannah River Plant in the early 1950s.