Claire Krawcheck Nussbaum, daughter of Polish immigrants Jack and Esther Bielsky Krawcheck, describes growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, in the 1930s and ’40s. Her parents were Orthodox Jews who observed the Sabbath and kept a kosher kitchen, with the help of Agnes Jenkins, who worked for the family for decades as housekeeper, cook, and third parent to Claire and her three siblings. The Krawchecks lived downtown on Colonial Street, many blocks from the uptown neighborhood, north of Calhoun Street, where the majority of immigrant Orthodox Jewish families lived at the time. Claire was close to a Catholic girl who lived on the same street, and she attended Ashley Hall, a private girls’ school. She had few Jewish friends, but became quite familiar with Catholic and Episcopalian traditions. Her father had men’s clothing stores both north and south of Calhoun Street—Jack’s on the corner of King and Vanderhorst Street, and Jack Krawcheck’s on King Street between George and Liberty Street. Claire discusses the buildings that housed the latter of the two stores, 311 King Street, which her father built, and 313 King Street, which he restored. Changes to the properties included gardens behind the buildings featuring iron work by Philip Simmons, and specially-designed, second-floor meeting rooms, used by local clubs, with paintings by William Halsey. Jack and Esther were members of Brith Sholom and they were active in a number of Charleston’s civic organizations, such as the Preservation Society and the Garden Club. Claire, who had difficulty relating to Judaism as a child—she couldn’t understand the Hebrew services and no one explained why they were following certain rules—convinced her parents to allow her to attend services and Sunday school at the Reform synagogue, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE). It was there that she became connected to the spiritual and religious aspects of Judaism. In 1950 Claire married Maurice Nussbaum of Ehrhardt, South Carolina, and they raised four children in Charleston. She discusses her siblings, children, and grandchildren, and her views on religion, antisemitism, and the changes in KKBE’s congregation since she began attending as a teen.
Max Kirshstein relates the experiences of his father, Nathan, and uncle, Abe, natives of Kaluszyn, Poland, who immigrated to the United States in 1920 to avoid conscription into the Polish army. They followed their three sisters to Charleston, South Carolina. Nathan’s wife, Sarah Ingberman, and their two sons, Yankel and Max, both born in Sarah’s hometown of Laskarzew, Poland, joined him in Charleston a year later. Max credits Sam Rittenberg with helping newly-arrived immigrants and notes that Etta Gaeser was one of several teachers who provided instruction in English. Nathan, who peddled to support the family, which had grown to include three more children, died in 1930, when Max was only ten years old. After graduating from Murray Vocational School in 1936, Max took a job in Isadore and Dave Solomon’s pawn shop on King Street. Four years later, Ben Barkin offered him a position as an administrative assistant in Aleph Zadik Aleph’s (AZA) Washington office. Two and a half years at the national headquarters “changed the whole course of my life, my thinking, and everything else.” While serving in the navy during World War II, Max continued his association with AZA as an advisor for Virginia’s Tidewater chapters. After the war he returned to Charleston and, in addition to his advising duties, he became the first chairman of AZA’s southern region, and, later, helped to organize a new local chapter to accommodate the growing number of Baby Boomer teens. In 1946 Max opened Metropolitan Credit Company, which he renamed Metropolitan Furniture Company. A year later he married Sylvia Lazarus and together they raised three children. Max touches on the antisemitism he experienced growing up, the breakaway of a number of Brith Sholom members to form Emanu-El, Charleston’s Conservative synagogue, and the merger of the two Orthodox congregations, Brith Sholom and Beth Israel. Note: comments on the transcript made by Larry Iskow, the interviewee’s son-in-law, are in brackets with his initials.
Everett Ness and his wife, Shirley Gergel Ness, discuss his family history. Everett recalls accompanying his mother, Esther Berger, a Polish immigrant, on a visit to see her parents, Fishel and Molly Nachman Berger, in Poland in 1931, when he was four years old. Esther helped several of her siblings to emigrate; most of them, unable to enter the United States because of quota restrictions, settled in Argentina. Everett's paternal grandfather, Yehuda Seiden, changed his surname to Ness (Nass), his mother's maiden name, to avoid conscription in Poland, and immigrated to New York, where Everett's father, Benjamin grew up. Benjamin joined his brother Morris in his dry goods store in Manning, South Carolina, before opening his own ladies ready-to-wear business in nearby Sumter. He met Esther in Charleston, South Carolina, while attending High Holy Day services. They raised Everett and his sister, also named Shirley, in Manning, and attended Temple Sinai in Sumter. Everett and Shirley Gergel married in 1949 and lived for seventeen years in Charleston before moving to Columbia, South Carolina. They were initially members of the Reform synagogue in Charleston, but switched to the Conservative congregation, Emanu-El. Everett, who began studying Hebrew as an adult, notes that "as we became more aware of our Jewishness, the Reform Movement did not meet our needs, did not meet my needs." The Nesses talk about their relationship with Sam and Sophie Solomon of Charleston and describe Sam's funeral in 1954. Everett discusses his mother's philanthropic work for the March of Dimes and his involvement with Chabad and the chevra kadisha in Columbia.
Libby Friedman Levinson, the youngest of seven children of Betty Alpern and Isadore Friedman, was born in Grajewo, Poland, in 1909. Isadore immigrated to the United States a month before Germany declared war on Russia in 1914. He settled in Charleston, South Carolina, home to a number of Betty’s relatives and landsmen from Trestina (Trzcianne), including the Karesh, Pearlstine, and Jacobs families. Betty and the children intended to follow as soon as they could sell their house and furniture, but World War I prevented their emigration until just after the fighting ended. Libby describes how her mother and siblings survived the war and their trip from Poland to Charleston afterward. She discusses family members, in particular, her sister Annie, who married Louis Lourie of St. George, and her sister Minnie, who married Jake Kalinsky of Holly Hill. Libby married Charles Levinson of Bishopville; after living briefly in Branchville and North, South Carolina, they moved to Barnwell, where they raised two children. The transcript includes comments inserted by the interviewee during proofreading.
Melvin Jacobs and Rose Wexler Jacobs, audio interview by Michael Samuel Grossman, 7 March 1997, Mss 1035-139, Special Collections, College of Charleston, Charleston, SC, USA.;Melvin Jacobs, born in 1909 in Charleston, South Carolina, discusses his family history. His maternal grandparents, Rebecca Tobish and Louis Charles Pearlstine, settled in Branchville, South Carolina, where they ran a dry goods store. Louis emigrated with Melvin’s paternal grandfather, Isaac Jacobs (Karesh) from Trzcianne, Russia, circa 1852. Melvin’s father, Louis Jacobs, an observant Orthodox Jew, ran a shoe store in Charleston on King Street. Under mounting financial pressure, Louis began opening his store on the Sabbath, a decision that created tension between him and his father, Isaac. Melvin talks about his siblings and his aunts and uncles, specifically his uncle Dr. Kivy Pearlstine, who practiced in Charleston. Melvin married Rose Wexler of Savannah, who joined him in this interview. They recall their courtship and wedding, and Rose touches on the issue of how women dressed for synagogue services in the past and at the time of the interview. Note: for several related collections, search for “Pearlstine” in Special Collections, Addlestone Library, College of Charleston. The Jacobses recorded a second interview in 1998 (Mss. 1035-172).