Anne Stern Solomon is joined in this interview by her nieces Marcie Stern Baker and Beryle Stern Jaffe. Born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1921, Anne grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, one of five children of Rose Sribnick and Gabriel Stern. The Sterns ran a number of stores in Columbia and tried their luck for a time in Charleston before opening a dry goods store in Lexington, on the outskirts of Columbia, in the early 1930s. In 1938, they moved the business to 1424 Assembly Street in Columbia. Anne relates childhood memories of Stern's, which catered mostly to black clientele. She believes her parents were the first store owners in the city to hire a black man to wait on customers. The three interviewees discuss relations between their family and local African Americans; the Sterns were "taught that everybody was the same." Anne talks about how she met Ted Solomon; they married in 1945 and raised four children in Columbia. Ted and Anne's brother, Henry Stern (Beryle and Marcie's father), took over the store upon returning from service in World War II. After a fire in 1957, they reopened as a discount shoe store in the same location. Marcie and Beryle describe their mother, Sarah Kramer Stern; her family in Summerville, South Carolina, where she grew up; and how she met their father. See also Anne Solomon's interviews on August 31, 2015 (Mss. 1035-485), and September 8, 2015 (Mss. 1035-486).
Anne Stern Solomon sits down for a third interview in 2015 (see also Mss. 1035-484 and -485) and adds details about her life, especially in the years before, during, and after World War II. She worked at Fort Jackson in her hometown of Columbia, SC, following her graduation from Winthrop College in 1940. About three years later, she left the fort to help her father, Gabriel Stern, in his dry goods store on Assembly Street. She describes what information they were getting about events in Europe during the war years; they were aware that people were trying to leave, but they did not know specifics about the treatment of Jews. Shortly after her fiance, Ted Solomon, returned from overseas duty in 1945, they were married by Rabbi David Karesh in House of Peace Synagogue on Marion Street. Ted and Anne's brother, Henry, also newly returned from service in World War II, took over Gabriel's store. Anne discusses race relations in Columbia in the 1960s and says of her family: "We were all taught not to be prejudiced because we knew that, especially in Europe, how bad it was when it came to antisemitism." She cites a few examples of antisemitism that she and her sister experienced, but notes that it generally was not an issue in Columbia. Anne recalls the arrival, in 1949, of Holocaust survivors Ben and Jadzia Stern, with their daughter, Lilly, the interviewer; they were sponsored by Anne's father, who was an uncle. Anne talks about her children, Bonnie, Teri, Charlene, and Joel, and about a program she started at the Jewish Community Center, called Stems, which engaged girls, ages ten through thirteen, in activities for enrichment, fund-raising, and recreation. Anne was active in local civic organizations, Jewish and non-Jewish, and went to work for realtor Tillie Lewenthal after her children were grown. When Tillie retired, Anne took over the business. The interviewee describes her involvement in Hadassah, her feelings about the State of Israel, and her Jewish identity.
Anne Stern Solomon, in this follow-up to a June 26, 2015, interview with her nieces (see Mss. 1035-484), covers the same topics as before, including her family history, living in Lexington and Columbia, South Carolina, as a child, her father's stores, and growing up with her four siblings. Her sister Sylvia opened a dance studio as a teen and was involved in choreographing the dance known as the Big Apple. See also Anne's Solomon's third interview, Mss. 1035-486.
Flossie Ginsberg Arnold and her son, Norman Arnold, discuss their family history. Flossie and her parents, Isaac and Pauline Ginsberg, immigrated to Charleston, South Carolina, from Russia around 1908, when Flossie was about one year old. Flossie recalls living on Hanover Street in the neighborhood they referred to as “Little Mexico,” where her family owned a small grocery store. Ultimately, the Ginsbergs moved to a home on Ashley Avenue and Isaac opened I. Ginsberg, Inc., on Meeting Street, selling cigars, candy, and notions. Flossie was working behind the cash register when her future husband, Ben Arnold, walked in. Charleston was a port of call for the Clyde Line steamer Ben was taking to New York from Florida, where he operated drugstores in Lake Worth and West Palm Beach. Flossie and Ben married in 1928 and shortly after, moved from Florida to Charleston, lured by the presence of family and a Jewish community, and Isaac’s offer to include Ben in the family business. Isaac and Ben developed a wholesale tobacco and drugstore enterprise with locations in several South Carolina cities, including Columbia, the state capital. Ben ran the Columbia store, which they expanded to include liquor. Around 1940 Flossie, Ben, and their son, Arnold, moved to the capital city, and in the mid-’40s, Isaac and Ben split up the business, Isaac keeping the tobacco distributorship, and Ben assuming full control of the liquor operation.
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.
Emma Bogen Lavisky Bukatman and Belle Lavisky Jewler, audio interview by Dale Rosengarten and Michael Samuel Grossman, 4 March 1997, Mss 1035-135, Special Collections, College of Charleston, Charleston, SC, USA.;Emma Bogen Lavisky Bukatman, interviewed with her daughter, Belle Lavisky Jewler, discusses the Katzenelenbogen family history, a name they attribute to a city in Poland, although their genealogy traces the family to Bialsytok, Russia, and long before that, Italy. Emma’s parents, Bella Weinberg and Joseph Bogen (Katzenelenbogen) were first cousins who met and married in New York City. Emma, born in 1906 in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, the oldest of four children, notes that their family moved frequently, and in each location her father opened a general merchandise store. She remembers living in New York City before moving to Denmark, South Carolina, when she was eight years old. Emma recalls that they “felt a lot of antisemitism growing up” in the small town where the Bogens were the only Jewish residents until the Ness family settled there and opened a dry goods store. When she was sixteen, the family moved about fifty miles north to Columbia. She met her first husband, Michael Lavisky at Chaplin’s wholesale shoe business where she was employed as a bookkeeper and he was a shipping clerk. They married in 1926 in House of Peace Synagogue on Park Street. Belle, who was born in Columbia in 1936, offers some background on her father’s family, the Laviskys, who emigrated from Russia to Columbia in 1912. Emma describes her siblings, the Bogen family’s religious practices, and her memories of Rabbi David Karesh of Columbia. She recounts how the women of House of Peace Congregation transitioned from sitting in the balcony in the Park Street building to sitting downstairs, separated from the men, in the new sanctuary on Marion Street. Other topics include Columbia merchants, in particular, the Rivkins; Belle’s brother, Saul Lavisky; letters Emma’s mother wrote to her sister in Yiddish that have been translated into English (copies are available in Jewish Heritage Collection vertical files, Special Collections, College of Charleston); and how Beth Shalom (formerly House of Peace) evolved from an Orthodox to a Conservative congregation, a development in which women’s roles in services were at the heart of the issue.
Belle Lavisky Jewler, born in 1936, grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, the only daughter of Emma Bogen and Mike Lavisky. She talks about her brother, Saul, and her extended family, in particular the Katzenellenbogens, from whom her mother was descended. Belle's father owned a number of stores in Columbia, among them, King's Jeweler's, which he opened with his partner Eddie Picow. Growing up, the interviewee says, "I felt different. I never knew antisemitism. I was kind of raised to stay with your own kind, so almost all my friends were Jewish." She met her husband, Allen "Jerry" Jewler, in Columbia when he was stationed at Fort Jackson. They were married in 1960 and moved to Silver Spring, Maryland, where she gave birth to daughter, Melissa, and son, Scott. Jerry's jobs took the family to Charlotte, North Carolina, and Greenville, South Carolina, before they returned to Columbia to stay in 1972. Belle discusses her children, her involvement in Beth Shalom, her Jewish identity, and her support for Israel. For a follow-up interview conducted on December 21, 2015, see Mss. 1035-459. See also Belle Jewler's March 4, 1997, interview with her mother, Emma Bogen Lavisky Bukatman, Mss. 1035-135.
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.
Beryle Stern Jaffe, born in 1945, talks about growing up in Columbia, South Carolina. She is the eldest daughter of Sarah Kramer and Henry Stern. After Henry was discharged from the military, the Sterns settled in Henry’s home city of Columbia, where he joined his father, Gabe Stern, in his dry goods business, at that time located in nearby Lexington. Beryle recalls segregation and how prejudice against African Americans manifested in public, as well as in her own home with regard to their hired help. The interviewee married Pierre Jaffe in 1967. Pierre, a native of Paris, France, immigrated as a child to the United States with his mother, who had married an American soldier. Pierre and Beryle raised two children, Jason and Erin, in Columbia. Interviewer Lilly Stern Filler’s parents, Ben and Jadzia Stern, were Holocaust survivors who settled in Columbia after World War II. Beryle and Lilly describe the degree to which Lilly’s parents, particularly her father, adjusted to life in a new country.