Irving “Itchy” Sonenshine (Zonenschein), in this follow-up to his September 30, 1997 interview, describes growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, in the 1920s and ’30s, including stories about childhood playmates, his participation in AZA (Aleph Zadik Aleph), and local Jewish merchants, including those who closed their businesses on the Sabbath. He recalls the religious leaders and the merger of the two Orthodox synagogues, Brith Sholom and Beth Israel, and the split that occurred when Emanu-El, the Conservative congregation, was established. Among the topics discussed: Friendship Lodge; the Kalushiner Society; Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform practices; and the status of Charleston’s Orthodox community at the time of the interview.
Isadore Cohen (b. 1918) and Samuel Rosen (b. 1929), Charleston natives and sons of immigrants from Russia and Poland, share their early memories of the Orthodox synagogues, Beth Israel and Brith Sholom, and discuss the relationship between the two congregations before and after their merger in the mid-1950s. They describe their Hebrew education, including their teachers—a number of rabbis plus a Mrs. Allen, daughter of Rabbi Gillman. Topics relating to the first half of the twentieth century covered in the interview include Jewish merchants, the Kalushiner Society, founded by immigrants from Kaluszyn, Poland, popular venues for Jewish functions, and the Cohen and Rosen family businesses, both small grocery stores. Interviewer Professor Jeffrey Gurock from Yeshiva University also provides information he discovered while conducting research for his book Orthodoxy in Charleston: Brith Sholom Beth Israel and American Jewish History.
Klyde Robinson continues his account of growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, begun in his first interview on August 26, 1997. His father’s business was a bicycle and toy store on the corner of King and Ann Streets, and everyone in the family worked there. Even as a U.S. district attorney and circuit court judge, Klyde helped out at Christmastime when sales peaked for the year. The Robinsons lived in the Hampton Park and upper King Street neighborhoods, and summered on Folly Beach and, later, on Sullivan’s Island where, Klyde recalls, a number of Jewish families had houses beginning in the 1930s. Emma Brown, the African-American woman who worked for the family for nearly 50 years, was well-versed in keeping kosher. Klyde attended The Citadel and at the end of his junior year, he and some of his classmates joined the army to fight in World War II. Despite near-blindness in one eye, Klyde was allowed to serve; ultimately, he went to Europe with the 141st Antiaircraft Artillery Gun Battalion. He notes that while he was aware of the existence of the concentration camps before he left the States, German townspeople claimed to know nothing about them. When he was discharged from the army, almost three years after signing up, he returned to The Citadel to complete his undergraduate education. While attending Harvard Law School, he met Claire Zuckernik of Boston, Massachusetts. In 1949 he graduated from Harvard and was admitted to the South Carolina Bar. He and Claire married in 1950 and she joined him in Charleston, where they raised their children and he started a law practice. Klyde describes his career, including how he acquired his positions as Charleston County’s attorney, assistant U.S. attorney, and circuit court judge. Among the other topics discussed: the social barriers among the Jewish community in the first half of the 20th century; the establishment of the Conservative synagogue, Emanu-El, in 1947; the merger, referred to by the interviewee as an amalgamation, of Charleston’s two Orthodox synagogues, Brith Sholom and Beth Israel, in 1954; joining the Masonic lodge, Friendship Lodge, No. 9; and the debate about whether to open the Jewish Community Center on the Sabbath and High Holidays. Also mentioned are Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch, leader of the congregation at the newly merged Brith Sholom Beth Israel from 1955 to 1963, and Bill Ackerman, developer of the South Windermere neighborhood who ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for mayor of Charleston in 1971. Note: see transcript for corrections made by interviewee during proofing. See Mss. 1035-165 for the preceding interview on August 26, 1997. See the Klyde Robinson Collection, Mss. 1024, in Special Collections at the College of Charleston Library for related material.
Siblings Melvin Solomon, Frances Solomon Jacobson, and Naomi Solomon Friedman—three of five children of Sophie Prystowsky and Sam Solomon — are joined in this interview by Melvin’s wife, Judith Mendell Solomon, and Naomi’s husband, Morris Friedman. Sam Solomon (Checzewski was the family name) immigrated to the United States in 1902 from Zabludow, Russia. After working for a time in New York, Sam moved to Charleston, South Carolina, following the Prystowsky family, friends from the Old Country. He opened a wholesale dry goods store that offered credit to peddlers, and married Sophie Prystowsky. The siblings and their spouses tell stories that impart a sense of daily life, including descriptions of Sam and Sophie, various Prystowsky family members, and the African Americans who worked for them at home and in the store. For decades, Sam employed a black man in his business who learned to speak Yiddish with the customers. Melvin, Frances, and Naomi grew up on St. Philip Street, surrounded by cousins and other Jewish families. To escape the heat of the city, they spent summers at their beach house on Sullivan’s Island. They recall Joseph “Jew Joe” Truere, the Mazo family, and gathering minyans on demand in Sam’s King Street store. Melvin talks briefly about Brith Sholom and Beth Israel, the two Orthodox synagogues, before their merger, and the formation of Emanu-El, the Conservative congregation, in the mid-1950s. Judith, a New Jersey native who was not raised in a kosher household, describes her experiences as a new bride, trying to follow the rules of kashrut in the South. Morris and Naomi discuss the circumstances of their marriage and how their mothers’ points of view differed. Note: for related collections, see the Prystowsky-Feldman family papers, Mss. 1016, and the Solomon-Prystowsky family papers, Mss. 1013. See also interviews with Gertrude Sosnick Solomon (Mss. 1035-188 and Mss. 1035-193) and Shirley Feldman Prystowsky (Mss. 1035-508).
Saul Krawcheck was born in 1926 in Charleston, South Carolina, to Esther Freda Bielsky and Jack Krawcheck, immigrants from the Bialystok region of present-day Poland. Jack ran Jack’s Clothiers, a cash-only business, located first on the corner of King and Vanderhorst streets, later moving to 313 King Street. Saul talks about his extended family, including his Krawcheck and Bielsky grandparents, aunts, and uncles. His grandfather Zorach Bielsky served as the cantor for Beth Israel for a time. Saul and his family were members of Brith Sholom, and Saul attended junior congregation every Saturday morning as a boy. The interviewee recalls Agnes Jenkins, an African-American woman who cooked for the family for sixty years. She came from Wadmalaw Island and prepared traditional southern meals for the Krawchecks, while adhering to kosher standards. Saul discusses social divisions in the local Jewish community he observed growing up and laments the self-segregation of Jews in Charleston at the time of the interview. They “have ghettoized themselves. . . It didn’t used to be that way. It has only become that way.” He notes that the Greek community has isolated itself more than any other group in Charleston. Saul describes his father’s civic activities, in particular his work in the historic preservation movement. Jack was president of the Preservation Society of Charleston for two terms, and his store at 313 King, which he bought in 1938, was the first property to undergo adaptive-use restoration, for which he received the first Carolopolis Award. Saul talks briefly about his daughters Maxine, Marcy, and Beth, and their families. For a related collection, see Jack Krawcheck business records, Mss. 1026, Special Collections, College of Charleston.