Mary Ann Pearlstine Aberman, the elder of two daughters of Milton Alfred Pearlstine and Cecile Mayer Pearlstine, provides some background on her mother’s family the Mayers, whose ancestors arrived in the United States from Bavaria in the early 1800s, and her father’s family, the Pearlstines, who emigrated from Germany to South Carolina in the mid-1800s. Born in Charleston, South Carolina, she describes growing up in the Hampton Park Terrace neighborhood of Charleston, next door to her first cousins. The family did not keep kosher but they did observe Shabbat by lighting candles before dinner and attending Friday night services at the Reform synagogue, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE). She remembers that Jewish Citadel cadets were invited to join members of Charleston’s Jewish community for worship and holiday observances; they even taught Sunday school. She met her husband, Edward Aberman of Rock Hill, when he was attending The Citadel. Mary Ann reviews some of her father’s civic contributions to the Charleston area, particularly his involvement in the South Carolina State Ports Authority, and she recalls Pearlstine family involvement in Brith Sholom and KKBE. She also briefly discusses the founding of Emanu-El, the Conservative congregation, in 1947, noting that KKBE lost some of its members to Emanu-El at that time. Mary Ann is joined in this interview by Edward Aberman. See also Edward’s interview on the same date (Mss. 1035-221), the Abermans’ interview with fellow Rock Hill, South Carolina, residents Jack Leader, Harriet Marshall Goode, and Martin Goode on September 21 , 1999 (Mss. 1035-218), and an interview with Rock Hill native Sophia Marie Friedheim Beers (Mss. 1035-220).
Alex Garfinkel discusses his father, Harry Louis Garfinkel, who emigrated from Divin, Russia, around the turn of the twentieth century to avoid conscription. He was followed to the United States by two sisters, four brothers, and his father. Harry heard there were landsmen (countrymen) from Divin in Charleston, South Carolina, so he moved there and worked as a shoemaker until he bought a mattress factory. He married Celia Hannah Lapidus of Charleston. At some point, Harry turned over the mattress business to his brother Sam and opened a junk yard, which grew into a successful scrap metal business. Alex grew up on Line Street, one of eight children. He attended Hebrew school at Beth Israel and briefly mentions the split between Beth Israel and Brith Sholom, the Orthodox synagogues. Alex talks about King Street merchants, his father’s businesses, and taking over the scrap yard as a young man, which exempted him from military service during World War II. He invited his cousin Max Garfinkel of Baltimore to join him in the growing business, and they remained partners for over forty years. See also interviews with other members of the Garfinkel family: Helen Rosenshein, Olga Weinstein, Sandra Shapiro, Nathan and Frances Garfinkle (Nathan spells the family name differently), Max and Jennie Garfinkel, and Philip Garfinkel.
Dora Altman grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, where her father worked as a tailor. Her parents’ emigration from Poland was sponsored by a relative, a member of the Mendelsohn family. The Altmans attended the Orthodox synagogue Brith Sholom and, at some point, Dora switched to Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, the Reform temple where services were conducted in English. Dora remembers playing with both Jews and gentiles as a child; the Henckel twins, members of the Coburg Dairy family, were among her closest friends. Dora was engaged to Samuel Turtletaub when he was killed in France during World War I. She never married. During the interview, Dora identifies certain photographs (see the Dora Altman collection, Mss. 1006 in Special Collections, College of Charleston), and is joined by interviewer Haskell Ellison, also a Charleston native, in recalling Charleston’s Jewish families and merchants of the early 20th century.
Anita Rosen Levine, the daughter of Rose Rosenfeld of Romania and Jacob Rosen of Vitebsk, Russia, grew up in Port Chester, New York, a small town with a vibrant Jewish community. She received her Jewish education from students of New York City’s Jewish Theological Seminary, who traveled by train to the suburb to teach Sunday school. Anita was visiting a friend in Charleston, South Carolina, when she met Sol Levine, a native of Savannah, Georgia. His parents, Harry Levine, a cantor from Yekaterinoslav, Ukraine, and Freda Wasserman, a native of Warsaw, Poland, emigrated from Russia in 1906 with their two daughters and Harry’s mother. After Freda died in 1932, Harry and his two youngest sons, Sol and David, moved from Savannah to Charleston, where his daughter Rose lived with her family. Nearly two years later, Harry and Sol moved to Columbia, joining Sol’s older brother Max. David, still a young boy, stayed behind with Rose. Sol belonged to the Herzl Club in Savannah and was the first president of Columbia’s Jewish youth group, AZA, Aleph Zadik Aleph. He clerked in stores in the South Carolina towns of Allendale and Bamberg before returning to Charleston where he worked for his brother-in-law at LeRoy’s Jewelers on King Street. Sol and Anita, who married and settled in Charleston in 1942, talk about their social life, downtown shop owners, and their three children. In the early 1950s, when construction of the Savannah River Site, a nuclear production facility, was underway, Sol was hired to run a store in Barnwell, one of the South Carolina towns experiencing rapid growth associated with the new plant. The Levines lived in Barnwell for two years before returning to Charleston in 1955, the year after the two Orthodox synagogues, Brith Sholom and Beth Israel, merged. Prior to moving to Barnwell, they had been members of Brith Sholom; upon their return to Charleston, they joined Brith Sholom Beth Israel (BSBI). They discuss the merger and comment on the breakaway of Brith Sholom members to establish the Conservative congregation Emanu-El in 1947. Other topics covered include Sol’s contributions to BSBI through the Men’s Club, Anita’s involvement with the Daughters of Israel Sisterhood, the St. Philip Street and Rutledge Avenue mikvahs, and the rabbis, cantors, and sextons who served the Orthodox community. Anita began working for the BSBI rabbis in the mid-1950s, running the office for the synagogue and the Charleston Hebrew Institute (CHI), BSBI’s Hebrew day school. She describes the growth of CHI from just a kindergarten in 1955 to graduating the first class of seventh graders in 1964. “It was like my fourth child,” she says, referring to CHI.
In this second of a two-part interview, Anita Moise Rosefield Rosenberg describes her career after graduating from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She first took a job as music director at WPTF radio in Raleigh, North Carolina. When she and her husband, Ira Rosenberg, moved to Charleston, South Carolina, in the 1960s, she went to work at WKTM radio, owned by her cousin Ansley Cohen, selling advertising spots, and doing whatever else was needed. Anita notes that working at WKTM was exciting because it was FM, which "was coming into its own," and it was "Charleston's first rock station." After a few years, she went into "the advertising agency world" and was active in the local professional association, Advertising Federation of Charleston, and the national association, American Advertising Federation, which recognized her work with their Silver Medal Award. One of her clients was Pearlstine Distributors, who hired her to run its marketing and advertising department. Anita talks about other jobs she held and the various types of work she did in advertising. "Just every different avenue of this profession has been fun and interesting, and very rewarding to do." In Charleston, the interviewee has been involved in numerous Jewish and non-Jewish community organizations and events as part of her professional work and her personal commitment to giving back. She recounts how she met her husband, Ira, the son of Bessie Lipschutz and Alan Rosenberg. "Two different worlds met each other." Ira's parents, Orthodox Jews from New York, raised him in Richmond, Virginia. Anita grew up in Sumter, South Carolina, in a Reform temple. Anita and Ira's three children are David, Virginia, and Mindelle. Anita discusses how and why she and Ira were able to adopt Virginia in 1967 as an infant. The Rosenberg family belonged to Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE), Charleston's Reform synagogue. The interviewee talks about her children and grandchildren. Her son, David, and his wife, Marcie, are members of the relatively new Modern Orthodox Dor Tikvah in Charleston. Anita and Ira started keeping kosher years ago?something they did not do while raising their children?to accommodate family members who are kosher. Anita considers how practices have changed at KKBE: they have their first female rabbi and their first gay rabbi; the revised prayer books have English and Hebrew with transliterations and translations; the cantor's role has expanded and is more inclusive. She says, "Conservative and Reform are moving closer to each other in today's world," and adds "from a historical point of view, the ancestors were Sephardic Orthodox Jews who settled here. That's my beginnings. So I don't feel like this is so strange, it's just a part of who I am." Anita briefly covers a number of other topics, including KKBE's past rabbis; its present-day choir; how the influx of people from other states has changed the congregation; the current status of Charleston's Jewish congregations and how/why they get along so well; her opinion about the presence of Chabad in the area; Jewish-gentile relations; and her thoughts on the Temple Sinai Jewish History Center in her hometown of Sumter. In a postscript to this interview, Anita recalls Alfreda LaBoard of Johns Island, the African-American woman who "was our nursie" from the time the Rosenberg kids were small. "She raised my children. I could never have done all the things that I did in the community, as well as Ira and I both busy with our careers, if it hadn't been for Alfreda." Comments and corrections made by the interviewee during proofing have been added to the transcript. For part one of this interview, see Mss. 1035-554. For related interviews, see Anita's interviews with her husband Ira Rosenberg, Mss. 1035-452 and Mss. 1035-461, and with her son, David Rosenberg, Mss. 1035-175. Also see a 1995 interview with her mother, Virginia Moise Rosefield, Mss. 1035-007.
Edna Ginsberg Banov, the second of five children, was born in 1908 in Charleston, South Carolina, to Russian immigrants Pauline Kop and Isaac Ginsberg. Pauline’s sister Freda had settled in Charleston and married Hyman Bluestein. Pauline and Isaac opened a grocery store on America Street, at the corner of Hanover, and they lived above it. Edna describes the store, their home, and the neighborhood, which was called Little Mexico. When she was about ten years old, they moved to King Street and opened a wholesale tobacco shop. The Ginsbergs were Orthodox Jews and Edna recalls attending Sunday school classes and, as a teen, Hebrew school with Rabbi Glasser. The interviewee shares stories of her siblings, Flossie, Lilla, Izzy, and Bernice; her teachers at Courtenay School; two African Americans who worked for the family; Uncle Willie Banov, whom Edna tried to match with Henrietta Givner; Fannie Warshavsky, who taught Pauline English; her children Charles, Linda, and Karen; and her grandson Michael. Edna married Milton Banov, son of Sam Banov. She talks about her father-in-law’s men’s store on upper King Street, where he also dispensed home remedies for illnesses. See also Edna Banov’s interviews of November 9, 1995 (Mss. 1035-046) and November 14, 1995 (Mss. 1035-048). For a related collection, see the Edna Ginsberg Banov papers, Mss. 1039, Special Collections, College of Charleston.
Edna Ginsberg Banov, born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1908, expands upon the stories she shared in her first interview. A daughter of Pauline Kop and Isaac Ginsberg, of Vitebsk Gubernia, Belarus, Russia, she talks about her mother’s family and her parents’ wedding, which took place in the Old Country. She notes that her father worked in the Kimberley diamond mines in South Africa before the marriage. Edna reads from some of her writings about life in the Jewish neighborhood of upper King and St. Philip streets when she was growing up. The Ginsbergs were strictly kosher and Edna describes their diet and the meals her mother cooked. She tells a number of stories, including how the family didn’t know her birth date and how her father disciplined her when she was a young girl for taking something that didn’t belong to her. Edna remembers an African American woman they called Old Suzy, who worked for the Sam Banov family for years, Edna’s in-laws, and later worked for Edna and her husband, Milton Banov. See also Edna Banov’s interviews of November 2, 1995 (Mss. 1035-045) and November 14, 1995 (Mss. 1035-048). For a related collection, see the Edna Ginsberg Banov papers, Mss. 1039, Special Collections, College of Charleston.
“Growing up Jewish in Beaufort” is a panel discussion held in 1998 at the Jewish Historical Society of South Carolina’s fall meeting held in Beaufort, South Carolina. Beaufort natives Joseph Lipton, Stanley Farbstein, Michael Greenly, Gerrie Lipson Sturman, and Thomas Keyserling share childhood memories from the 1920s through the 1960s. Topics addressed include antisemitism, assimilation, and the transition from Orthodox to Conservative practices in Beth Israel. The panelists recall rabbis and lay leaders who served the congregation, and identify Jewish merchants, tradesmen, and professionals.
Helen Berle, a daughter of Harry and Tillie Hufeizen Laufer, immigrants from Mogelnitsa, Poland, reminisces about her parents’ business, Laufer’s Kosher Restaurant on King Street in Charleston, South Carolina. Popular among local merchants and military servicemen stationed in Charleston and Beaufort, the eatery served Jews and non-Jews for about two decades beginning in the early 1930s. Berle describes some of the kosher-style dishes that Jews from the Old Country brought with them to America. “Everything was just good, plain, old, basic cooking. . . . I think seasoning had a lot to do with it.” While blacks could not eat at Laufer’s, they were hired to work in the kitchen, and she recalls that the relationship between members of the Jewish and black communities of Charleston were good in the years before the Civil Rights Movement. She briefly mentions a branch of her mother’s family, the Hufeisens of France, who were also in the restaurant business. Note: the transcript contains additions and corrections made by Helen during proofing.
Bernice Berlin Silver, one of four children of Sam and Bertha Livingstain Berlin (Berlinsky), talks about growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, several blocks from the Jewish immigrant neighborhood north of Calhoun Street. Bernice grew up in an Orthodox home, but her father opened the family store on the Sabbath out of “necessity.” She attended Crafts School and Memminger High School, where she was valedictorian of her graduating class. While most of her friends were gentiles, she participated in AZA (Aleph Zadik Aleph) activities and was an AZA Sweetheart. Bernice married Sam Silver (Zilberman) of Augusta, Georgia. The couple moved to his hometown where she became active in Hadassah and started a chapter of the NCJW (National Council of Jewish Women). After about 25 years, the Silvers relocated first to Columbia, South Carolina, and then California, before settling in Charleston, where they operated a restaurant supply business for over two decades. Bernice discusses her immediate and extended family members. Interviewer Ruth Jacobs reads from material obtained from Charleston city directories regarding business and home addresses of the Livingstains (Bernice’s mother’s family) and the Goodmans (Bernice’s maternal grandmother’s family) in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Bertha Lazarus Breibart, daughter of immigrants Louis and Rose Lazarus (Lazarowitz), discusses growing up in Charleston and Summerville, South Carolina, in the 1920s and ’30s. Louis arrived in New York in 1902, worked as a tailor, and, later, his wife and their first child, Max, joined him. The family moved to Charleston, where Louis ran a shoe repair shop in various locations on King Street. When they moved to Summerville, he reopened on Main Street. Bertha remembers that her father struggled to make a living; they were a “very poor family,” one that included three brothers, Max, Morris, and Herman, all much older than Bertha. The family traveled to Charleston to attend holiday services at Brith Sholom, one of Charleston’s two Orthodox synagogues. Bertha recalls the traditional foods her mother made, their Jewish neighbors in Charleston and Summerville, and her experiences attending Summerville public schools. When she was eighteen she represented Summerville in Charleston’s 1935 Azalea Festival beauty contest and won. Bertha attended AZA and B’nai Brith dances and other social events in Charleston, and on one of her many visits to the city, she met her husband, George Breibart. Note: the transcript contains additions and corrections made by the interviewee during proofing.
Sara Bolgla Breibart, at the age of one, emigrated from Brest-Litovsk with her parents and four-year-old brother. They followed her grandfather, Avram Bolgla, to Augusta, Georgia, where he had established a shoe business. With input from her niece, Debra Bolgla, she recounts their family history, including the loss of those who remained behind in Europe to the Holocaust. Sara grew up in Augusta among a small group of Orthodox Jewish families. She discusses the discriminatory attitudes toward African Americans that she observed as a child in Augusta and an adult in Charleston, South Carolina. She married Solomon Breibart of Charleston and they raised two children, Carol and Mark. Note: the transcript contains comments made by Sara during proofing.
Solomon “Sol” Breibart was born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1914, the oldest of five children of Russian immigrants Ida Goldberg and Sam Breibart. The Breibarts moved from New York to Charleston in 1914, where they opened a corner grocery store. Sol describes the physical layout of his parents’ store on Meeting Street and how his father ran the business. He recalls the locations of his uncle Harry Goldberg’s grocery stores and identifies the owners of other markets and bakeries he knew while growing up. The interviewee discusses two groups of Charleston Jews known to locals as the Uptown Jews and the Downtown Jews: who they were in terms of origin, which synagogues they attended, and how they related to one another. He speaks briefly about the merger of Beth Israel and Brith Sholom and describes the first Beth Israel building on St. Philip Street. The Breibarts were Orthodox Jews and they kept kosher, yet Sam closed the store only on the High Holidays. Sol remembers how the shochet killed chickens for his mother and the dishes she cooked for the family, and he talks about his siblings, George, Mickey, Sidney, and Jack. Note: See Mss. 1035-279 for a second interview with Solomon Breibart dated March 16, 2004. Special Collections, Addlestone Library, College of Charleston is the repository for the Solomon Breibart professional papers, Mss. 1084, and the Breibart family photographs, Mss. 1034-108.
Stanley Karesh grew up in the Hampton Park Terrace neighborhood of Charleston, South Carolina, in the 1920s and ’30s. His family kept kosher and attended Brith Sholom. Stanley describes the shoe store his grandfather Charles Karesh built at 545 King Street. Charles immigrated with his wife, Sarah Orlinsky Karesh, to Charleston, circa 1878, from their hometown of Trestina (Trzcianne), in Polish Russia. They operated a store in the small town of Greeleyville, South Carolina, for a few years before returning with their growing family to Charleston, eager to live in a larger Jewish community. Stanley refers to a number of Charleston families, including Rittenberg, Friedman, Bielsky, Barshay, Kaminski, Jacobs, Banov, Livingstain, and Pearlstine, many of whom are related to the Kareshes. He also mentions his maternal grandparents, Harry and Anna Smolensky Feinberg, and cousin Rabbi David Karesh of Columbia. Stanley attended dental school in Baltimore, where he met Charlot Marks. The couple married in 1945 in her hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina. They raised three daughters in Charleston, and they were one of the first families to move to South Windermere, a subdivision west of the Ashley River. Stanley discusses the changes over time in relations between members of the Orthodox and the Reform synagogues and between the two Orthodox congregations, Brith Sholom and Beth Israel. He and Charlot, the youngest charter members of Conservative Synagogue Emanu-El, which broke away from Brith Sholom in 1947, recount its origins and offer their view of how its members differed from the Orthodox congregants from whom they split.
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.
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.
Mordecai "Mortie" Cohen, born in 1916, the middle of three sons of Raye Needle and Isaac Cohen, was raised in St. Matthews, South Carolina. The Cohens had settled in the small town about forty miles southeast of Columbia, South Carolina, around 1912, and opened a general merchandise store. Isaac also owned two farms, raising corn, cotton, cows, and hogs. About St. Matthews, Mortie says, "It was a good life for a kid, growing up." He recalls five other Jewish families who lived in the town at one point: the Savitzes, Pearlstines, Bergers, Yelmans, and Goldiners. They held High Holiday services in the Masonic Hall over a store in St. Matthews and were joined by families who lived in neighboring towns. "My mother kept halfway [kosher] because you couldn't keep kosher in a small town." He and his brothers, Harold and Leroy, didn't have a Jewish education. "My parents were involved in the Christian community a good deal." Isaac played poker every Sunday in the back of his store with the prominent men in town, including the mayor. Growing up, Mortie socialized mostly with Christians and even attended church with them. "Never in all my growing up did I ever feel like I was different, that I was not wanted." Mortie, a pharmacist, describes how he met his wife, Dorothy "Dutch" Idalin Gelson, who joins him in this interview shortly after it starts. Dutch and Mortie settled in Walterboro, South Carolina, in 1941, after living briefly in St. George, South Carolina. Mortie, who ran one of seven drug stores in Walterboro, notes that they "were very active in the Christian and Jewish community there and I never felt out of place." He relates a story about his working relationship and friendship with a black doctor who settled in Walterboro in the mid-1940s. Mortie and Dutch traveled to Brith Sholom in Charleston to attend services until Walterboro's small Jewish community organized Temple Mt. Sinai in the late 1940s. In 1954, the couple moved to Charleston, South Carolina, where Dutch had grown up. Mortie opened South Windermere Drugs in South Windermere Shopping Center, part of a new suburban residential and commercial development across the Ashley River from the Charleston peninsula. Dutch remembers feeling happy about the move to Charleston because of the larger Jewish population: "I was happy to come back to a Jewish environment." Mortie and Dutch made connections with prominent Charlestonians?Mortie was on a bank board and a member of the Country Club of Charleston?and they were invited to high-profile social events, but they declined because they wanted to reserve time for involvement in Jewish organizations and activities. The interviewees discuss the effects of intermarriage on Jewish identity, citing examples in their family and others of "the vanishing American Jew," a reference to The Vanishing American Jew: In Search of Jewish Identity for the Next Century, a book written by their son-in-law, Alan Dershowitz, and published in 1997. Mortie recounts an instance of antisemitism at the Country Club of Charleston when a Jewish person applying for membership was blackballed, but when the vote was re-cast openly at the insistence of Mortie's non-Jewish friend, the negative vote disappeared. When asked about "the relationship between the white community and the African-American community in St. Matthews," Mortie tells the story of a black man, a plumber, who was beaten and run out of town by white men for being "arrogant." The Cohens, who have two children, Marvin and Carolyn, talk briefly about daughter and son, Joyce and Stephen, they lost to illness while living in Walterboro.
Irving “Itchy” Sonenshine (Zonenschein), son of Polish immigrants, talks about growing up in the St. Philip Street neighborhood of Charleston, South Carolina, and recalls many of the Jewish families that operated stores on King Street. He discusses the two Orthodox synagogues, Beth Israel and Brith Sholom, his experiences in Hebrew school and at AZA (Aleph Zadik Aleph) functions, his service as a navigator on bombers in the Pacific theatre during World War II, his partnership with Arthur Kahn in the electronics business, and his wife, Mildred “Mickey” Breibart Sonenshine, also a native of Charleston. Sonenshine also mentions the synagogue his son Stanley attends, B’nai Torah, a “Conservadox” congregation in Atlanta. Note: a videotape of this interview is available for viewing in Special Collections, Addlestone Library, College of Charleston.
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.
Frances Solomon Garfinkle, daughter of Morris and Rina Chachevski Solomon, relates her mother’s stories of life in Zabludow, Poland, before she immigrated to the United States. Frances, a native of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, recalls visiting relatives in Charleston, South Carolina, as a child. She married Nathan Garfinkle, son of Sam and Annie Garfinkel, emigrants from, respectively, Divin and Grozny, Russia. Nathan, who remembers living in Charleston’s East Side before moving to the St. Philip Street neighborhood, attended Beth Israel, one of two Orthodox synagogues, with his father. Frances and Nathan discuss Charleston’s Jewish merchants, particularly wholesaler Sam Solomon, whose Sullivan’s Island summer home was a gathering place for Jewish families on Sundays. They describe Charleston and Jewish food traditions, including African-American street vendors and Jewish-owned markets, and the prevalence of Yiddish speakers among members of the Jewish community in the first half of the twentieth century. Even some African Americans who worked for Jewish store owners spoke Yiddish. Louisa Simmons kept house for Sam and Annie Garfinkel, and later for Nathan and Frances, for a total of than more than fifty years. “She was one of the family . . . we loved her.” Note: Other family members spell the name Garfinkel. The interviewee has spelled his name Garfinkle since his military service during World War II, when a typographic error was made and never corrected.
Sidney Rittenberg, born in 1921, talks about growing up in Charleston, South Carolina. He relates memories of his parents, Muriel Sluth (Slutsky) and Sidney Rittenberg, Sr., and his older sister, Elinor, who married Art Weinberger, also of Charleston. The interviewee’s paternal grandfather, Samuel Oscar Rittenberg (1867–1932) emigrated from Lithuania and, after living in New York for a time, ended up in Charleston working in real estate with Triest & Israel. Samuel served as president of Brith Sholom Synagogue and was a South Carolina state legislator. Sidney Sr. was a reporter for the News and Courier before becoming a self-taught attorney, partnering with Louis Shimel in the law firm Shimel & Rittenberg. He was a Charleston City Councilman, active in local civic clubs, and associated with many prominent Charlestonians of his day. Although his parents often attended Shabbat services at Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, Charleston’s Reform synagogue, the interviewee notes that they didn’t observe the High Holidays. Growing up, Sidney had Jewish and non-Jewish friends. He says, “I didn’t really like being Jewish because it separated me from the other kids. . . . I thought, ‘I’m an American. Why should I be anything else?’” Sidney noticed tension between the Reform Jews and the Orthodox Jews. “People looked down on each other because they weren’t strict enough or they were too strict.” He describes instances of antisemtism; portrays an African-American man who made baskets and wove figures like dolls and ships; and recalls enjoying children’s programs offered by The Charleston Museum. The interviewee discusses an incident that deeply affected him as a fourteen-year-old; he witnessed the unjust treatment of a black man by the police and was powerless to stop it. See also Sidney’s second interview with Dale Rosengarten on June 19, 2013, and his two interviews with cousin Deborah Lipman Cochelin on July 27, 2013, and October 27, 2013.
Sidney Rittenberg talks a second time with cousin Deborah Lipman Cochelin in follow-up to their recording session on July 27, 2013. Some of the interview covers the same ground as Sidney’s June 17 and June 19, 2013, interviews with Dale Rosengarten, including stories about his family; the unjust treatment of an African American by Charleston, South Carolina, policemen in the mid-1930s; and Rittenberg’s experiences living and working in China. Sidney attended Sunday school at Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE), the Reform synagogue in Charleston, South Carolina, and relates his memories of KKBE’s Rabbi Jacob Raisin. When he was about fourteen years old, Sidney met Joseph Nelson Mease, a College of Charleston freshman from Canton, North Carolina. Mease introduced Sidney to topics in natural science and historic figures like Charles Darwin. “The main effect that Joe Mease had on me was that I immediately declared myself an atheist.” Sidney describes his after-school activities, family vacations, and how he befriended medical school students and helped them with their studies while he was still in high school. He discusses why he chose to pursue his college degree at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, instead of taking advantage of a full scholarship to Princeton. For graduate studies, he was sent to Stanford University by the U.S. Army to study Chinese language, politics, culture, history, and anthropology. In September 1945, Rittenberg was assigned to the army’s claims department in the judge advocate’s office in Kunming, China. While in China, he observed that the foreigners who were allowed into the country between 1946 and 1966 came from all over the world and the vast majority were Jewish. “Why? Because, like me, they grew up with, first of all, a natural affinity for oppressed people.”
Sidney Rittenberg, born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1921, is interviewed by Deborah Lipman Cochelin, whose great-grandmother Rachel Rittenberg Sanders was a sister of Sidney’s grandfather Samuel Oscar Rittenberg. Sidney tells stories about his parents, Muriel Sluth (Slutsky) and Sidney Rittenberg, Sr., and his sister Elinor Rittenberg Weinberger. He talks about growing up in Charleston, including the schools he attended and the friends he made. A good bit of the narrative is similar in content to his June 17, 2013 interview with Dale Rosengarten. The cousins recall several members of their extended family and Sidney describes time spent as a child on Sullivan’s Island. See also Sidney Rittenberg’s other interviews on June 19, 2013 and October 27, 2013.
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.
Cousins Max Furchgott and Dale Dreyfoos review their family history. Dale's maternal grandmother Lillian Furchgott married Pincus LeRoy Pinkussohn (he changed the spelling of the family name to Pinkerson during World War II), whose grandfather settled in Charleston, South Carolina, around 1850. Lillian's father, Herman Furchgott, and his brother Max, grandfather of interviewee Max, opened a dry goods store on King Street in Charleston in the 1860s. Max describes growing up in Charleston and recalls the moves his family made during the Great Depression to Orangeburg, South Carolina; Goldsboro, North Carolina; and Florence, South Carolina, before returning to Charleston. The Furchgotts have been members of Reform Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE) since the first generation in Charleston. Max discusses the conflict that arose among members of the congregation in the 1960s during Rabbi Burton Padoll's tenure, and notes how KKBE has changed over the years. Max married Marcelle Kleinzahler and they raised three children in Charleston. Both interviewees discuss Jewish identity - Max, in terms of how he believes his children view themselves, and Dale, in terms of his relationship to his ancestors. Dale tells the story of his great-great-grandparents fleeing Atlanta during the Civil War in anticipation of General Sherman's arrival with Union troops. Other family surnames mentioned in the interview include Brown, Sorentrue, Foote, Ritzwoller, and Dreyfoos. For related information, see also Marcelle Furchgott's May 14, 2014 interview, Robert Furchgott's February 28, 2001 and April 18, 2001 interviews, the Arthur C. Furchgott papers (Mss 1043), and Furchgott and Brothers department store newspaper advertisement, 1910 (Mss 1034-090), Special Collections, Addlestone Library, College of Charleston.
Ethel Lapin Draisin, born in 1908 in Charleston, South Carolina, is joined by her husband, Louis Draisin in recounting her family history. Ethel’s maternal grandparents, Nathan and Ethel Goldstein, emigrated from Poland and arrived in Charleston in the 1870s. Nathan ran a wholesale dry goods business on Meeting Street. Their daughter Dora (Ethel Draisin’s mother) married Israel Lapin, a Lithuanian immigrant who ran a clothing store on King Street from 1909 until 1953. Ethel Lapin met Louis Draisin, who emigrated from Bobruisk, Russia, as a young child, while she was visiting relatives in New York. In 1940, shortly after marrying, the couple settled in Charleston, where they raised two children, Neil and Judy. Ethel, the oldest of six, recalls Jewish merchants, neighbors and friends of the Lapin family, and the food her mother prepared. Louis describes his World War II tour of duty as a quartermaster in Patton’s Third Army. Both Draisins discuss Charleston’s “uptown” and “downtown” Jews, and the Orthodox synagogues, Brith Sholom and Beth Israel.
Jennie Kaufman Garfinkel’s parents, Benjamin and Dora Kirshstein Kaufman, emigrated from Kaluszyn, Poland, around 1912. They settled in Charleston, South Carolina, where they owned, first, a dress shop, and then a grocery store. To help support the household, Jennie left high school before graduating and took a job. She met her husband, Max Garfinkel, when he came to Charleston to work for his uncle H. L. Garfinkel in his scrap yard. Max grew up in Baltimore, the son of immigrants Molly Blacher and Hyman Garfinkel of Divin, Russia. He and his cousin Alex Garfinkel partnered in the scrap metal business in Charleston for over forty years. Max and Jennie talk about their children and grandchildren, and consider how their experiences as Jews differed from previous generations. Interviewer Leah Barkowitz, the Garfinkels’ niece, who grew up in Charleston in the 1930s and ’40s, mentions the Villa Margherita, a Charleston inn that excluded Jews until about 1950. She discusses the “five o’clock shadow,” which meant that Jews and gentiles socialized with one another before, but not after, five o’clock. See also interviews with other members of the Garfinkel family: Helen Rosenshein, Olga Weinstein, Nathan and Frances Garfinkle (Nathan spells the family name differently), Philip Garfinkel, Sandra Shapiro, and Alex Garfinkel.
Hannah Prystowsky Rubin, born in Charleston in 1916, recounts the story of her grandparents’ immigration to the United States from Zabludow, Poland, circa 1890. Ezra and Mollie Prystowsky followed the Jacobs family, also from Zabludow, to Charleston, South Carolina, where Ezra repaired shoes for a living before opening a men’s clothing store. Hannah’s father, Mike Prystowsky, was a tailor and worked with his brothers in the family’s King Street store, “E. Prystowsky & Sons, Mike-Sam-Jake.” She describes growing up on St. Philip Street, surrounded by extended family, and recalls members of two branches of the Mazo family—the Uptown Mazos and the Downtown Mazos—who operated delicatessens above and below Calhoun Street. In 1938 Hannah married Samuel Rubin of Columbia, son of wholesaler Joseph Rubin and Bessie Peskin Rubin. Within five years they had three small children. Hannah discusses Sam’s two-year stint in the army during World War II, and how she helped two German Jewish families, who survived the war, become acclimated to life in America after settling in Columbia.
Robert Francis Furchgott, born in 1916 in Charleston, South Carolina, the second of three sons of Philapena Sorentrue and Arthur Furchgott, talks about growing up in downtown Charleston. The Furchgotts lived below Broad Street and were members of Reform temple Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim. It wasn't until Robert joined Boy Scout Troop 21, the Jewish troop, that he met and made friends with Orthodox Jewish boys from uptown. In regard to the organization of the Scouts, he observes that "in Charleston it seemed to be by churches." Summer classes and field trips sponsored by the Charleston Museum that sparked Robert's interest in nature stand out in his memory as among his most gratifying early experiences. He estimates that when his family moved inland about seventy-five miles to Philapena's hometown of Orangeburg in the summer of 1929, there were about five Jewish families living there. Services and the Sunday school were run by lay leaders, with the guidance of a rabbi who visited once a month. Furchgott recalls that Orangeburg's Christians and Jews mixed socially and there was just one Boy Scout troop for the small city. After struggling financially in Orangeburg for a year, the Furchgotts moved to Goldsboro, North Carolina. A year later they moved again, this time to Florence, South Carolina. Robert discusses his family history, in particular, his paternal grandfather, Max Furchgott, who came to Charleston circa 1865, and his maternal great-grandfather, Simon Brown, who settled in Blackville, South Carolina, around 1849. See Mss. 1035-256 for a follow-up to this interview. For related information, see also Marcelle Furchgott's May 14, 2014 interview, Max Furchgott's July 14, 1995 interview, the Arthur C. Furchgott papers (Mss 1043), and Furchgott and Brothers department store newspaper advertisement, 1910 (Mss 1034-090), Special Collections, Addlestone Library, College of Charleston.
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.
Florence Mazo Nirenblatt was born in 1911, one of ten children of Essie Tandet and Elihu Mazo, Russian immigrants who ran a kosher deli and grocery store at 478 King Street in Charleston, South Carolina. Florence, whose nickname is “Boomalee,” talks about her parents and siblings and describes the family business. Elihu’s brother Dave Mazo opened a grocery store at 171 King Street and turned it over to another brother, George. Dave then opened another business in Folly Beach, South Carolina, a little over ten miles from Charleston. Florence speaks briefly of her cousins (George’s children) Norma, Earl, and Frances Mazo. She remembers the Truere family, in particular, Harry and “Jew Joe” Truere. The interviewee moved to New York City when she was about eighteen and eloped with Brooklynite Bernard Nirenblatt. In later years, Florence moved back to Charleston, bringing her husband and children, Norman and Marilyn, and their spouses with her.
Harlan Greene, one of four children of Regina and Sam Greene, talks about growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, with a focus on the effects his parents’ experiences as Holocaust survivors had on him and his siblings. Regina and Sam married in their native Poland in June 1939 and, sometime after the Nazis invaded Poland, were picked up by Russian invaders and taken to Siberian work camps. In 1943 the Greenes joined thousands of Jewish refugees in Uzbekistan to wait out the war. They immigrated in 1948 to Charleston, where Regina had relatives. Harlan recalls that his parents’ wartime accounts were “very contradictory,” and he speculates as to the reasons. At his prompting, his mother began telling him stories in bits and pieces when he was a young teen. Regina was not for memorializing just one holocaust or telling her story publicly, whereas, later in life, Sam became involved in Holocaust organizations and recorded his life story. Harlan describes his parents’ marriage, their home life while he was growing up, and his childhood, which he calls “claustrophobic.” He believes that his parents’ stories are part of his and his siblings’ stories—"their trajectory is my trajectory”—and that certain familial traits have filtered down to his nieces in the next generation. Harlan notes that he has a “run-away work ethic. I can see it in many of my siblings. If we’re enjoying ourselves, we kind of feel guilty.” He comments briefly on Charleston society’s social strictures and how he has embraced living outside its confines, being gay and Jewish. “Growing up in Charleston, you weren’t supposed to be Jewish. You weren’t supposed to be gay. Those were social strikes against you. . . I like whatever makes me different.” This is one of a number of interviews conducted by Ph.D. candidate Lucas Wilson for his dissertation, “The Structures of Postmemory: Portraits of Survivor-Family Homes in Second-Generation Holocaust Literature.” Wilson was awarded two Charleston Research Fellowships (May 2017, February 2019) by the Pearlstine/Lipov Center for Southern Jewish Culture at the College of Charleston.
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).