Aaron Small, born in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1939, to Sara Berry and Harry Smolowsky, changed his surname when he was eighteen years old because it "was not a business name." Aaron graduated from mortuary school in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1959 and returned to Columbia to work for a funeral home that also had an ambulance service. While working as an EMT on the ambulance service, he met his wife, Betty, an emergency room nurse. They married in 1961. Betty, a Christian, converted to Judaism prior to the wedding, but returned to the church sometime later. Aaron was drafted into the army in 1962 and served for eighteen months in the Fort Bragg mortuary outside of Fayetteville, North Carolina. In 1965, after returning to civilian life, Aaron bought a funeral home in Denmark, South Carolina. There were a number of industries in the small town about fifty miles south of Columbia, which he felt was a positive indicator for growth. However, in the following decade, companies began leaving. The interviewee believes this was attributable to white parents pulling their children from the public schools. Aaron describes daily life in Denmark and mentions the other Jewish families living there at the time—the Druckers and the Nesses. The Small family moved back to Columbia around 1975 and Aaron sold firetrucks to South Carolina municipalities while working on establishing a new funeral home business. In 1978, he opened McMillan-Small Funeral Home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with Stephen McMillan, Sr. After developing an allergy to formaldehyde, Aaron left the partnership, and took a position with the Myrtle Beach Fire Department, assuming command of the volunteer rescue squad in 1987. Up to that point, he had been a volunteer firefighter-EMT in the various places he had lived and had launched the volunteer rescue squad in Denmark. Aaron discusses the other firefighting jobs he held in Myrtle Beach, Richland County, and the state. By 1997, the family had returned to Columbia to help care for Aaron's mother. Aaron talks about antisemitism he experienced in Columbia while in high school; his two children, Michelle and Stuart; the Jewish community of Myrtle Beach, in particular, the recent Israeli immigrants; and how the FBI handled student protesters at Voorhees College (HBCU) in Denmark in the late 1960s. "The FBI came in one day and they just took over the funeral home" so they could make use of the two-way communication system he used for his ambulance service.
Alan Kahn was born in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1940, the first of two children of Katie Bogen and Irwin Kahn. Alan talks about his paternal grandfather, Myron B. Kahn, who emigrated from Russia to New York in 1904, and then moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he worked as a carpenter and builder. Ethel Kaufman Kahn, his first wife and Irwin's mother, died when Irwin was about two years old. Myron moved to St. Augustine, Florida, and finally to Columbia in the late 1920s, where he established a construction company, first partnering with another builder; later they separated and Kahn formed M. B. Kahn Construction Company. A second marriage didn't work out, and Myron married a third time, to widow Bessie Peskin Rubin of Columbia. Irwin, who joined the family business after graduating college in the mid-1930s, was responsible for broadening the company's scope to include construction management. Alan describes the construction management process and compares it to development practices. Irwin married Katie Bogen, a native of Denmark, South Carolina. Alan shares memories of his mother, her siblings, and their parents, Joseph and Bella Bogen. He discusses his involvement with Aleph Zadik Aleph, how he met his wife, Charlotte Segelbaum, and Charlotte's experiences as a Jewish French National living in Egypt after Gamal Abdel Nasser became president. She was a teenager when her family left Egypt in 1957 and started a new life in Washington, D.C. Alan and Charlotte married in 1965, settled in Columbia, and Alan joined Kahn Construction. The couple raised three children, Kevin, Charles, and Monique. Referring to how older members of Columbia's Beth Shalom reacted to the Civil Rights Movement, Alan notes, "We had a Jewish community that was afraid to speak out when I was growing up." They feared a backlash targeting the Jewish community, and it affected who they hired as their rabbi. Alan attended Duke University and describes the school's integration and quota policies during the late 1950s, early '60s. Alan shares his vision of the Kahn family legacy and his personal philosophy on life.
Raymond Lifchez was born in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1932, to Jennie Burkom and Isaac Lifchez. He talks about his two older sisters and growing up in the capital city where his father ran Liberty Loan and Luggage on Main Street. Raymond did not feel very connected to the Jewish community in Columbia, although the Lifchezes were members of the Orthodox synagogue, House of Peace. After his mother, Jennie, died, Raymond, only nine years old, became very close to his neighbor Lula Belle Campbell, and they remained lifelong friends. As a teen, he began to notice instances of antisemitism and remembers feeling frightened by stories of Jews being rounded up by the Nazis in Europe. Raymond earned his architecture degree from the University of Florida and taught at Columbia University in New York City as a graduate student. He met his wife, Judith Lee Stronach, at Columbia; they married in 1967 and moved to California three years later. He joined the faculty at University of California, Berkeley, which, he notes, "was one of the first schools to really open its doors to the disabled." He describes his work in architectural accessibility. The interviewee discusses aspects of his spirituality, including the appeal of Sufism, his return to Judaism, and his attendance at a number of churches and synagogues. He offers his view of American Jews and how he sees himself in terms of his Jewish identity.
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.
John Baker, born in 1955 in Columbia, South Carolina, recounts the history of Baker & Baker, the law practice turned real estate development firm established by his father, David Baker, and his father's first cousin, Lee Baker, after World War II. David married JoAnn Schreiber of Brunswick, Georgia, and they raised five children in Columbia. Growing up Jewish, John remarks that although the Bakers were not very observant, they were intensely proud of their heritage. He and his twin brother, Frank, became bar mitzvahs in a double ceremony at Tree of Life Synagogue, attended by prominent South Carolina politicians, including Strom Thurmond, who knew David Baker through his civic engagement. John notes his admiration for his paternal grandmother, Clara Kligman (Kligerman) Baker, a Polish immigrant who ran a grocery store in Columbia. After earning his business degree from the University of South Carolina, the interviewee worked for real estate developer Walter Keenan. In 1979 John joined his father and Lee Baker in their firm as a property manager. Twelve years later he married Marcie Stern of Columbia; they have a daughter, Gabrielle. In the mid-1990s John and Lee Baker's son-in-law, Steven Anastasion, took over daily operations at Baker & Baker. John discusses his support of Israel and describes his involvement in the local community. The transcript contains corrections made by the interviewee during proofing.
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.