Menu JTA Search

J.D.B. News Letter

(By our Charleston Correspondent)

Charlestonb is a unique “city by the sea.” In it the old still predominates over the ever aggressive yet not quite pervasive new order things. Its citizenry still prefers to walk in the paths, of old, figuratively as well as literally. It is claimed to be “the most historic city in the United States,” and one hears frequently the proud boast that ours is the “city of beginnings,” where many a modern educational and philanthropic institution was cradled or had its prototype.

The same is applicable to those of its citizens who are members of the House of Israel. The Jewish community consists of about 2,500 souls. Nor is their pride without a foundation in fact, Charleston is the only city in the United States in which Jews settled almost contemporaneously with non-Jews; its oldest cognition, K. K. Beth Elohim, organized in 1750, is the only one which has worshipped in one spot for over a hundred and fifty years; its Hebrew univalent society, which dates back to 1784, and its Hebrew orphan society, founded in 1801, which function to this day, were the first of their kind in American Jewry; and the introduction of English prayers in the ritual and the modification of the. Orthodox Sephardic prayerbook as early as 1824, entitles it to the distinction of going down in history as “the cradle of Reform Judaism in America.”

The Jewish pioneers, most of whom hailed from England, and were of Spanish and Portuguese extraction, were quickly assimilated by their environment, and left behind them a long and glorious record of achievement life of their community. They contributed greatly to its prosperity as traders and planters. They fought in every war before and after the Revolution. They served in every capacity, not excluding that of Governor, their city and state. They participated in every movement for the benefit of there fellow-citizens. It was largely due to their initiative that the Masonic Supreme Grand Lodge of Perfection was founded in 1783 and that Charleston became the “See City” and “Mother Council of the Masonic world.” The names of Moses Linda, Inspector-General of Indigo during the Provincial period; Francis Salvador, the here of the Revolution; Mordecai Manuel Noah, Judah P. Benjamin, Raphael J. Moses and Peninah Moses, and several others, will ever shine in the annals of the nineteenth century it was claimed that Charleston possessed “the largest, the most cultured, and the wearthiest Jewish community in America.”

To this glory that was Charleston only the beautiful “Hasell Street Synagogue” and the ancient cemetery on Coming Street, both of which attract many sightseeing tourists, still testify. The proud Sephardic community never recovered from the sever blow dealt by the war between the states. Death and removal, celibacy and intermarriage–the “four horsemen” or many a Spanish community–caused drastic changes in the communal life of Charleston Jewry. Until the Civil War, Charleston was the one place where it was a disadvantage to be a German Jew. Thereafter, the proud Kall Kadosh Beth Elohim found itself compelled to admit into its portals members of the German coreligionists and sometimes even to sanction their becoming members of, their thoroughly Americanized homes. Theses in turn could not long resist the steady invasion of their more ambitious brethren of Russia and Poland. So that now the only distinction between K. K. Beth Elohim of pre-Revolutionary time antis sister congregate Brith Shalom of ante-Ci il War days, and even Beth Israel which is a recent offshoot of the latter, is that the former is really Reform and the latter are officially Orthodox.

Though it is no longer what it used to be Charleston Jewish religious life three synagogues representing as many shades of Judaism, it has its Temple Sisterhood, its Daughters of Israel, its Jewish Community Center, local Council of Jewish Women, Dan Lodge of the I. O B., Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society, Happy Workers, Zionist and Hadassah organizations, a Mizarchi and an Independent Kalulspiritual Society, which provide spiritual and when necessary material assistance in times of need, for the local community.

It also exerts a religious influence on the many smaller Jewish settlements up-State. Jews travel hundreds of miles from all over to attend its services at its synagogues during the pervades, or to enjoy themselves at the annual Purim ball, the proceeds from which go to charity.

Due to the efforts of Dr. Jacob S. Raisin, the Rabbi of K. K. Beth Elohim, numerous congregations have come into being throughout the State, where services and Sunday Schools are conducted every Sunday, and children are confirmed either locally or by going all the way to Beth Elohim, which they regard as the “Cathedral Synagogue”of South Carolina. Charleston is still “a city and a mother in Israel.”

And Charleston can still boast a number of Jews who are not unknown to fame either in the city, state or beyond its boundaries. Among these are J. N. Nathans, head of the Bar Association; Sam Rittenberg, who as Representative of Charleston has rendered valuable services to his constituency; Louis M. Shimel, Asistant U. S. District Attorney; and the late Montague Triest who, together with Dr. Raisin, was a member of the Boardof School Commissioners. Charleston also is the home of Octaves Roy Cohen, the writer, Miss Isabel Cohen, the painter, Ludwig lewisohn, the critic, and Anita Pollitzer, the suffragette.

NEXT STORY