New Yorker Ira Kaye and his wife, Ruth Barnett Kaye, of Sumter, South Carolina, discuss Ira’s work as a defense attorney in Japan’s war crimes trials, the reluctance of Sumter’s Jews to speak out against segregation, and Ira’s experience with racism in South Carolina and representation of a tri-racial isolate group called the Turks. They also recall their experiences living in Nepal and India while Ira served in the Peace Corps.
Sam Kirshtein is the son of Polish immigrants who, like many of their landsmen from Kaluszyn, Poland, settled in Charleston, South Carolina, in the early 1900s. Sam, who was born in 1925 and grew up in the St. Philip Street neighborhood, describes the “Uptown” and “Downtown” Jews, and the two Orthodox synagogues, Brith Sholom and Beth Israel. After serving in the army’s Chemical Warfare Service during World War II, he returned home to help out at the family’s furniture store on King Street.
Philip Schneider, born and raised in Georgetown, South Carolina, and Charlestonian Alwyn Goldstein, who moved to Georgetown in 1938 to open a store, discuss the town’s Jewish religious and business life. Among the merchants were Philip’s grandmother, Sally Lewenthal, and his father, Albert Schneider, who went into business with Philip’s uncle, Harry Rosen. Both interviewees recall the effects of the Great Depression in their native cities.
Cousins Arthur Williams and Elza Meyers Alterman grew up in Charleston, South Carolina. They discuss the Williams and Meyers family histories, intermarriage and assimilation, and Charleston’s Reform Jewish community, including changes in the congregation and services during their lifetimes. Arthur became a physician and helped to develop an artificial kidney machine in the 1940s. Elza followed her mother into retail and ran a dress shop in the former home of the Williams family on George Street.
Helen Laufer Dwork Berle describes growing up in her native city, Charleston, South Carolina, in the 1920s and 30s. She discusses in detail Jewish merchants and the St. Philip Street neighborhood. Her parents, Harry and Tillie Hufeizen Laufer, who immigrated from Mogelnitsa, Poland, owned a mens clothing store on King Street before opening a restaurant. Laufers was Charlestons first kosher restaurant and served as a social hub during World War II.
Larry Freudenberg relates the history of both sides of his family. His mothers forebears, the Triests, immigrated to Charleston, South Carolina, from Bavaria in the 1850s, opened a clothing store on King Street, and joined the Reform congregation, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim. Larry's father, Henry Freudenberg, was a young boy when he escaped Nazi Germany in 1939 with his parents and grandparents. They eventually settled in Charleston. Larry discusses his experiences growing up in the 1960s and 70s, and feeling trapped between two cultures. Gentile children teased him for being Jewish, while Orthodox Jewish children accused him of being not Jewish enough. Larry runs the family's insurance business established in 1903 by his great-grandfather, Montague Triest.
Ellis Irvin Kahn, a native of Charleston, South Carolina, describes his family background and his years growing up in the coastal city where his father owned a wholesale and retail grocery business. His great-grandfather, Josiah Kaminitsky, appears in the South Carolina Supreme Court records of 1885. He lost both legs in a train accident, sued the North Eastern Railroad Company, and won. Ellis, an attorney and former president of the Charleston Jewish Federation, recounts the aftereffects of Hurricane Hugo (1989) on the areas residents and the relief efforts of local, national, and Israeli Jews. He married Janice Weinstein of Shreveport, Louisiana, and the couple raised three children in Charleston.
Marian Birlant Slotin discusses the history of her fathers antique business, George C. Birlant & Company, which he established in 1929 in Charleston, South Carolina. George married Lillian Marcus of Kingstree, South Carolina, and despite their Orthodox backgrounds, they raised Marian, their only child, in the Reform tradition. Marian reminisces about her childhood and many of her close and distant relatives. She married Phil Slotin of Georgia, and they raised two boys. As of 2011, the antique shop remains in the family, run by their son, Andrew.
Fannie Appel Rones shares her memories of growing up on St. Philip Street in Charleston, South Carolina, between the world wars. The neighborhood was diverse—home to blacks, whites, Catholics, Jews, Greeks, and Italians. Fannie talks about her parents, Abraham and Ida Goldberg Appel (Ubfal), emigrants from Kaluszyn, Poland, and recalls stories her mother told her about the Old Country. She discusses the differences between Charleston’s “uptown” and “downtown” Jews and the Orthodox synagogues, Brith Sholom and Beth Israel. Fannie also relates her experiences as a member of Charleston’s Conservative synagogue, Emanu-El, and Reform temple, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim.
Ruth Kaye, born in 1913, grew up in Sumter, South Carolina, the granddaughter of Estonian immigrant, B. J. Barnett who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. The Barnetts became landowners and cotton farmers, and ran a general store. Ruth’s mother, Emma Klein, was born in Hungary and raised in Pennsylvania and New York. Ruth recounts her family history on both sides, and describes her visits with the New York Kleins.
Jennie Shimel Ackerman, born in 1923 in Charleston, South Carolina, grew up with a strong sense of Jewish identity in a family where religious observance was limited to the holidays. She discusses her father and daughter’s law careers, and mentions her husband’s involvement in the collection of money for arms to send to Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary defense force in Palestine.
Harold Marion Aronson, born in Lane, South Carolina, in 1919, grew up in New Jersey, but returned with his family to South Carolina where they opened a dry goods store in Kingstree. Harold, who flew weather reconnaissance missions for the United States Army Air Corps during World War II, married Rose Louise Rich in 1944 and, later, settled in Rose Louise’s hometown, Orangeburg, South Carolina. The Aronsons established a successful aluminum awning business and raised two daughters.
Karl Karesh, born in 1912, discusses growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, focusing on his neighborhood, the local merchants, his Hebrew school training, and his family and their adherence to Orthodox religious observances. He addresses the differences between the uptown and downtown Jews before World War II, and describes his clothing business, and other Jewish- and gentile-owned dry goods stores, in Charleston during the post-war years.
Alex Davis, joined by his niece, Suzanne Lurey, who speaks only briefly, discusses his family history and his experiences growing up in Greenville, South Carolina. His father, Victor Davis, opened an auto parts store in Greenville in 1926 and, after he died, Alex and his two brothers, Jack and Louis, ran the family business for nearly four more decades. Alex married Lillian Zaglin, also of Greenville, and they raised two children. He recalls the early leaders of Congregation Beth Israel, Greenville’s Orthodox synagogue, and describes the relationship between Beth Israel, now Conservative, and the Reform congregation, Temple of Israel.