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A Jewish Southerner?
My parents spoke Yiddish with a southern accent. Am I a Jewish Southerner? You know I really have to think about that. I couldnt tell you that off the top of my head. I think of myself as first being Jewish and second as a Southerner. No, second an American and third as a Southerner.
First and foremost [I am] a Jewish woman. And I wear that badge with honor. I wouldnt be anything else. And its not that I had I never had it shoved at me or pushed at me, I was allowed to be in Christmas choruses and Christmas plays and I know every Christmas carol and I went to Christmas services and did everything with everybody else. But I knew I was a Jew. And I was never ashamed to tell anybody I was.
I don't really see myself as a Southerner, per se, I guess. I'm open-minded to everything, to learn as much as I can about everything around me, but being that this is the only place that I've ever lived, and it's probably the place that I will die, I guess I am a true Southerner. I never really stopped to think about it. I could never think of being any other religion. I love learning about other religions, fascinated by the histories of them and when I read them I go, is this really what these people believe. But then when I stop to think about it they probably say the exact same thing about me, is that what they really believe?
Third Pew from the Back
I never found it to be [difficult to maintain a Jewish identity in Spartanburg] becauseit was like coming to temple, I never came to temple for the social part of it, I came to temple because I wanted to come here, I wanted to pray; I did it for me. That seemed to upset a few people because after services I never stayed for one shabbat, I left. And I was asked why and I said well, I did not come for that, I came for either to say yahrzeit or whatever. And I came for me on that. And I said I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings, I'm friendly with everybody, but that's why I came. I'm the third pew from the back, that's me, on the corner. I've been there since 64, I've got squatter's rights, that's my pew.
And I've had people come by, this one particular lady would come by and pat me on the shoulder. Hello, Conie, how are you? and I saidshe never lookedI said, What would you do if I wasn't here? She said, I'd pat you and keep right on going. Because they know third pew from the back, that's me. That's where I've always sat with my family. My grandfather was the same way in the old temple. He had a pew that he was in and if anyone had the nerve to sit in that pew when he came, they got up and moved. He'd never say anything, he would just stand there very quietly and they would look and see this figure standing beside them, they got up and moved for him to sit in his pew. I guess I've gotten to be the same way too, I have mine that I want to go in. I'm not that bad, I won't stand there and wait for them to move over, I'll sit somewhere else. But I still sit on the same side, whether it's the front or the back, I'm still back there, they know that's me.
Washington Was South
I have to do this because its as though I were born in China and I had to explain I was not Chinesemy mothers family, as I told you, lived in Washington. My family, my father and mother, lived here but my mother wanted to be with her mother in Washington, so I was born in Washington, D.C., at Georgetown University Hospital on 25 June 1920. Within days I rebelled and we walked all the way from Washington to GreenvilleI must have been about a month old. So I am really a native and certainly a lifelong resident of Greenville. The only times I have been away for any time at all, other than travel, have been the times I went off to school, Duke University Law School, and when I was in the army for a little over three years. But all the rest of it has been right here.
Back then Washington was South and it was all right. I was delighted that I had the mother I had and the father I had, so wherever they chose was what I wanted.
We dumb Southerners
We were southern and we had to explain to our northern friends that we were no different than they were. And the funniest partwe moved to Morristown, New Jersey. We skipped a grade, both of us, because we were both half-year students here. When we moved to Morristown, [my sister] would have been in grade two-and-a-half and I was in grade three-and-a-half, so when we got up to Morristown they didnt know what to do with us. Are they going to put you in second grade or third grade, you know, or third or the fourth? So we both basically skipped a year. I always tell people, We dumb Southerners, we go North, I say, and we skip.
Thats Yankee talk
I was always connected with the New York family. I went up there and spent every summer with them, as I say. I always dreamed of going to college, going to school later up there, and I pictured myself as understanding their viewpoint and their way of life sympathetically. Whereas the rest of the family would laugh, make jokes about the funny things they would say or doI dont mean it in an ugly way, they were just narrow-minded Southerners that didn't know any better. Theres still plenty like that down here now. They would laugh and they would love to play tricks on them, teasingteasing tricks, you knowand they thought that was so cute. They were teachers, they were schoolteachers, so they would always have a thing with the kidsSo what do you, how do you spell that? Thats not the way you pronounced it. You know, theyd try to get them to pronounce correctly. The kids would die laughing at them, the Yankee way theyd talkOh, thats Yankee talkand that kind of stuff. I never in my whole life ever related to those aunts that way, but they always did.
You dont look Jewish
There were no Jewish kids for me to have [as friends] at all. There was some anti-Semitism but you learned to let it just roll off you and just let it go. I did not really see a lot of it until I was in junior college and then it became very predominant, I just figured that they didn't know what they were talking about. The one phrase I hated was You don't look Jewish. I have a very bad temper which I keep under control completely, but I'd just pop back [at them].
My wife was from Montgomery. She grew up in Montgomery, Alabama. She was a twin and she tells the story that she and her sister were the only Jewish [children] in this particular school. The principal said, Well, lets break them up. We will put one in one class and one in another so the kids can see what a Jew looks like.
Oh, yes, there were people from Brith Sholom who resented [the formation of Charlestons Conservative synagogue] Emanu-El. Certainly there were bad feelings, but they couldn't have bad feelings for me, because I pay my dues! And that's not inexpensive after all those years, thousand dollars a year, plus all the other things with Addlestone Hebrew Academy and all the drives that they have and stuff like that. It's expensive to belong to both synagogues, but I believe that since I was a member of Brith Sholom Beth IsraelI don't want to penalize them. We need them. We need them. Because a lot of the people who are at Emanu-El are like me, they don't care much about religion, and we're not going to be much help in future days to come, when they really need that.
Because of assimilation. A lot of our people are leaving the Jewish fold. I was just reading an article from Edgar Bronfman here, from the American Jewish Committee, and he's talking about the fact that the Jews are becoming a decimated religion, and we're losing more Jews than we gain every year, and the Arabs are becoming stronger and strongerthe whole world is becoming stronger, as far as that's concerned, in their own religions, and we Jews are losing. In addition to the six million Jews we lost before, we're losing them today because it's too easy to assimilate, and that's not good. I don't want to see JudaismI don't want to see it fade out completely. It's not a healthy situation, and of course they make it difficult for people to convert, which is not good, but I can't tell them that, because that's the way they want to practice their religion. They have a right to do that. I think it's okay, though, for me to belong to Emanu-El, or even the Temple. I think it's wonderful at the Temple. To try to bring the people in who have mixed marriages, to help them to observe the [basics of] Judaism.
Open on Sunday
I led the fight in Charleston with the legislature for the Sabbatarians. I fought that thingto let those people who wanted to stay closed on Saturday and open on SundayI started that, and I fought that in the legislature, even though I'm not religious, and I don't stay closed on Saturday, and didn't make any difference to me whether they want to stay open on Saturday or open on Sunday. That's what they wanted to do, then they should have the right to do that. I led that fight together with Rabbi Galinsky, out at Brith Sholom Beth Israel, and we were not successful the first time around. As a matter of fact, we got licked the first around. That was the first time in my life that I really observed anti-Semitism.
We went to the committee meeting to try to get it out of committee, so it could get to the legislature, and we were given two speakers from each sidetwo on our side and two on their side. Against us they had the President of the Chamber of Commerce of the State of South Carolina and a Baptist minister from up around Greenville. Rabbi Galinsky and I were the speakers for the bill. I spoke first on the insignificant things that we were asking to do. We only had about a half-a-dozen people who wanted to stay closed on Saturday and open on Sundayone was a Seventh Day Adventist, and one I think came from Columbia, and the other four were from Charleston. I said, You know, I don't know what you're arguing about. We're a small group of peopleless than one-tenth of one percent of the population of South Carolina is Jewishso why are you worried about it? What are you worried about? And I said, If we've got four people who want to observe the Sabbathand the rabbi then preached religious freedom from that standpoint. And they got upand you could only speak one time, you can't go back for rebuttal. You get five minutes and that's it, you can't go back. So the Baptist minister got up and he saidand this is what I'm talking abouthe said, I listened to that silver-tongued lawyer from Charleston, that Mr. Ackerman, and I agree with him. Oh my God, [I thought,] I've got a convert, a minister, a Baptist minister? And I agree with him. The Jews do constitute only one-tenth of one percent of the population of South Carolina. And when they came here, out of sufferance, they knew this was a Christian stateand if they don't like it they can leave! Rabbi Galinsky jumped up and I grabbed him. I said, Rabbi, you can't talk. I'VE GOT TO TALK! I said, Rabbi, you can't talk, the five minutes is already up. I can't let that get by! I said, I can't help it, Rabbi. You can't talk. So then the guy from the Chamber of Commerce, he talked, and when it was over Mr. Poulnot and I were friendly, and he came up to mehe was thereand said, I want you to know that preacher doesn't speak for me. I said, Oh yes he does. He spoke for you. I didn't hear you say anything. He said, Well, I don't feel the way he does. I said, Why don't you tell him that?
A Big Democrat
My father was a big Democrat. Oh my goodness. He was treasurer of the Democratic Party for Charleston County for about forty years. [The Democrats] were not allowed to have anyno election was to be held on any Jewish, any religious holiday, Jewish religious holiday. And thats why I am such a staunch Democrat today. Through and through. Because the Republican primaries are held on Shabbos. I wouldnt vote Republican.
A Taste of Vienna
MH: I'm a born-again Jew, you have to remember that. [Laughs.] I was born again in Greenville. Greenville became my home. The only thing I miss about Vienna was the music. That's the only thing, when I hear it.
TH: And the outdoor cafés. That's why now they have them.
MH: Yes, the outdoor cafés. One reason you see those outdoor cafés, [when I became mayor] I said, We have to have outdoor cafés in Greenville.
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