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Well, Charleston was divided in my lifetimesouth of Calhoun is downtown; north of Calhoun is uptown. Im going back to the 20s and 30sat least every third store was owned by Jewish people. A lot of downtown too. Today, I dont think they have five stores on the entire King Street, maybe ten counting dress shops, that are owned by Jewish people.
Well, the downtown Jews by and large went to the Reform synagogue. The downtown Jews were German Jews as a general rule. Just happened that most of them lived down there. The uptown Jews were the people who came later, anywhere from 1886 or thereabouts or even 1850s, as in the case of the Kareshes. The Kareshes were uptown Jews because their business was uptown and they lived uptown. Originally over the stores and maybe considerably later up on Hampton Park Terrace, which was uptown. Now, the downtown Jews having been German Jews, many of them went back maybe to the originalI think Portuguese Jews may have started it there. In fact, I know they did. And the German Jews came in maybe in the 1800s as the immigrants. Looked down upon by the Portuguese. Which happened in New York too. And then the German Jews became the older Jews when the younger Jews, the newer Jews came in the 1850s and beyond. If you trace this, youll probably find there were pogroms or something which motivated them to come out. Possibly in 1848, Metternich, after the period of the upset there following the second Napoleon. And then in the 1880s there were problems in Russia. Well, anyhow, getting back to the uptown/downtown, the Karesh family was the cream of the uptown because they were American born. The father of that family was born in St. Louis.
The uptown Jews were those who came late. They were the Russians and the Polish Jews who came between 1880 and 1920. And they opened their places of business north of Calhoun Street, most of them did. There were one or two of them who opened downtown but most of them were uptown. Small little stores: clothing stores, shoe stores, furniture stores, notions and that kind of thing. But from Calhoun Street to Line Street, practically, Id say seventy-five percent of the stores in there were Jewish owned. On a holiday, on Rosh Hashanah, we used to walk from where we lived on Meeting Street, all the way down to the synagogue which was down onthe Little Shul, as they called it, was on St. Philip Street near Morris Street. And when we would walk down King Street hardly any of the stores were open. Very few stores were open. The streets were bare. And that was the area where the meat market was, kosher meat market, up around between Morris and Radcliffe Street.
[The downtown Jews] were the German Jews who had come earlier. Basically, they were the Beth Elohim members. Downtown. They owned some of the big department stores. In fact, perhaps the chief department store. The Marks family was on the corner. Some Markses were Brith Sholom but most of them were the Reform group.The downtown Jews, as I say, were mostly from the Reform synagogue or from Brith Sholom. The Brith Sholom people had been there since before the others came in. And in fact I think that was one of the reasons why Beth Israel was formed, because the Jews who came in after 1900 to Charleston thought that the Brith Sholom services were not suitable so they formed their own congregation. There were some jealousies and rivalries. They werent comfortable so they formed their own congregation.
[Member of Brith Sholom] were more the German-type Ashkenazi, and these were Russian Ashkenazi, and there were certain petty jealousies going on so they withdrew and formed their own congregation.
It wasnt [about] language, because they always spoke Yiddish. Yiddish is Yiddish. They might have had a different accent but the Yiddish was the same.
Beth Elohim, as you know, was Sephardic and then it became [central] Europeans and mostly Deutcher Jews, and as it evolved into a Reform synagogue. Originally it was Orthodox, but the real Orthodox of the community, the only Orthodox of the community was the St. Philip, Brith Sholom, and they had the cheder downtown, which I went to. My grandfather, when he was president of the synagogue, thats when they built the education building next door, which supplemented the cheder which was around the corner. And, of course, later the Kaluszyners had another synagogue uptown, also on St. Philip Street.
Delivering Meat on the Battery
The downtown Jews. Look, I delivered meat on the Battery, I delivered meat all overTradd Street, which had nicer homes and definitely they had to be more financially well off than uptown Jews.
The only thing I didnt like, it seemed to me that the downtown Jews would go out on Saturday night to a movie, and they wouldnt come by to pick up their meat until 11:30, 12:00 at night and wed have to sit around and wait for them to come pick up the meat. Im going way back now. I was a little boy, Id crawl in the back seat of the car and go to sleep. Didnt have baby sitters so the children would kind of hang around with the folks.
This part of South Windermere was developed lots later than the other part. Ralph Sadler was involved, I think he was the agent for it. He was the real estate agent that was involved. But I really didnt know. I just knew that the Dumas and the Shimel families were involved in it. I didnt know if anybody else was and I knew that he was in real estate thats about all. And I knew I didnt want to live there. Cause I didnt want to leave downtown. I didnt even want to live in the northwest section, as my father called it, which was Grove Street and Garden Street, nor did we ever live up there. Daddy thought it was out of town. He was born and died in Ward 8. You know he never moved out of that neighborhood. He was born on Calhoun Street, moved to George Street, St. Philip Street and to Rutledgeit was all within a radius of six blocks. So as far as he was concerned, and I grew up with the same feeling, who wants to live up there?
I was born in 1913 down on Church and Tradd Street [82 Church Street] in Charleston. My daddy owned that corner. At the time Church and Tradd Street was completely different than it is today. Today it doesnt have any black people in it at all. Years ago in every alley there were black people. There was a railroad going from East Bay, from the waterfrontfrom the Cooper Riverfrom the Atlantic Ocean. It went through East Bay, through Church, and it curved right there. The boxcars used to come in to deliver right near the churchtheres a church now on the corner of Water and Church Street [First Baptist Church]. Of course, we used to love to get in the boxcars and ridetheyd take us far as East Bay near the waterfront.
And the cornersone corner we lived on. Across the street, Mr. [H.W.] Fuseler [87 Church Street] had a large flour company, and he used to bag flour and hed sell it to the groceries. On the other corner there was also a storeI cant remember exactly what was in that storebut I do remember right next to them was Washington Heyward House, which was a bakery at that time. It was owned by two sisters. They were old maids, and they used to sell cakes and all kinds of pastries and next to that was Catfish Row.
My mother had in our house, right above the kitchen, an apartment. My mother used to have a family, a black family, live there. The father worked with James Allen [Jewelers] at that time, was a janitor like, and the mothermy mother taught her how to cook, you know, and keep kosher, and she had daughters, Bertha and Eloise.
Pews in the Synagogue
Beth Elohim and Brith Sholom. You see, there was never any bad feeling between the two congregations, they got along very well. The members got along very well because they belonged to the same organizations which were organized in the community after the Civil War. In fact, the columns in the synagogue are supposed to come from Beth Elohim. Also, about the time that they were building Brith Sholom, 1875, around that time, they were also altering the [Beth Elohim], they were putting the pews in the synagogue. I think I read somewhere that the columns and maybe the ark was given to Brith Sholom and the rabbi of Beth Elohim spoke, gave the principal address at the dedication of the Brith Sholom as a synagogue in 1875. So the relations there were pretty good. I havent come up with anything to the contrary about that. In later years when I was growing up, there was a feeling that the German Jews, the impression that the newcomers had was that they were standoffish and felt themselves superior to the other, which was typical.
German-born Jews in Charleston made what they called the elite part of society and eastern Europeans were considered a little different class. [My family came before the Civil War], but they came from eastern Europe, that makes a big difference. German Jews were considered the elite of the population. But you wouldnt know that today.
Oh, yes. We kept kosher. Sure. You know, the city was pretty well divided between the Orthodox population and the Reform population and those of us who went to Brith Sholom were all kosher, no question about it, you kept kosher. And we lived in neighborhoods. In my neighborhood was mostly Orthodox Jews. The Reform Jews lived downtown with maybe one exception. They all lived downtown. And we had no contact with Reform Jews on a general basis.
Who lived uptown? Mr. Rubin, who was an electrical engineer and he had a shop on King Street where LeRoys Jewelry was. He sold electrical appliances. His name was Louis Rubin.
It was estranged, never mixed too much. They lived in their neighborhood and I never went to temple before I was probably thirty years old or something like that. I knew them. I knew Mordenai Hirsch and Rabbi Raisins children and Eleanor Rittenberg; they were good friends. Very good friends as a matter of fact. But we neverour parents were not friends. Maier Triest was one of the exceptions. Because he was in the insurance business and a lot of his business came from uptown Jews so he was kind of a regular in that neighborhood. Hed visit.
The bulk of the charity and participation in Jewish functions as a citywide effort was mostly Orthodox Jews by and large. There were some exceptions: The Hebrew Orphan Society, organized some 175-plus years ago, was the first charity establishment in Charleston by Reform Jews for the benefit of needy Jewish families and there was also the Hebrew Benevolent Society. But Reform Jews dont have a history of social work in this town. We had an organization called the Daughters of Israel which was located next to the synagogue on St. Philip Street and they kind of did things for new families and indigent Jewish families but other than Mrs. Hirshman, I dont think any Reform Jews were members.
I lived in a non-Jewish neighborhood. In Charleston everybody [Jewish] lived on St. Philip Street. We lived as a family unit and we were what they called way uptown. See, I was born on Huger and Oak Streetits now called Dingle Street. Engine No. 8 fire station? Right across the street. James Simmons School? All I had to do is cross the street, walk to school. [Our] cross-the-street neighbor, good Catholic, Mary McKay, whos the head nurse emeritus at St. Franciswe grew up togetherPassoverd come, her motherd give us the Easter basket and it sits on our mothers sewing machine, you had to look at it until Passover was over.
The Downtown Crowd
You know, back in those days there was always, not only in Charleston but other places as well, there was always a feeling of, I wouldnt know whether youd say resentment, thats not it. Resentment is not the wordbut being uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable. There were so many immigrants coming in. They were the poorer people. You know how it was in New York, the uptown Jews did all they could to try to elevate with classes and so on. Well, the same thing was true here. The Council of Jewish Women, I remember, used to have classes, Americanization classes. They wanted to get them Americanized as quickly as possible. But I dont know whether they resented them, for me thats too strong a word, but they felt that in some way it would harm their position in the community because they were the lower class status by that time. They were newcomers and these were the established people. Much the same attitude I imagine youd find in New York with the uptown and downtown section. Maybe not to that extent.
And there was some bad feelings between the uptown Jews on religious matters. They used to call, I remember my father referred to the K.K. Beth Elohim as the Deutcher shul, the German shul. Because by that time the German element had become the dominant element of the synagogue. And yet on holidays, on the second day of the High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when they used to have a sort of hiatus in their service, not too much going on in the service in the afternoon, my father would walk down to the K.K. Beth Elohim and just sit there for a while. And he did business with those people, with the downtown Jews. The Hirshmans and the Pearlstines, they were big distributors. Horniks, that was the downtown crowd
Uptown most of the clientele was black, yeah. Interestingly enough, you know, a black person would not be allowed to try on a hat, for example, or shoes, in a place like Condons, Condons Department Store or Kerrisons Department Store, which were the big department stores when I was growing up. The uptown Jews allowed them to do that. And the uptown Jews did extend credit more easily than the downtown merchants did, both Jewish and non-Jewish merchants did. So, although there was probably some resentment among the blacks that the Jews were in places of business and making money on them, they worked very hard. They used to be in their businesses from early in the morning until late at night. My father kept the store open from seven oclock in the morning until eleven, twelve oclock at night. Till much later. Till much later.
Downtown and Uptown
I had taken pre-med at the College of Charleston, and one of the businesses my dad had started during those Depression years washe had the first cut-rate drug store in Charleston. He loved pharmacy, but he wasnt a pharmac[ist]. I can still remember the odor, you know, the aromahe was not a druggist so we didnt have a pharmacy, but just all the sundries, the soaps and the medicinesthe odor was always good. We kids were always put in the back to play while the store was open. You had to do something with them. King Street was always made up of a lot of merchants, and there were a lot of us kids around there that used to play on King Street, and spent many a Saturday in the local movie housethat was the best way, to put you in there for ten cents and let you baby-sit yourself for four or five hours.
So I had taken a pre-pharmacy and I was very nice to my dad, I told him, I said, If you want me to be a grocery store man, just give me the money and lets get in the grocery business. Thats what I thought about pharmacy. Some of my richest friends are pharmacists, and not dentists [laughs], so I say I made a good choice! I just told Dad, I said, I wasnt going to be a pharmacist. I think that might have bothered him a little bit, because I think he thought if hed been a pharmacist he would have done better. What I didnt tell you was Geer Drug Company, a local wholesale drug supplier, opened up four doors away from hima wholesale, you know, cut-rate drugsand hired a man named Stein. So if you called up and said, Is this Mr. Stine? you got him. It shows you how far back things do go. That lasted about nine months or a year. His Austrian background really did come through. I can remember as a kid, Klyde Robinsons daddy and a few of the other merchants which wasCharleston in those days was downtown and uptown. If you were a downtown merchant, you were much better than an uptown merchant. I dont know why, but that was just the feeling among them. Mr. Robinson asked Dad, he says, Wed like to buy your merchandise and move you, put you back in business. I forget the store, I think the store was where Sonny Goldberg is out of business now, right in that section. My dad refused them. He said he wasnt an uptown merchant.
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