CHARLESTON

CHARLESTON, city in South Carolina and home of one of the oldest Jewish communities in the United States. Jews began to settle in Charleston in 1695, 25 years after the English founded Carolina. Governor John Archdale, in a descriptive report on the colony, mentioned having a Spanish-speaking Jew as an interpreter in his dealing with captive Florida Indians. The early Jews were mostly Sephardim who came to Charleston from England by way of the Caribbean islands for the commercial opportunities available in a growing Atlantic seaport, and the religious freedom and personal rights offered and tolerated by the colony's Lord Proprietors. They helped build the city's colonial prosperity largely as shopkeepers, traders, and merchants. Among them was Moses lindo , who helped develop the important indigo trade and was made "Surveyor and Inspector-General of Indigo" for the provinces. Charleston Jewish community life began in 1749 when Jews were numerous enough to organize a formal congregation called Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (Holy Congregation House of God). Influenced by Sephardi congregation Bevis Marks in London, Beth Elohim adopted its strict Sephardi ritual and governance. Its founding fathers were Joseph To-bias, president; Michael Lazarus, secretary; Moses Cohen, rabbi; and Isaac Da Costa, ḥazzan. The congregation, in 1764, purchased Isaac Da Costa's family burial ground, established in 1754, as a congregational graveyard, now known as the Coming Street Cemetery, the South's oldest surviving Jewish cemetery. The congregation was incorporated in 1791 and, in 1794, dedicated a new synagogue with a capacity of 500 people. The Hebrew Benevolent Society, founded in 1784, and the Hebrew Orphan Society, chartered in 1802, handled charitable activities. (Both are still active.) During the first decades of the 1800s, Charleston, with more than 700 Jews, had "the largest, most cultured, and wealthiest Jewish community in America," but it began a long decline in importance soon thereafter. The Jews of Charleston became acculturated and were well received by the general community, which to them became "this happy land." They viewed themselves and were recognized as "a portion of the people." During the American Revolution, more than a score of Charleston Jews served in the patriot forces, several as officers. Francis salvador , a delegate to the revolutionary Provincial Congresses, which established independence from Great Britain in South Carolina (1775–1776), was the first Jew to hold elective public office in the New World. Killed and scalped by Tory-led Indians on August 1, 1776, he was the first Jew to die for American independence. In 1790, Beth Elohim wrote congratulations to George Washington on becoming the first president of the United States; Washington replied, "May the same temporal and eternal blessings which you implore for me, rest upon your Congregation." Charleston Jews fought in every other war in which the United States was involved. In the Civil War, even though ambivalent about secession, they joined their South Carolina neighbors in the Confederate cause. The war left Charleston and its Jews decimated and impoverished. Noticeable recovery did not occur until mid-20th century. Jews were well integrated in the Charleston community. Jews were active Masons; Isaac Da Costa was a member of the first Masonic lodge in South Carolina and four others were among the 11 founders of the Supreme Council of Scottish Rite Masonry (1802). Isaac Harby and Jacob N. Cardozo were newspaper editors; Penina Moise was a regular contributor of poems to Charleston newspapers; Joshua Lazarus headed the utility company, which introduced gas lighting to the city; Mordecai Cohen, a peddler, became at one time the second richest man in South Carolina and was noted for his philanthropies. Seeking to make their religion more compatible with the open American environment, petitioners sought reforms in the rituals and observances of Beth Elohim. Unsuccessful, they formed the Reformed Society of Israelites (1824–33), the first attempt at reform of Judaism in the United States. Its leaders were Isaac Harby, Abraham Moïse, and David N. Carvalho. This effort failed, but Beth Elohim did become the first Reform congregation in the United States under the Reverend Gustavus Poznanski. When a new synagogue was dedicated in 1841, the congregation installed an organ and other reforms. (The Orthodox members withdrew and formed Congregation Shearit Israel; they merged with Beth Elohim in 1866.) On that occasion Poznanski said, "This synagogue is our Temple, this city our Jerusalem, this happy land our Palestine, and as our fathers defended that temple, that city and that land, so will our sons defend this temple, this city, this land." The synagogue, now a National Historic Landmark, is the second oldest in the United States, and the oldest surviving Reform synagogue in the world. In 1854, the Ashkenazi congregation Berith Shalome was formed, one of the oldest in continuous existence in the United States; it merged in 1954 with Congregation Beth Israel   (1911) to form present-day Brith Sholom Beth Israel. These congregations benefited from an influx of East European immigrants (1881–1920). After World War II, industrial growth and port development, along with expansion of military facilities, brought a new prosperity to Charleston, in which its Jewish citizens shared. Accompanying this was the growth of educational and medical institutions and tourism. Demographically, the Jewish population of metropolitan Charleston grew from about 2,000 in 1948, in a general population of about 175,000, to about 5,500 in 2004, in a general population of about 570,000. This resulted from the influx of Jews from other parts of the United States attracted by economic opportunities, mild climate, and a good quality of life. Jewish population, once contained entirely in peninsular Charleston, now spread over annexed suburbs and newly developed municipalities around the city. Jews were prominent in the area's business, professional, and cultural life, but retail trade gave way to the professions – doctors, lawyers, educators, and many other occupations. Jews were active in civic clubs and charitable organizations and were often elected to public office. There were three congregations with a combined membership of about 1,450 family units. Emanu-El Synagogue (1947), Conservative, and K.K. Beth Elohim, Reform, were the largest, each with about 550 units. Brith Shalom Beth Israel conducted a Hebrew day school, Addlestone Academy. There were six Jewish cemeteries, three of them still active, maintained by the congregations. The Charleston Jewish Federation, established as the United Jewish Appeal in 1949, raised money for local, national, and overseas causes, dealt with community relations, and published a monthly periodical. There was a Jewish Community Center and active local chapters of most national Jewish organizations. The College of Charleston's Yaschik-Arnold Jewish Studies Program provided Jewish educational opportunities to the community, and the college's Marlene and Nathan Addlestone Library housed the Jewish Heritage Collection, preserving records of the Charleston Jewish community and its people. (Sol Breibart (2nd ed.) -BIBLIOGRAPHY: B.A. Elzas, Jews of South Carolina (1905); Charles Reznikoff and Uriah Z. Englelman, The Jews of Charleston (1950); J.W. Hagy, This Happy Land: the Jews of Colonial and Antebellum Charleston (1993); Gary P. Zola, Isaac Harby of Charleston 1788–1828 (1994); Theodore and Dale Rosengarten (eds), A Portion of the People (2002); Robert N. Rosen, A Short History of Charleston (1982); Robert N. Rosen, The Jewish Confederates (2000). WEBSITES: Charleston Jewish Community – www.JewishCharleston.com ; Jewish Heritage Collection – www.CofC.educ./CHARLESTONJHC/ .

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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