Thursday, September 20, 2012

My take on Charleston, S.C. in The Jerusalem Post,

 Ben G. Frank, "I travel the world."

My take on Charleston, The Jerusalem Post.


HARLESTON – On April 12, 1861,

General P.G.T. Beauregard, in

command of the Confederate

forces around Charleston Harbor,

opened fire on the Union garrison holding

Fort Sumter.

At 2:30 p.m. on April 13, Major Robert

Anderson, garrison commander, surrendered

the fort and was evacuated the next day.

Thus began the American Civil War (1861-

1865), also known as the “War Between the

States,” “Brother against Brother,” “War of

the Rebellion” or “War for Southern Independence.”

And it all began on the

Charleston, S.C. waterfront.

No wonder the city is called, “the Mother

City of the South,” emphasized by titles of

local tours, such as “Charleston Tea Plantation

and Party” and “Gone with Wind,” as

well as culinary, historic home, city, boat and

ever-popular carriage tours.

Each day, the city of Charleston whets the

appetite of thousands of visitors from the US

and throughout the world who arrive in this

landmark of American history, which

includes Fort Sumter as well as the home of

the second-oldest Jewish congregation in

continuous use (since 1749), Kahal Kadosh

Beth Elohim (KKBE). Today’s synagogue was

dedicated in 1841 and is considered the starting

point of the Reform Movement of

Judaism in America.

In the first decades of the 1800s.

Charleston boasted “the largest cultured

and wealthiest Jewish community in the

US.” The synagogue today consists of two

structures: the main sanctuary, which once

had the bimah in the center, according to

Sephardic style, but it was moved forward

and the “pews” were changed so they are

facing east.

The second building contains a social hall,

a religious school, offices, a museum and sisterhood

meeting rooms. The synagogue is

open for daily tours – except on Shabbat–

from 10 a.m. to 12 noon and from 1 p.m. to

4 p.m. It is best to call ahead (843-723-1090)

for a visit to one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries

in the US, at 189 Coming Street (1762).

The synagogue is designed in the Grecian

Doric architectural style. Over the front door

is a marble tablet bearing the inscription of

the “

Shema” prayer in Hebrew and English.

The early Charleston Jews were mostly

Sepharadim who came from England in

1695. South Carolina was one of the most

tolerant states among the 13 American

colonies and offered religious freedom to all.

Until this day, Charleston is called “the Holy

City.” More Jews arrived in the 18th century

from France, Holland, Jamaica and Barbados.

Jews were engaged in commerce – especially

in the growing of indigo, one of the most

important crops in South Carolina. Large

numbers of Charleston Jews served the

American Revolutionary cause.

The Civil War may have started there and

been a vital center of the Southern cause, but

except for a brief mention during tours or on

information sheets, the conflict is not the

main topic of conversation.

During the War Between The States, the

Jews of Charleston were Southern patriots

and aligned themselves with the Confederacy.

Benjamin Mordecai contributed $10,000

to South Carolina’s war chest and fed thousands

of widows and orphans at his own

expense. Many Jews enlisted in the Confederate

Army – so many that KKBE found it

impossible to obtain a quorum of trustees

during the war. Among KKBE’s members

were the parents of Judah P. Benjamin, who

some historians call “the brains of the Confederacy,”

and the parents of Bernard M.

Baruch, financier and statesman.

With the end of the Civil War, Jews, like

their neighbors, became poverty-stricken.

Many left the South. So impoverished was

the area that there was no noticeable recovery

until the mid-20th century. After World

War II, Jews once again moved back for economic

and professional opportunities.

Founded in 1670 and named “Charles

Town” for King Charles II of England, the

city became Charleston in 1783. Upon

arrival, tourists immediately sense a slice of

life of the “Ole South,” including foods like

grits. Stop at Marion Square on Calhoun

Street, where, adjacent to this huge grass

rectangle, stands a castle-looking structure

known as the old Citadel Military College,

now an Embassy Suites hotel. The square

plays host to a popular farmers’ market

every Saturday morning, when the field is

resplendent with booths selling arts and

crafts. In an open food court, omelets are

made before your eyes.

An upscale and historic hotel is Charleston

Place, a few minutes’ walk from KKBE. Less

expensive is the Marriott Courtyard on Calhoun

Street, across from Marion Square.

Fronting on Marion Square alongside Calhoun

Street, near the statue of Southern

leader John C. Calhoun (1782 –1850), is the

Holocaust Memorial. The site, which was

dedicated in 1966, is easily missed because its

shape is that of a flat 12-foot bronzed


(prayer shawl) on the ground with one of the

fringes cut, as is done in Jewish burial. The

memorial is surrounded by a fence to evoke

the sense of the concentration camp.

Saunter up and down King Street, with its

architecture and boutiques that will take you

back in time. If it’s art galleries you’re after,

you won’t go wrong with 133 establishments

in Charleston, a walking town.

Visit the old homes in their unembellished

Victorian, Georgian and Italian architecture

that makes the city an in-tourist destination.

Stop at the Palmer House in the Historic

District for a beautiful view of Charleston

Harbor and Fort Sumter. Since the thermometer

in summer can reach 105 degrees

Fahrenheit, travelers prefer to travel by airconditioned

vehicles to view the nearby

antebellum plantations.

For 17 days and nights each spring, the

world-famous Spoleto Festival USA – internationally

recognized as America’s

premier performing arts

festival – fills Charleston’s historic

theaters with opera, theater,

dance, chamber music

and symphony performances.

The Jewish population is

increasing. About 6,000 Jews

reside in the Charleston area,

which has a city population of

about 120,000 and a metro

population of 600,000. Many

arrived recently as part of the

movement of young American

Jews working with the

military as well as seniors who

find Charleston a charming

and less expensive area to

retire, with its low taxes, cultural activities

and scenic views. The more affluent end up

at Kiawah Island Golf Resort.

Being the oldest and largest synagogue of

the community, KKBE boasts 500 households

as members and holds Friday night services

at 8 p.m., although on the first Friday of

every month, a Shabbat dinner is held at 5:45

p.m. and services are at 7:00. And here’s a

twist: unlike most American congregations,

this Southern house of worship serves fried

chicken. (No, they don’t dish up grits.)

Kosher chicken must be ordered in advance.

Saturday services are at 10 a.m.

A highlight of the visit to KKBE is the Chosen

Treasury Judaica Shop, open Sunday

through Thursday from 10 a.m. To 4 p.m.

and Sunday from 10 a..m to 3 p.m. Rabbi

Stephanie Alexander says the synagogue is

“rightfully proud of its place in Jewish history

and, to this day, is vibrant in its practice of

Judaism.” After all, it stands as the oldest

Reform congregation in the US, notes Anita

Moise Rosenberg, a KKBE vice president.

Charlston also hosts the Conservative

Emanu-El synagogue and two Orthodox synagogues:

Brith Shalom Beth Israel and Congregation

Dor Tikvah, which is located in the

Jewish Community Center.

Shannon Warner, who belongs to KKBE,

says the Jewish community is united in its

support of Israel and is “up on what is

happening” in the Jewish state. She says

that all segments of the community work

together, including the scheduling of a

community calendar.

Chabad of Charleston and the Low Country

has existed for the last five years and is situated

in the suburb of Mount Pleasantt.

Rabbi Yossi Refson, who is from England,

says kosher meals are available at Hyman’s

restaurant. This establishment offers kosher

meals prepared at the Chabad House. Supermarkets

also stock kosher products.

The Jewish community is thought of well

“because they were treated well and they

treated everyone else well,” explains Refson.

The writer is a journalist and the author of several

Jewish travel guides.;




A SIDE VIEW of KKBE, the second oldest

Jewish congregation in continuous use in

the US. Inset, the Holocaust Memorial on

Marion Square, in the historic section of


(Ben G. Frank)


Special to The Jerusalem Post

VISITORS CANOE in Myakka River State Park near Sarasota, Florida.

(Marjie Lambert/Miami Herald/MCT)

Sarasota: Where culture, nature share the stage


The ‘mother city’ of the South

Charleston, South Carolina is not only a pearl of southern American

culture, it also boasts an historic Jewish community

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