Ben G. Frank, "I travel the world."
My take on Charleston, S.C.in 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
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
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
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
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
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. www.bengfrank.blogspot.com;
THE J E RUS A L EM POS T SUNDAY, S E P T EMB E R 9 , 2 0 1 2
TRAVEL TRENDS 7
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)
• By 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
• By MARJIE LAMBERT
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