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September 2, 2015 / 18 Elul, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘South Carolina’

Peace Process? Obama Says US Gun Violence 33 Times Worse than in Israel

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

President Barack Obama told the American people that last week’s murder of nine blacks in a Charleston, S.C. church should wake up Americans “to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency.”

He tweeted:

Here are the stats: Per population, we kill each other with guns at a rate 297x more than Japan, 49x more than France, 33x more than Israel.

The comparisons are a bit ridiculous and miss the point completely.

In Japan, the law states, “No one shall possess a firearm or firearms or a sword or swords.” Exceptions are few and far between, and licenses for hunting and sports are allowed only after a lengthy procedure.

In Israel, tens of thousands of people walk around with guns, most of them soldiers, licensed guards or members of first response teams, with virtually no incidents except when shooting at terrorists.

Two notable exceptions, often used by anti-Semites to try to describe Israelis as violent, were the murders of Arabs by Baruch Goldstein and Eden Natan-Zada.

They were exceptions and not examples. Gun violence in Israel historically is related to defend the country against terrorists.

President Obama wants to solve the problem of gun violence in the United States, but he put the emphasis on the word “gun” and not “violence, which is deeply rooted in American society from the days of the Wild West.

Obama said after the murders in Charleston:

It is within our power to do something about it. I say this recognizing that the politics of this town foreclose a lot of those avenues. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it.

Gun control is the obvious first way to find and quick and easy fix to American gun violence. The gun lobby has successful limited gun control laws, but the Charleston massacre may break the lobby’s back.

The more that guns are easily available, it is a reasonable conclusion that more shootings are likely to result.

The issue of gun control is so highly charged in the United States, under the guide of “freedom,” that it will be difficult to legislate and enforce stricter controls.

If legislation is enacted, it remains to be seen if those who should have guns will be denied them while those who should not have them will get guns anyway.

It is easier to legislate gun control than it is to legislate violence.

It is even easier for President Obama to decide what is best for Israel.

Here is Obama’s tweet:
obamatweet

Below is Obama’s speech on Thursday after the murders in Charleston.

A New Hitler: Dylann Roof’s Anti-Jewish-Spanish-East Asian Manifesto

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

A 2,500 manifesto that apparently was posted by Dylann Roof Storm reveals his obsession against Jews, Hispanics and East Asians, as well as the American flag.

Storm, why has pleaded guilty the murders of nine blacks in a Charleston, S.C. church last week, wrote his rant on the Last Rhodesian website, which originally was registered in his name, according to The New York Times.

The only thing differentiating Roof from Hitler seems to be a moustache.

Photos have appeared of Roof burning and stomping on an American flag.

His manifesto of hate includes referees to blacks, whom he calls “Negroes” and sometimes “niggers,” are stupid and violent. As for Jews, he wrote:

In my opinion the issues with Jews is not their blood, but their identity. I think that if we could somehow destroy the Jewish identity, then they wouldnt [sic] cause much of a problem.

The problem is that Jews look White, and in many cases are White, yet they see themselves as minorities.

Just like niggers, most Jews are always thinking about the fact that they are Jewish. The other issue is that they network. If we could somehow turn every Jew blue for 24 hours, I think there would be a mass awakening, because people would be able to see plainly what is going on.

Roof’s manifesto may be good evidence for his lawyers to prove to the court he is insane. There are several contradictions in his rant.

He wrote:

This White superiority complex that comes from learning of how we dominated other peoples is also part of the problem….. But of course I don’t[sic[ deny that we are in fact superior.

I wish with a passion that n****rs were treated terribly throughout history by Whites, that every White person had an ancestor who owned slaves, that segregation was an evil an [sic] oppressive institution, and so on.

…But it isnt [sic[ true. None of it is…..it is all based on historical lies, exaggerations and myths.

… Only a fourth to a third of people in the South owned even one slave. Yet every White person is treated as if they had a slave owning [sic] ancestor.

As for Hispanics, Roof declared:

Hispanics are obviously a huge problem for Americans. But there are good Hispanics and bad Hispanics…..They have respect for White beauty, and a good portion of Hispanics are White…..

There is good White blood worht [sic] saving in Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and even Brasil [sic].

But they are still our enemies.

He also stated that East Asians are racists.

Roof wrote, “I hate the sight of the American flag,” and he said that “modern American patriotism is an absolute joke” but he “would have rather lived in 1940’s American than Nazi Germany.”

His Hitler-minded manifesto states that “drastic action” is needed to keep minorities from taking over the United States.

Roof maintains that black are inherently different from white, explaining that “anyone who thinks that White and black people look as different as we do on the outside, but are somehow magically the same on the inside, is delusional. How could our faces, skin, hair, and body structure all be different, but our brains be exactly the same? ”

One photo of Roof has a clear reference to Hitler. He is shown at a beach with the number “1488.” a code used by White supremacists. The number 14 refers to a 14-word slogan: We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children” and is apparently inspired by an 88-word passage in Mein Kampf.

The digits “88” have at least two meanings. The letter “H” is the eighth letter in the alphabet, and two of the letters together, which would be 88, are the initials for Heil Hitler.

An Israeli Flag in South Carolina

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

At Alan Clemmons’s Myrtle Beach law firm in South Carolina, the Israeli flag proudly flies alongside the U.S. and state flag. While the South Carolina state representative put the flag up several months ago, it is not the only public show of support that Clemmons has shown towards Israel during the past 12 years as a member of the South Caroline House of Representatives.

In 2011, Clemmons sponsored the South Carolina Stands With Israel Resolution, which unanimously passed the South Carolina General Assembly. “It was something that both Democrats and Republicans in our state legislature could agree upon,” Clemmons told Tazpit News Agency in a recent interview, during a visit to Israel this week.

“I expected a fiery debate on this resolution, but every single one of the 124 members of the legislature voted for it,” added Clemmons, who is leading a delegation of 24 South Carolina state legislators, spouses and friends on a visit to Israel. The group is on a mission to learn more about the country’s technology, healthcare, security, and economy as well as to explore new areas of cooperation.

“I sponsored this resolution as a way of responding to President Obama’s declaration that Israel return to the 1948 ceasefire lines,” he explained. “I wanted to proclaim that Israel is not occupying any land and has Biblical and strategic rights to Judea and Samaria and a unified Jerusalem.”

At the time that he sponsored the resolution, Clemmons, a Mormon and father of two, had not yet visited Israel. “The resolution didn’t get a lot of press coverage in the U.S. but it certainly did in Israel. Suddenly, I saw that my name was popping up on the Google news feed in Israeli news reports,” he recalls.

A visit to Israel inevitably followed soon after, and Clemmons found that his first trip to the Holy Land only served to strengthen his resolve to support the Jewish state. Following the 2011 Israel Resolution, which had been replicated and passed in many other states since, Clemmons has sponsored the South Carolina – Iran Divestment Act and has worked against academic boycotts of Israel in colleges.

This year, the Myrtle Beach native also sponsored a unique South Carolina Stands With Israel Specialty Automobile License Tag Act. The South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles now offers a vanity plate option that reads, ‘South Carolina Stands With Israel’ with the southern state’s flag and Israeli flag intertwined.

“I’ll be the first to get that specialty plate as soon as it’s available to put on my car,” Clemmons told Tazpit.

Clemmons explains his support of Israel comes from both a strategic place where Israel is seen as a vital partner for the U.S. in a region “that doesn’t have a whole lot of love for America,” and a morally religious one as well.

“South Carolina is referred to as the buckle of the Bible Belt and is one of the southern states at the forefront of supporting Israel. We are taught our Bible stories here from a young age and we know who King David and Abraham are,” he said. “Judea and Samaria is rich with Jewish history.”

South Carolina, also known as the Palmetto State in reference to the official state tree, has a rich Jewish heritage, beginning in 1669 with the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religious practice for all, expressly including those of Jewish faith. Much of Carolina’s first Jewish settlers traced their roots back to Spain or Portugal where they were expelled during the Spanish Inquisition. Today, the Jewish population numbers at 13,570 people.

During this past week, Clemmons has led a group of lawmakers from South Carolina, including both Democrats and Republicans on a 10-day trip to Israel. South Carolina Legislature Minority Leader, Todd Rutherford (D) told Tazpit that the visit was a significant one for him. “My support of Israel is not just talk,” Rutherford said. “I’m here to see how we can further ramp up our relationship with our closest ally,” said Rutherford, who first visited Israel in 2010 with AIPAC.

The Greatest Gift I Ever Gave

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Ordinarily, Chanukah is a time to hug and kiss the kids as we sing in front of the menorah. This past Chanukah was an exception. Instead of putting my arms around my children, I watched them light the menorah on a streaming video from my iPad while I rested comfortably in my hospital bed.

It was a bittersweet moment, one I would not trade for anything in the world – because this year for Chanukah, I gave the gift of life.

Ronit, a mother of three children from Petach Tikva, had been on dialysis for years. Her body was slowly shutting down due to her genetic kidney disease and the doctors did not give her much longer to live. Over the past several years, Ronit literally traveled the world and explored every option to find an altruistic kidney donor willing to save her life. Yet as time continued to run out, she never gave up hope.

Meanwhile, halfway across the world, I had a sudden urge to launch an educational lecture series in my shul about Jewish medical ethics. I spent a great deal of time researching, studying and teaching about the medical and halachic perspectives of organ donation. The lectures were stimulating, interactive and well attended. My conclusion was always the same: “Not only is living kidney donation permitted by halacha, but if a person is in good health and is inclined to donate – saving a life is the among the greatest mitzvot we can ever do.”

After hearing myself repeat those words so often, it forced me to look in the mirror and ask: Would I ever consider doing something so crazy as to donate a kidney to a total stranger?

I continued researching the topic and quickly realized it actually is not so crazy. I learned the surgery itself is extremely safe and highly successful, and that a person can live a perfectly long and normal life after donation.

By contacting organizations like Matnat Chaim and Kidney Mitzvah, I was matched with Ronit. Unlike finding a bone marrow donor, which is tantamount to searching for a needle in a haystack, finding a kidney match is not all that difficult. The hardest part is finding someone who is actually willing to make the donation.

My wife, Chana, was incredibly supportive throughout the process. She wisely suggested I go through the testing and take it one step at a time. It turned out to be the best advice I received. Rather than getting overwhelmed, I carefully took my time testing, researching and talking to others who had previously donated. A year later I was approved as a perfect candidate for kidney donation.

At that point, I sat down with my two older sons (11 and 8) and explained to them that my kidney could save the life of a woman in Israel. I assured them I would not go ahead with the donation unless they were fully on board. As I explained the process to them, my eight-year-old son began crying and said, “Totty, please don’t do it. I am scared and I don’t want anything to happen to you.” I responded with a hug and assured him that if he didn’t want me to donate my kidney, I wouldn’t do it.

At that point, my older son asked if the recipient had any children. I explained that she had three children but was a single mother. Immediately my boys both responded that I should definitely give her my kidney.

I looked quizzically at them and inquired about their sudden change of heart. The response I received knocked the wind right out of me. They both said basically the same thing: “Totty, if you die, we will be very, very sad, but at least we will still have Mommy to take care of us. However, if this lady dies, her children will become orphans. That is why you must give her your kidney”.

Their words echoed with simplicity and resounding clarity. I could live a perfect life with one kidney. However, without a transplant, Ronit would surely die.

Thus, in late December I went to New York’s Montefiore Hospital to donate my kidney. When I met Ronit for the first time, I was overwhelmed by the tears flowing from her eyes and the look of pure joy and gratitude on her face.

The two-hour laparoscopic surgery was a huge success, and after two days in the hospital I was home recuperating. Just one month later I feel great, and am back to my usual routine – even running a few miles each day. Ronit has begun a new life – full of energy and free of the constant tethering to a dialysis machine.

I don’t view my “Chanukah present” as being heroic or righteous. In the prayer of Shema we constantly state our desire to serve Hashem “b’chol me’odecha” with all of our me’od – our excess. To me, my second kidney was my me’od and I was glad to share it.

Jewish Soldiers Find Spiritual Home At Fort Jackson, S.C.

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

When Rabbi Henry Soussan went through training at Fort Jackson in 2002, area Jewish options were limited, and being able to participate in Jewish holiday celebrations was tough. Nearly 10 years later, the instructor at the Columbia, South Carolina installation’s chaplain school is proud of the Chabad-Lubavitch-run Aleph House, which gives civilians and soldiers a Jewish base while they’re away from home.

During the 10 to 12 weeks of basic training at Fort Jackson – which is also home to the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force chaplaincy training programs – soldiers are not expected to leave the base, but in a first for Fort Jackson, dozens of trainees got to spend the High Holidays at the Aleph House.

“That’s quite a change,” said Soussan, who worked together with Fort Jackson’s chaplain and commanding general to make their attendance possible.

One trainee was even granted permission to stay overnight with Rabbi Heshy Epstein, co-director of Chabad of South Carolina, so he wouldn’t have to drive on Yom Kippur.

“I never heard of that before,” remarked Soussan.

Operated jointly by Chabad of South Carolina and the Aleph Institute, a Bal Harbour, Fla.-based organization that serves Jewish military personnel and prisoners, the Aleph House provides Jewish soldiers at Fort Jackson an array of services, including graduation ceremonies for trainees completing basic training or chaplaincy school.

“We have had people come from all over America,” many of whom were not particularly close to their home Jewish communities, said Soussan. “But because they had this celebration at the Aleph House, they were able to reconnect.”

Epstein makes sure to plug soldiers back in to Chabad Houses and synagogues back home and near their new assignments.

Because of the success of the High Holiday programming, Epstein wants to add Chanukah events and Passover celebrations for soldiers in basic training. Because Jewish soldiers frequently have non-Jewish battle buddies – recruits travel in pairs and are not allowed to be apart during training – opportunities to come to synagogue can frequently dispel Jewish stereotypes.

Jewish soldiers celebrate the High Holidays with the help of the Aleph Institute.

“It’s quite amazing the feedback I get out of these services,” remarked Soussan. “They’re grateful that they’re being treated nicely, and we include everyone as much as possible.”

Epstein spoke of the positive relationship between Aleph House and Fort Jackson, noting that working with soldiers has been an inspiring experience.

“Basic training is very difficult. The soldiers are under extremely high pressure and stress, and it causes them to question what their values are,” he explained.

Coming to services and having access to holiday events “allows them to be better soldiers, and better prepared mentally and emotionally for their mission. Often we talk about Jewish values and how they pertain to their mission as soldiers.”

Weekly services draw between 30 and 40 soldiers. Depending on the time of year, the soldiers also receive packages for Purim, Passover and Yom Kippur, as well as e-mails about upcoming holidays and Jewish practice.

Rabbi Aaron Lipskar, executive director of the Aleph Institute, said that it’s a relationship Jewish soldiers can count on no matter where in the world they may find themselves.

“Through getting connected at the Aleph House, they’re being given that opportunity to know what’s available to them and who they can turn to regardless of where they may be stationed and deployed,” he said.

The Reform Movement Comes To Charleston

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Note: All quotes are from “The Charleston Organ Case” by Allan Tarshish, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, 54, 1965 (http://www.ajhs.org/reference/adaje.cfm).

 

Last month we traced the establishment and development of the Jewish Community in Charleston, South Carolina, and its first synagogue, Kahal Kodesh (Holy Congregation) Beth Elokim (KKBE). From its inception in 1749 the synagogue was Orthodox and followed the Sephardic ritual. (This was the case with all of the synagogues founded during colonial times.)

 

The Jews of Charleston fared well, and by 1820 the Jewish population was the largest in America. But something happened in 1824 that would split the Jewish community and eventually have far reaching repercussions for Judaism throughout America: Several members of KKBE presented a petition calling for a number of changes in synagogue ritual.

 

The changes requested were that the Hebrew prayers be translated into English, a shortening of services by the omission of some of the prayers, the abolishment of monetary pledges during services, and an English sermon based on the portion of the week.

 

     When their petition was rejected and they realized they could not command the necessary two-thirds vote of the congregation for the changes they sought, they took further steps. It was actually not until January 16, 1825, that they formally organized “The Reformed Society of Israelites” and prepared its constitution, which was unanimously adopted on February 15, 1825 by forty-four people present.

 

     In brief, they wrote a new and abbreviated ritual service with some original prayers: original prayers and services for circumcision, naming a daughter, confirmation and the marriage ceremony; used instrumental music, worshipped without hats and revised the Maimonidean creed. They planned to educate some youth to serve as their spiritual leader.

 

   Three of the Rambam’s Thirteen Principles of Faith were eliminated in their document – the Divine Revelation of the Scriptures; the expectation of the coming Messiah, and the resurrection of the dead.

 

   Those who opposed these reformers characterized their efforts as follows:

 

     They published a document, in which was avowed their determination to discard what they termed “the idle comments of the Rabbins”; to abolish the offerings which they termed “profane,” and the Spanish and Portuguese Rites of the Church [this term used by the Traditionalists, not the Reformers], which they called an “insult”; and to bring all Religious Faith to the test of human philosophy, declaring such Faith to be only “the result of rational demonstration.” They commenced their scheme of this Religion of Reason by denouncing and abandoning many of the usages which had prevailed among the Jews, since the days of the great Synagogue. Proceeding step by step, they actually changed the creeds of the Jewish people, and in a Ritual published by their authority in 1825, set forth another form of Creed, in which they left out three of the fundamental Articles of Faith.

 

The Society enjoyed some success, and within a year it had increased its membership to about 50. KKBE retained approximately 70 members. Within a few years, however, Society membership began to decrease and in 1833 the Society disbanded. A number of the defunct Society’s members again began to daven in KKBE. Things now looked good for the proponents of Orthodoxy in Charleston, but there was more trouble down the road.

 

Reform Rises Again

 

   In 1824 there were about 3,000 Jews living in America. By 1840 this number increased to 15,000. Substantial numbers of German Jews began immigrating to America in the middle 1830s. Many of these new German immigrants had either been affiliated with or influenced by the Reform movement in Germany. Some of them settled in Charleston and would play important roles in the future of Reform there. The key player in the reestablishment of Reform in Charleston was the “Reverend” Gustavus Poznanski.

 

   In 1836 a vacancy in the position of chazzan (minister) at KKBE occurred. The synagogue was firmly controlled at this time by those who supported Orthodoxy. Wary of any possible inroads by reformers, they “set themselves to the task of finding a Minister, who would faithfully execute his duties, according to those Rabbinical and Mosaical laws, which were deemed vital to the existence of the Congregation, and who would also oppose innovation and change .”

 

Gustavus Poznanski, who at the time was associated with Congregation Shearith Israel of New York, was highly recommended by Isaac Lesser (considered by many to be the leader of American Orthodoxy at the time) as being a staunch supporter of traditional Judaism. But this was not enough for the leaders of the congregation, who sent a committee to interview him. These men were completely satisfied with Poznanski’s traditional views on all counts, and he was elected to the position. He assumed his duties at the beginning of 1837. The leaders of KKBE were so pleased with him that in 1838 they offered him a lifetime contract, even before the conclusion of his probationary term.

 

     Then, another episode had its effect. In April, 1838, the synagogue of Beth Elokim, together with a number of surrounding buildings, was destroyed by a disastrous fire and a new one was erected, which was finished in April, 1840. In these few years, a change evidently developed in the thinking of the Reverend Poznanski, for rumors began to spread that he was in favor of instrumental music in the new synagogue. It was also noted that some members of the old Reformed Society of Israelites, who had not hitherto re-associated themselves with Beth Elokim, now began to return.

 

     So it was that, on July 14, 1840, a special meeting of the Board of Trustees received a petition from thirty-eight members, requesting that the Board call a general meeting of the congregation to consider the propriety of erecting an organ in the synagogue.

 

In their petition they wrote:

 

     We, the undersigned members of the congregation of K.K. Beth Elokim, feeling a deep interest in our religion, and anxious to embrace every laudable and sacred mode by which the rising generation may be made to conform to and attend our holy worship, Respectfully petition Your body, to call a General meeting of the congregation at the earliest and most convenient period you may deem proper … to discuss the propriety of erecting an organ in the synagogue to assist the vocal part of the service.

 

     Your petitioners would be among the last to ask for innovation in any respect in relation to the usages and formula of the Service. But your body is aware, that in this petition, there is nothing incompatible with the practice of our brethren where they continue strict conformists. It is a matter of notoriety that farther than a century back, an organ was made part of the service in the city of Prague, the capital of Bohemia, and at a later period, organs have been introduced in other parts of Germany and in the South of France.

 

The stage was now set for a struggle between the reformers and those committed to tradition. It would lead to what became known as the Charleston Organ Case.

 

More next month.

 

 

   Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

The Early Jewish Community Of Charleston

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Note: Unless otherwise indicated all quotes are from “The Jews of Charleston, A History of an American Jewish Community” by Charles Reznikoff in collaboration with Uriah Z. Engelman, Jewish Publication Society of America, 1950.

 

The English first settled at Albemarle Point in what is now South Carolina in 1670. In 1680 this settlement was moved to a peninsula between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, and became Charles Town (named in honor King Charles II). The new location was more healthful than the original settlement, and, since it was behind the islands of a land-locked harbor, provided safety from attack. The name was changed to Charleston at the end of the War of Independence.

 

“By the late 1680s, the colony was beginning to enjoy prosperity, especially in the coastal areas. Its economic base depended initially on the fur trade, which fostered generally good relations between the Carolinian settlers and the local Indian tribes.”1

 

In 1695, four Indians from Florida (then Spanish territory), who had been captured by the Yamasee Indians, were brought to town: the captives “could speak Spanish,” wrote the governor of the colony afterwards, “and I had a Jew for an interpreter, so upon examination I found they profess’d the Christian Religion as the Papists do; and the governor, accordingly, sent the captives back to St. Augustine.” [Page 4]

 

This is the first mention we have of a Jew in the Carolinas. Given that he knew Spanish, he may very well have been a Marrano.

 

The constitution of the colony was heavily influenced by the political philosopher John Locke, resulting in a veritable Magna Charta of liberty and tolerance.

 

In 1697, the colonial Assembly declared that religious persecution had forced aliens to settle in South Carolina and acknowledged that these had proved themselves law-abiding and industrious; accordingly, the Assembly enacted that “all aliens … of what nation soever, which now are inhabitants of South Carolina” should have all the rights of any person born of English parents. Full freedom of worship was granted, however, only to Christians – “Papists excepted”; but all other rights were granted every alien who applied by petition if such alien would swear allegiance to the king. [Page 4]

 

It is little wonder, then, that Jews as well as other persecuted minorities such as Huguenots and German Palatines found South Carolina a save haven and settled there in increasing numbers.

 

The Jews who first went to Charles Town came, almost all of them, from England and English possessions in the western hemisphere: from New York to the north, from Georgia to the south, and, like the English from Barbados, from the British West Indies. For the most part they came to the growing port as merchants; but like other merchants in Charles Town some hoped, no doubt, to buy land and become planters. If a few were men of consequence with transactions involving large sums, others, as stated above, were no more than petty tradesmen, ready to sell a loaf of bread or of sugar, a ribbon for a lady or a cut of rough cloth for a slave.

About 1741, Jews, as well as many Christians, who had been among the earliest settlers in Georgia, left Savannah because the trustees of the colony would not let them have the use of Negro slaves. (Many returned to Georgia when slavery was permitted in 1749.) [Pages 11-12]

 

Synagogue and Social Life

 

After the arrival of the Jews from Georgia, there certainly were enough Jews to sustain a regular minyan. However, it was not until 1749 that a congregation, which they called Beth Elokim Unveh Shalom, was formed. The synagogue soon became known as Kahal Kodesh (Holy Congregation) Beth Elokim (KKBE).

 

From 1750 to 1757, Kahal Kodesh met for worship in a small wooden house – that had been most likely used for a dwelling – on Union Street (now State Street and so since the days of the Secession). From 1757 to 1764, the Charles Town congregation met in a house “back in the yard,” afterwards 318 King Street, near Hasell Street; and, from 1764 until 1780, on Beresford Street near King Street. [Pages 17-18]

 

The synagogue was Orthodox and followed the Sephardic ritual (as was the case with all synagogues founded in the American colonies). Moses Cohen served as the first chazzan and reader and Joseph Tobias was the first parnas (president).

 

In 1820, the estimated Jewish population of Charleston was 700 as compared to 550 in New York City, 450 in Philadelphia, 200 in Richmond, 150 in Baltimore, 100 in Savannah and 500 to 600 others scattered in the balance of the United States.

The religious, cultural and economic climate of Charleston was favorable to Jews and Jews were accepted easily in community life. Jews voted in an election in 1703, probably the first time in the Western world, and participated actively in almost every area of life. Many of them had fought in the Revolution. Leading Jews of Charleston brought steam navigation to the Savannah River, established a line of steamships between Charleston and Havana, reestablished the Chamber of Commerce, introduced illuminating gas to the city and pioneered in other industrial enterprises. The community abounded with well-known Jewish writers, painters, teachers, lawyers and physicians. At one time, during this period, of the four newspapers in Charleston, two were edited by Jews. Of the nine people who founded the Supreme Council of Scottish Rite Masonry in Charleston in 1801, “Mother Council of the World,” four were Jews. And Jews were also prominent in the social and charitable life of the region.2

 

Not all was well, however. Many of the Jews of Charleston were influenced by its long tradition of liberalism and pluralism as well as the new waves of thought that were affecting various segments of Protestant America at this time. They were certainly aware of the beginnings of the Reform movement in Germany. In addition, some of Charleston’s Jews undoubtedly were affected by the development of the Unitarian Church in Charleston under the leadership of Samuel Gilman.

 

Some of the Jews compared the Orthodox services conducted at KKBE with those of their fellow Christians and found them lacking in decorum and dignity. It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that in 1824 forty-seven members of the KKBE presented a petition to the congregation which in part said that while they believed the “present system of worship” had “certain defects,” they sought “no other end than the future welfare and respectability of the [Jews] . We wish not to overthrow, but to rebuild; we wish not to destroy, but to reform and revise the evils complained of; we wish not to abandon the institutions of Moses, but to understand and observe them 3

 

Their initial request for change was modest – they wanted the Hebrew prayers translated into English, a shortening of services by the omission of some of the prayers, the abolishment of monetary pledges during services, and an English sermon based on the portion of the week.

 

This petition was rejected by the officers of KKBE on the grounds that it violated the Constitution of the synagogue. However, this was by no means the end of the matter. Indeed, it eventually led to the establishment of the first Reform temple in America.

 

Part II will appear in next month’s Glimpses column.

 

http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h637.html

2 “The Charleston Organ Case” by Allan Tarshish, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, 54, 1965. This article is available at no cost at http://www.ajhs.org/reference/adaje.cfm

3 Ibid.

 

 

Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/glimpses-ajh/the-early-jewish-community-of-charleston/2010/05/05/

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