425 Summit Drive
Greenville, SC 29609
Year Built: Original: 1930 | Present: 1957
Architect: Original: Joseph G. Cunningham | Present: Unknown
Years Active: 1916-Present
European settlers established Greenville, South Carolina in 1786 in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.1 They named the town Pleasantburg, and it remained a small village until urban development, such as creating city blocks and major roadways, began in 1797.2 The first Jewish resident, Eleazar Elizar, became postmaster of the area in 1794.3 Despite its location near a wagon road, few found the town an appealing place to settle down. By 1807, only 26 of the 52 town lots had been sold. In 1831, the village was officially incorporated into the state of South Carolina under the new name Greenville.4 Local legend suggests that the name Greenville was inspired by Revolutionary War hero, General Nathanael Greene, who had been stationed in Greenville.5
In 1854, the Greenville and Columbia railroad connected the two towns.6 Furman University was chartered on December 20, 1850, and classes were held in Downtown Greenville. Eventually, the campus opened on a fifty-acre lot overlooking the Reedy River. Furman university, which had originally served as a theological seminary, hosted a collegiate department with six schools and a theological department.7 Although this region of South Carolina grew slower than the Low Country, access to the railroad increased the number of business opportunities available in Greenville. By the mid-19th century, R. G. Dun & Co., a commercial reporting agency, recorded “ample evidence of Jews” in Greenville, though it is unclear what “ample” meant exactly.8 By 1860, Greenville’s population boasted just over 1,800 people. According to the 1860 U.S. Federal Census, there were at least eight individuals with Jewish surnames.9 By 1878, the Jewish population had grown to 35 people.10
Jewish and non-Jewish Relations
In the latter half of the 19th century, the Jewish population was anything but stagnant. Jewish families and businesses would move away from Greenville to settle elsewhere. Historian Archie Vernon Huff analyzed census records to track the residency of Jewish families in Greenville, which was often short-lived.11 He also interpreted the negative remarks on Jewish merchants’ credit reports as an indication that “Greenville was clearly not hospitable to Jews.”12 Jewish merchants would open up shops in Greenville, but most found that they were unsuccessful. Several were harassed, ostracized, and eventually, the merchants would move away from the area with their families.13
Jewish Economic Success
From the 1890s to the early decades of the 20th century, droves of East European Jewish immigrants made their way to America in pursuit of religious freedom, economic opportunities, and overall better quality of life. Greenville’s Jewish population grew exponentially during this era, and the town’s economy began to flourish as more Jewish businesses opened. Morris and Samuel Lurey, brothers who had emigrated from Russia as teenagers in 1905, came to Greenville in 1910 and opened their dry goods stores.14 It is believed that the brothers may have been founding members of Congregation Beth Israel.15 Harris Bloom emigrated from Bialystok, Poland in 1904 with his son and later arranged for his wife and his three other children to come to America in 1909.16 He opened a clothing store in Greenville in 1910, which remained open until 1966.17 His second-eldest son, Julius, opened his own clothier in 1918, following his service in World War I.18 Julius eventually joined his father’s business.19
Congregation Beth Israel
Very little is known about Greenville’s Jewish organizational life before the turn of the 20th century. Similar to other small towns in South Carolina with small Jewish populations, it can be assumed that the Jewish residents of Greenville sought out other congregations in neighboring towns. Organized Jewish life coalesced around 1910 when recent Jewish immigrants to the area began to worship together.20 They would gather together wherever they could and follow a fellow congregant who served as a lay leader. By 1912, the small congregation was able to hire an Orthodox rabbi from Lithuania, Charles Zaglin.21 He lived in Wilmington, North Carolina, but traveled to Greenville to serve as a rabbi, shochet, and mohel.22 Eventually, he and his wife, Evelyn Rose, moved to Greenville. The Zaglins built a mikvah for the Jewish community and Charles, seeing the need for a butcher shop that provided kosher and non-kosher meat, opened his own in Downtown Greenville in 1915.23 Because the Jewish population in Greenville was still small, it was not feasible to run an exclusively kosher butcher.24 His store was, however, the first grocery in Greenville to have refrigerators and a freezer.25 Zaglin stepped down from his position as rabbi a few years later but continued to serve as the Jewish community’s shochet and mohel.26
In 1916, the congregation applied to become an official religious organization incorporated by the state of South Carolina. They adopted the name Congregation Beth Israel.27 The congregation met in various rented rooms in downtown Greenville for services in the early 1920s.28 At the time, approximately 200 Jews lived in Greenville, mainly on the north side of the city.29 The congregation decided to build a synagogue in this area of the city and, with the help of Charles Zaglin, who donated a lot on Townes Street, the congregation began construction in the late 1920s.30 The construction of the synagogue was completed in two phases. The social hall of the synagogue was completed first in 1930. The sanctuary on the second story, which was the second phase of the construction plan, was completed a few years later. 31
The Relationship between the Two Congregations
By 1927, there were approximately 195 Jews in Greenville. According to the 1930 population of Greenville, the Jewish population made up only .67% of the total population.32 By the late 1930s, Greenville’s Jewish community regained its footing, and the population stood at 183 Jews.33 They established a B’nai Brith Lodge and organized a local chapter of Aleph Zadik Aleph, where men from both of the local congregations could come together to create a shared social group.34 Both of Greenville’s congregations worked together to establish the Beth Israel Cemetery Association in 1938. Morris Zaglin was elected the first chairman of the association.35 In 1939, the Jewish women of Greenville established a chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women, which is still active today.36
In 1942, the army established a base just outside of the city, which contributed to Greenville’s “economic resurgence.”37 Once a cotton-based economy, Greenville’s city leaders encouraged other industries in both the textile and non-textile enterprises to open plants in the area to promote growth.38 During this time, the Jewish population more than doubled.
Beth Israel’s Growth
In the late 1940s, Congregation Beth Israel changed their affiliation from Orthodox to Conservative Judaism.39 In 1957, the congregation purchased a lot of land on Summit Drive to build a new synagogue. The once small congregation had outgrown its original building and saw an opportunity for some change.40 The synagogue was built in stages, just as the first one had been, but once completed, it included a sanctuary, social hall, kitchen, classrooms, offices, and a meeting room.41
By 1960, there were approximately 600 Jews in Greenville and until 1985, the population remained relatively the same.42 Jews continued to operate and own their businesses, including specialty shops, factories, and clothing stores.43
Greenville’s Jewish Mayor
In 1971, Max Heller (1919-2011) became the first Jewish mayor of Greenville. Heller escaped Nazi-occupied Austria in 1938. He had reached out to Mary Mills, a young woman from Greenville he had met in Vienna the year before. Mills asked Shepard Salzman, owner of the Piedmont Shirt Co. in Greenville, to sponsor Max and his sister’s emigration to the United States. Upon arrival, Salzman gave Heller a job at his shirt company.44 After five attempts, his betrothed arrived in the United States in 1941. Max Heller and Trude Schönthal married in 1942.45 Heller was elected as Mayor of Greenville in 1971. He was openly opposed to segregation and sought to “bring people together and create a city government for everyone.”46 Max Heller served as mayor until 1979.
Beth Israel Today
In the early 1980s, Beth Israel and Temple of Israel considered merging, as the relationship between the two congregations has always been supportive.47 The congregations were unable to compromise when it came to religious practices and traditions. The idea was rejected, however, because the two “could not agree on yarmulkes and music.”48 The congregations, however, did find another way to show solidarity and make a conjoined mark on the town. A few years later, members of both congregations came together to create a subsection in the cemetery for non-Jewish family members.49 By 1998, Beth Israel had approximately 135 families in its membership.50 To date, the greater Greenville area is home to an estimated 700 Jewish families.51
Like most synagogues built in the diaspora, Beth Israel was created with a contemporary style in mind. The synagogue was built in 1957, the peak of the mid-century modern period. Beth Israel synagogue is a two-story brick structure built in the International, Mid-century Modern, and with some Federalist details. Common to mid-century styles, the synagogue has multiple roof levels, but the roof is flat overall. The many stained glass windows that adorn the synagogue are flush with the exterior wall and grouped linearly. The exterior of the building does not have much ornamentation, which may have been a stylistic choice to keep the new synagogue just that– “hip” and stylish for the time. However, it may have been a decision made by the congregation as to not bring too much attention to the new synagogue and keep its purpose discrete. This theory may be disproved, however, because, on the eastern elevation of the synagogue, the architecture takes a sharp turn. The street-facing facade was built with a Federalist octagonal bay in the center of the elevation, with the 10 Commandment Tablets, written in Hebrew, on the frontmost two panels. This, along with the signage in the front yard, is the only indication that the building is a synagogue.
1-3. “ISJL – South Carolina Greenville Encyclopedia.” 2022. Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life. 2022.
4. “Government | Greenville, SC – Official Website.” 2022. Greenvillesc.gov. 2022. https://greenvillesc.gov/27/Government.
5. “ISJL – South Carolina Greenville Encyclopedia.” 2022. Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life. 2022.
6. “Greenville & Columbia Railroad.” 2022. Csa-Railroads.com. 2022. http://www.csa-railroads.com/Greenville_and_Columbia.htm.
7. “Furman University – South Carolina Encyclopedia.” 2016. South Carolina Encyclopedia. May 17, 2016. https://www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/furman-university/.
8-10. “ISJL – South Carolina Greenville Encyclopedia.” 2022. Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life. 2022.
11-13. Huff, Archie Vernon. Greenville: The History of the City and County in the South Carolina Piedmont. United States: University of South Carolina Press, 1995. P. 118
14. “ISJL – South Carolina Greenville Encyclopedia.” 2022. Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life. 2022.
16. “Harris Bloom | Jewish Merchant Project.” 2022. Jhssc.org. 2022. https://merchants.jhssc.org/merchants/harris-bloom/.
18. “Julius Bloom | Jewish Merchant Project.” 2022. Jhssc.org. 2022. https://merchants.jhssc.org/merchants/julius-bloom/.
20-24. “ISJL – South Carolina Greenville Encyclopedia.” 2022. Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life. 2022.
25. “Zaglin’s Market | Jewish Merchant Project.” 2022. Jhssc.org. 2022. https://merchants.jhssc.org/merchants/zaglins-market/.
26. “ISJL – South Carolina Greenville Encyclopedia.” 2022. Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life. 2022.
27. “OUR HISTORY | Bethisraelsc.” 2015. Bethisraelsc. 2015. https://www.bethisraelsc.org/our-history.
28-31. “ISJL – South Carolina Greenville Encyclopedia.” 2022. Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life. 2022.
32. Bauman, M. K. (2006). Dixie Diaspora: An Anthology of Southern Jewish History. The University of Alabama Press. p. 115
33-43. “ISJL – South Carolina Greenville Encyclopedia.” 2022. Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life. 2022.
44. Rosengarten, Dale, et al. “Jewish Heritage Collection: Oral History Interview with Max Heller and Trude Schönthal Heller.” Lowcountry Digital Library, Jewish Heritage Collection Oral Histories, College of Charleston Libraries, 2011, https://lcdl.library.cofc.edu/lcdl/catalog/lcdl:11839. Accessed 19 July 2022.
45. Perlmutter, Martin. “Trude and Max Heller to Receive The Order of the Jewish Palmetto.” The Jewish Historical Society of South Carolina, XII, no. 1, 2007, pp. 10–10., https://doi.org/https://jhssc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/2007_Spring_JHSSC_Newsletter.pdf.
46. Heller Moses, Susan. “Max and Trude Heller: Giving Back to Greenville.” The Jewish Historical Society of South Carolina, XXI, no. 2, 2016, pp. 8–9., https://doi.org/https://jhssc.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Fall-2016.pdf.
47-51. “ISJL – South Carolina Greenville Encyclopedia.” 2022. Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life. 2022.