182 Rutledge Ave.
Charleston, SC 29403
Year Built: Original – Unknown | Current – 1948
Architect: Original – Unknown | Current – Unknown
Years Active: 1854 – Present
To read more about the very beginnings of Jewish life in Charleston, please refer to the Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim and the General Population narratives.
In 1852, Central and Eastern European immigrants started arriving in Charleston. These Orthodox newcomers were not comfortable with Shearith Israel nor with Beth Elohim, finding the former too Sephardic and the latter too Americanized. As a result, in 1854,, they organized as a congregation named B’rith Shalom, or Covenant of Peace, with Hirsch Zvi Margolis Levine as their rabbi.1 Rabbi Levine was quite concerned with the congregation’s commitment to Orthodoxy..The congregants of B’rith Shalom followed traditional Polish rites and congregated on St. Philip Street, first in a small rented wooden building until they were able to build a permanent synagogue.2 By the 1860s, there were at least forty members of the new synagogue. In 1874, the congregation finally had a place to call home, when “[the congregation] commenced construction of its first permanent building, a ‘brick and wood’ structure.” In a show of goodwill, K.K. Beth Elohim’s Rabbi Joseph H. Chumaceiro joined B’rith Sholom in the laying of the first cornerstone of the soon-to-be synagogue. In addition, K.K.B.E. donated their older pews and an ark with Corinthian columns to the young congregation.3
In 1873, Rabbi Levine left the city due to the continued occupation of Charleston by the Union Army and Barnet Rubin took over, serving less as a rabbi and more as a “multipurpose official.”4 Between the years of 1874 and 1891, congregants displayed varying levels of orthodoxy. As is the case in many Jewish communities across time and place,assimilated Jews found it difficult to openly maintain their commitment to religious values that they felt were outdated. The congregation especially struggled with members openly violating the Sabbath. .
By 1886, a number of congregants decided that they could no longer “continue to pray among sinners” and broke away for their own religious wellbeing. They formed congregation Shari Emouna, or Gates of Faith. Locally, the congregation became known as “Perfect Faith”.5 Once the Orthodox members had left, B’rith Sholom only held prayer services on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings.
The newly formed congregation initially worshiped on King Street between Ann and Mary Streets. They later moved to the Mechanics’ Union Hall on King Street. Not much is known about the Shari Emouna’s twelve-year existence. The congregation eventually merged with B’rith Sholom in 1897. One can only speculate about the merger, but it seems that there were not enough Orthodox Jews to sustain separate congregations . It is also possible that those who had been in the country for a longer period of time had started to acculturate and “lost their zeal for a strictly Orthodox way of life.”6
Following the reunification of Shari Emouna and B’rith Sholom, the congregation once again began holding services twice a day, every day. Joseph A. Volaski, who was elected president of B’rith Sholom in 1911, was deeply committed to maintaining orthodoxy, though more so in the synagogue than in his own personal life. He was staunchly against the introduction of organs and other musical instruments. Within the congregation, however, a small contingent of members were alarmed by the President’s lack of religious observance. This minority was comprised largely of recent Polish immigrants from a town just east of Warsaw called Kałuszyn.
Recent immigrants from the town of Kaluszyn, Poland, who came to be known as Kalushiners, felt similar to their predecessors that they could not “in good conscience, continue to affiliate with Charleston’s established Orthodox synagogue.” Around 60 people organized a pool of money worth roughly five hundred dollars, and formed Congregation Beth Israel. Shortly thereafter, they began worshiping in a small building located three blocks from B’rith Sholom on St. Philip Street. The congregation became known as the “Little Shul” and struggled financially. Despite ongoing conflict with B’rith Sholom, Beth Israel had to rely on their rabbi because they could not afford to hire a full-time rabbi until the mid-1930s. Outside grievances frequently played out in the synagogue. Beth Israel was no stranger to disputes.
While Beth Israel struggled with conflict, B’rith Sholom struggled with a decline in orthodoxy. Many of B’rith Sholom’s congregants had started to assimilate . By the 1920s, approximately forty percent of the business owners were open to the community on the Sabbath. Compounded by fears of going bankrupt during the Great Depression, many congregants felt pressured to keep their businesses open on Saturdays.7
In 1927, B’rith Sholom welcomed twenty-three-year-old Rabbi Benjamin Axelman to Charleston. Rabbi Axelman had the difficult responsibility of reprimanding those with “gross Sabbath violations” and those “who would not work – but might absent themselves from shul on the day of rest.” Rabbi Axelman was ambitious and wanted to establish a Hebrew school that could serve both orthodox synagogues. In 1931, he established the Charleston Junior Congregation with the intention of it being a fun Jewish space for adolescents. Rabbi Axelman simultaneously served part-time at Beth Israel in 1933 since they still could not afford a rabbi.
In spite of his many responsibilities, Rabbi Axelman was paid a meager $750 per year in 1936. While the synagogue was struggling financially, the hazzan-schohet was paid $1,750, which angered Rabbi Axelman. Furthermore, Axelman requested a lifetime contract in 1939, but his request was denied. Deciding he could not deal with it anymore, he resigned from B’rith Sholom in August 1943.
Want for Conservatism
Following Axelman’s departure, B’rith Sholom president Edward Kronsberg and Louis Lesser, a board officer, spent a great deal of time and energy searching for the right rabbi. The two wanted someone who would bring the synagogue into the modern day while being sensitive toB’rith Sholom’s legacy as an Orthodox synagogue.8 Kronsberg and Lesser decided to consult with the Jewish Theological Seminary (Conservative) rather than Yeshiva University (Orthodox). This was in part due to wants for egalitarianism as there were a number of women who were tired of being secluded in the balconies during the High Holidays and because some in the congregation wanted to move closer towards identifying as a Conservative synagogue. Lesser is quoted as having said, “This is 1945, not 1845, and if conservatism is good enough for such cities like Charlotte, Philadelphia… it ought to be good enough for Charleston.”9
In fall of 1943, Rabbi Solomon D. Goldfarb was hired. A graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Goldberg’s mission was to “…guide this venerable Synagogue according to the best models of modern orthodox synagogues in this county.” As such, he instituted mixed seating so families could sit together if preferred. There was still the option for women to sit separately, though it would no longer be in stifling balconies.10 As could be expected, he encountered staunch opposition with some arguing that they needed to maintain the status quo in religious spaces.
By February 1947, Goldfarb made the decision to resign following continued frustration with the congregation’s inability to accept change. Rabbi Hyman A. Rabinowitz was hired by May of 1947. Rabinowitz, a Conservative rabbi, had experience with Orthodox congregations and many hoped that he would be able to implement “just the right amount of change.”11
Edward Kronsberg and Louis Lesser both wondered if the congregation would stay steadfast in their orthodoxy at the behest of the aging East European minority or if they would be amenable to change. On July 13, 1947, they held a meeting to decide whether or not the Brith Sholom Constitution should be amended to allow for family seating and whether or not the synagogue should only hire rabbis from the conservative Jewish Theological Seminary. The amendments failed, 100 to 72 against. Immediately following the decision, Kronsberg, Lesser, and eight other officers and trustees resigned from office.12
The disenchanted soon gathered under Emanu-El, the newly formed conservative synagogue, with services starting Rosh Hashanah 1947. In an act of solidarity, Brith Sholom loaned two Torah scrolls for the High Holidays. When Emanu-El did not return the scrolls immediately, longtime leader Sam Berlin sent a “curt request” for their immediate return.13
For more information on Emanu-El, please see the Emanu-El narrative.
Following the separation of more conservative families, the future of both of Charleston’s orthodox synagogues was in jeopardy. Concerned with the congregation’s longevity, Sam Berlin looked to rent an air conditioned building. He wanted to show everyone that Orthodoxy had a space in the modern age.14
In February 1948, twenty-nine year-old Gilbert Klaperman was hired as rabbi. The Yeshiva University graduate, “Saw as his primary mission reaching out to “the greatest group and the most disenfranchised body of people in the Synagogue… the young people and the newly and recently married between the ages of 20 to 40.’” Klaperman and Libby, his wife, hosted meetings of the Young People’s League where they would discuss both contemporary and historical issues that were of interest to the Jewish community.
Part of his work included advocating for women to be considered members of the synagogue. . He also began holding Kabbalat Shabbat services where he would deliver a sermon, read psalms, and sing “Lekha Dodi.”15 His weekly services were some of the best attended. Despite the small changes he made, he realized that a merger of Brith Sholom and Beth Israel was inevitable in order to ensure the longevity of orthodoxy in Charleston.
While a merger was in the best interest of both synagogues, it was particularly necessary for Brith Sholom. Following the end of World War II, Beth Israel congregants were thriving financially and benefited heavily from the local naval base. Many went from peddlers to store owners and this was in no small part due to their willingness to serve Black Charlestonians, whom they often knew by name.16
Samuel Rubenstein was hired as rabbi at Beth Israel in 1945. As a Yeshiva University graduate, he partook in discussions with Klaperman about the potential for a merger. Klaperman eventually grew disenchanted with Brith Sholom’s inability to accept change and, feeling as though there was no hope for a merger, resigned in June 1950. Rabbi Joseph Rothstein eventually replaced him. Rothstein was instrumental in the creation of a kosher kitchen at the Francis Marion Hotel.17
A merger deal was not decided upon until four years later in 1954. In addition to merging congregations, they also decided to merge their names and they became known as Brith Sholom Beth Israel, or BSBI. They worshiped in Beth Israel’s synagogue on Rutledge Street. They held elections for a new leader of the unified synagogue. Nachum Rabinovitch became the first rabbi in August 1955.
Following the merger, leaders of BSBI turned their attention to the establishment of a Jewish day school named Addlestone Hebrew Academy. In order to make Charleston look more attractive to observant Jewish Studies teachers, Rabinovitch advocated for the construction of a new mikveh and he tightened kosher standards. Rabinovitch left Charleston in 1963. He was replaced by Rabbi Hersh Moshe Galinsky. Housing was a major issue during this time, especially for orthodox Jews who wanted to live within walking distance to the synagogue.18 In 1967, the congregation decided to have the Day school continue beyond the seventh grade so that they could attract more families.
The incorporation of the West Ashley neighborhood did not help the synagogue’s case. This new suburb is located just minutes off of the peninsula and was desirable for being more affordable than downtown Charleston. Families wanted the ability to own a home with a backyard especially in a city that had little affordable housing available.19 According to some, many “Jewish families found homes across the bridge and as early as 1964 began to hold their own services in the South Windermere section of greater Charleston.” Rabbi Jack Anton established this new minyanand the group became known as the Minyan House.20 The Minyan House was intended to bring the shomer Shabbos lifestyle to those in West Ashley. This, in turn, threatened BSBI’s future. The Minyan House had the potential to become a large and attractive center of Orthodox Jewish life. Rabbi Galinsky eventually embraced the Minyan House as a satellite space where Jews could gather. He viewed it, “… as a model for other Orthodox communities in America.” This was in part because the minyan house was responsible for outreach in the West Ashley suburbs and they were building a community of like-minded individuals.21
BSBI, 1970 to today
Rabbi Radinsky wanted to create a space that allowed Jewish families to celebrate their Judaism. He had a column in the synagogue newsletter Messenger where he praised businesses that were closed on Shabbat as well those that kept Shabbat year-round. Barbara, his wife, also began a column titled “Kosher Maven” in 1974 where she reported “on the wide range of kosher products available to the congregation.”
Part of Radinksy’s work included establishing relationships with other orthodox groups in order to make them aware that orthodoxy was possible in Charleston. For example, since the 1970s, Charleston has hosted many southern NCSY regional conventions. NCSY is a Jewish youth group that works under the Orthodox Union and partners with BSBI.
Ben Chase was elected president in January 2004. At this time membership declined from 350 families in 1970 to 305 families in 2004. The congregation was also aging. A lack of Jewish higher education stunted the growth of the orthodox community as they could not “…satisfy a basic need of many of those who could be its most committed members.” In addition, many of Addlestone’s graduates left to attend Jewish high schools elsewhere and never returned to Charleston. In summer 2004, Rabbi Radinksy retired and Rabbi Ari Sytner took his place. Rabbi Sytner worked at BSBI for eight years before leaving to work at Yeshiva University in New York City. He was replaced by Rabbi Moshe Davis from Houston. Rabbi Davis and his family lived and worked in Charleston until 2020, when they made the decision to make aliyah and move to Israel. Rabbi Scott Hoberman, a Yeshiva University graduate, joined BSBI in 2020 though he left in 2023 as there is a limited selection of Orthodox Jewish education for his children. Rabbi Yosef Bart joined in August of 2023 following 20 years in Richmond, Virginia. Presently, BSBI holds services every morning, evening, as well as every Shabbat. There is a wide variety of educational classes and activities offered by the Sisterhood and Men’s Club.22
1. Jeffrey S. Gurock, Orthodoxy in Charleston: Brith Sholom Beth Israel & American Jewish History.
2. “ISJL – South Carolina Charleston Encyclopedia.”
3. Jeffrey S. Gurock, Orthodoxy in Charleston: Brith Sholom Beth Israel & American Jewish History.
4. Jeffrey S. Gurock.
5. Jeffrey S. Gurock.
6. Jeffrey S. Gurock.
7. Jeffrey S. Gurock.
8. Jeffrey S. Gurock.
9. Jeffrey S. Gurock.
10. Jeffrey S. Gurock.
11. Jeffrey S. Gurock.
12. Jeffrey S. Gurock.
13. Jeffrey S. Gurock.
14. Jeffrey S. Gurock.
15. Jeffrey S. Gurock.
16. Jeffrey S. Gurock.
17. Jeffrey S. Gurock, Orthodoxy in Charleston: Brith Sholom Beth Israel & American Jewish History.
18. Jeffrey S. Gurock.
19. Jeffrey S. Gurock.
20. Jeffrey S. Gurock.
21. Jeffrey S. Gurock, Orthodoxy in Charleston: Brith Sholom Beth Israel & American Jewish History.
22. “Staff – BSBI Synagogue.”