400 Spring Forest Rd
Greenville, SC 29615
Year Built: Original: 1929 | Present: 1989
Architect: Original: Beacham and LeGrand | Present: Unknown
Years Active: 1917-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
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 Temple of 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
The establishment of the Reform Jewish congregation of Greenville coincided with the creation of Beth Israel. Beth Israel was Greenville’s first synagogue, founded as a small Orthodox congregation in 1910, and later became established in 1916. By 1911, five Jewish families had begun meeting for informal services in each other’s homes.21 They were led by a lay reader, Isaac W. Jacobi.22 In 1917, the group formally established themselves as the Children of Israel, later to become Temple of Israel.23 Lee Rothschild was elected as the first president of the congregation, along with founding members Isaac Jacobi, Hyman Endel, and Manos Meyers, who made up the first board of directors. 24 The congregation began the construction of their own temple in 1928 after Meyers donated a lot on Buist Avenue.25 About 25 families belonged to the congregation by this time, and the synagogue was built to contain 112 people in attendance.26 Construction of the synagogue was completed in 1929, as well as a kitchen and classrooms for a Sunday school, which was run by the women of the Sisterhood.27
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.28 Greenville’s Jewish institutions were greatly impacted by the Great Depression and, in the early 1930s, Children of Israel, now under the name Temple of Israel, became inactive.29 The congregation did not become active again until 193630 and the following year, they hired a full-time rabbi in 1937, Maurice Mazure, who served the congregation until the mid-1960s.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.
Temple of Israel’s Growth
Temple of Israel’s congregation also increased in size on account of Greenville’s recent growth. In 1952, the congregation consisted of 36 families.39 By 1960, there were approximately 600 Jews in Greenville and until 1985, the population would remain relatively the same.40 Jews continued to operate and own their businesses, including specialty shops, factories, and clothing stores.41 The synagogue was expanded, adding a social hall behind the Temple.42 The congregation added a larger social hall to the synagogue in 1968 and a religious school building ten years later, in 1978.43 Despite structural additions to the original synagogue, by 1985, with about 100 families in membership, Temple of Israel began planning to build a new synagogue.44 The new building on Spring Forest Road was dedicated in 1989, just in time for Rosh Hashanah.45 The sanctuary did not have its lighting installed in time for the High Holy Days, however, so one of the construction workers taped a Star of David to a work lamp, and hung it above the pews.46
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.47 After five attempts, his betrothed arrived in the United States in 1941. Max Heller and Trude Schönthal married in 1942.48 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.”49 Max Heller served as mayor until 1979.
Temple of 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.50 The idea was rejected, however, because the two “could not agree on yarmulkes and music.”51 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.52 In 2004, Temple of Israel expanded its facilities to build the Jane and Edwin Long Family Life Center. The center includes a religious school, a music room, lounges, and a multipurpose room with a stage to celebrate life events, concerts, and basketball games.53 Currently, there are about 190 families in membership.54 To date, the greater Greenville area is home to an estimated 700 Jewish families.55
The Temple of Israel synagogue is a two-story, seven-bay-wide, brick structure. The design of the new synagogue is reminiscent of Temple of Israel’s first synagogue, which was a smaller, two-story structure with a front-facing gable with a steep pitch, and a circular window in the center of the gable. The roof is a hipped roof with three front-facing gables. Each gable features a circular window on the second floor, and on the ground floor, a series of picture windows: one pane–three panes–one pane. The exception to this design is the center gable where the white front double doors stand. When facing the front elevation of the synagogue, the gable to the right of the entrance houses the sanctuary, while the gable to the entrance’s left is where the religious school is housed. Behind this gable is an addition to the building, rectangular in shape, that adds maybe one more story to the structure. Like Beth Israel’s synagogue, Temple of Israel’s newest synagogue was built according to the popular mid-century modern styles of the late 1980s. Its design does not indicate much about the purpose of the building, except for the masonry sign out front of the synagogue, with the Star of David and “Temple of Israel.”
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/.
20-27. “ISJL – South Carolina Greenville Encyclopedia.” 2022. Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life. 2022.
28. Bauman, M. K. (2006). Dixie Diaspora: An Anthology of Southern Jewish History. The University of Alabama Press. p. 115
29-31. “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
33-38. “ISJL – South Carolina Greenville Encyclopedia.” 2022. Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life. 2022.
39. “Our History – Temple of Israel.” 2021. Templeofisrael.org. 2021. https://www.templeofisrael.org/our-history.html.
40. “ISJL – South Carolina Greenville Encyclopedia.” 2022. Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life. 2022.
42-45. “Our History – Temple of Israel.” 2021. Templeofisrael.org. 2021. https://www.templeofisrael.org/our-history.html.
46. “ISJL – South Carolina Greenville Encyclopedia.” 2022. Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life. 2022.
47. 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.
48. 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.
49. 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.
50-55. “ISJL – South Carolina Greenville Encyclopedia.” 2022. Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life. 2022.