"History of Jews in Augusta, Georgia" VHS

When you think of Augusta, Georgia, you think of golf , of azaleas, of magnolias and pecan pies. But part of Augusta's gracious southern charm is her rich history, over 250 years worth. And a diverse group of people, of many races and religions have contributed to that history. This is the story of one of those groups. The story of the Jews of Augusta. Jewish history and Augusta begins in 1802 with the arrival of Isaac Hendricks, a fur trader with the Indians. It would be 23 years before two other Jewish families would come to the tiniest settlement. Dr. Zachariah Florence, a dentist, came to Augusta in 1825. In the same year, Isaac and Jacob Moise became Augusta residents and prospered as merchants. Hettie Lopez Moise, wife of Isaac Moise, operated a female Academy at their residence at 300 Broad Street. Mrs. Moise's talents were versatile. She was the only teacher at her Academy, and the curriculum included English, French, Spanish, dancing, and needlework, both plain and ornamental. The Napoleonic Age in Europe brought the influx of a number of German Jews in the mid-1840s in 1845, a school was formed to provide an education in Jewish religion to the children of the Jewish community. 1845 also saw the formation of the first Jewish congregation in Augusta, B'nai Israel, or, Children of Israel. This reform temple is one of the oldest Jewish congregations in the United States. The high holy days of 1846 were observed in a rented room fitted with a temporary ark and other ritual objects. A mixed Portuguese and Ashkenazic service was used then and until 1869. Relations among the various religious groups in Augusta were good from the beginning. In fact, included in those who helped the infant congregation to survive were many members of the Christian community. In 1846, the city of Augusta deeded the congregation a section of land in Magnolia Cemetery to serve as a Jewish burial ground. Isaac Hendricks, the pioneer Jewish citizen of Augusta, was the first to be buried there in 1847. By 1852, the congregation of B'nai Israel had grown large enough to rent a permanent building. And they rented the former Unitarian church that stood at the northeast corner of Greene and Jackson streets. It was also at this time that so many Jewish citizens were prominent in the affairs of Augusta. Jon Cohen, banker and first president of the B'nai Israel congregation. His son Henry Cohen, a local attorney. Isaac Henry, president of the Mechanics Bank. Isaac Levy, sheriff of Augusta. The first Jew to be elected to public office in Augusta was Judge Samuel Levy, who was twice selected ordinary, was a member of city council, and died holding the title of United States Commissioner. The War Between the States hit the members of this small Jewish community quite hard, at least four members of the congregation were killed in the war. Two of these four were brothers. There were around 40 members of the congregation at the outset of the war, and most of the eligible men enlisted in the cause of the Confederacy. The women also did their part. Mrs. Jon Cohen, described as a ministering angel in Confederate hospitals, was to a large extent responsible for the erection of the Confederate monument on Broad Street. In 1869, the now 41 members of the congregation preceded with plans for the building of a much-needed synagogue on Telfair Street. The entire city of Augusta participated in the cornerstone ceremony. By now, the congregation had become a charter member of the Reform movement. Auxiliary organizations quickly sprang up to assist the congregation. In 1892, the Hebrew Ladies Aid Society was formed. This group would later become the Temple Sisterhood. During the 1880s, many Jews from Russia and Poland immigrated to Augusta. And in 1890, a second Jewish congregation was formed. The Orthodox Adas Jeshurun congregation. In 1909, Mrs. Henry Levkoff organized the Daughters of Israel with charity as its prime purpose. Food and clothing were given to the needy. Many a businessman received a start with money furnished by the Daughters of Israel. All of the Orthodox women belonged to the organization, and there were also a few from the Reform congregation. By now, the Jewish population was growing rapidly. Abe Fogel speaks of their origins. Most of the Jews who came to this country came because they had a relative who had already gotten started and they sent to Europe to bring them over. Well, the first thing they did was started peddling with a pack on their bank. And they went through these little country towns where they could supply people who couldn't get to the big cities. And then eventually they opened up little stores. The way they got started was from actually with peddling and most of the fellows were Orthodox. And they would carry their little hard boiled eggs and something that they could eat on the way. And it's remarkable to recall the story that these people tell how well they were received in these homes. People didn't look at them askance. Most of the peddlers liked the idea of going out because the people were nice to them, and they understood the situation. They could hardly speak English and that food thing was, was quite a problem. The immigrants who enjoyed the newfound freedoms of America never forgot the families they had left behind. Sophie Slater Cohen tells her father's introduction to the New World. My father came from Austria. He was sent over when he was 16 because his father had previously sent two older brothers over here who were established. He traveled with a pack on his back. Most of the immigrants were merchants, but not all. Beryl Tanenbaum recalls his grandfather's history. My family came to Augusta by way of my grandfather, who came here in 1891 when he was 18 years old. He came to America to avoid being drafted in the Russian army and began to peddle, selling merchandise from house to house. He, I'm told, did not speak English. He was taught to say "cheap, cheap" and he was also taught how to count money, and that's all he knew. There was a man who wanted to set him up in a store, but he was a very, very observant Jew, and would not work on Saturday, on his sabbath. And therefore refused the man's offer of being set up in a store. Instead, he decided to farm. He knew nothing about farming. He had never farmed before, but this would fit his ability to earn a living and be able to raise his family and also observe his religion like he wanted to. So he bought 300 acres of land and the land is on Pleasant Home Road, at $6 an acre. By the 1900s, Jewish merchants accounted for a sizable part of Augusta's business district. Charles Silver describes it. Most of the businesses were on Broad Street. The Jewish merchants, mostly they had clothing stores or dry goods. The farmers would come in on Saturday to spend their money. The Saturday night business would account for about 1 third of the total volume of the week. As the economy changed, gradually, the smaller stores disappeared, and gave way to department stores, which eventually gave way to shopping malls. Living downtown did have its disadvantages. Abe Fogel tells us why. We had no control, no levee, no nothing. And water came on Broad Street, I would say seven feet high. And if a merchant had anything in the store, there was no way for him to block it, and there wasn't any insurance. So the families took their losses, and made the best of them, and started all over again. in 1914, the Orthodox congregation, Adas Jeshurun Synagogue, bought a church building at 1120 Ellis Street. Helene Cohen recalls the two Jewish congregations. Many Orthodox families sent their daughters to the Temple, to Sunday school to learn about our religion. And they were also confirmed there. Charles Silver describes old Augusta: The majority of the Jewish population lived in the downtown area. The synagogue was located on the 1100 block of Ellis Street. And the temple was on the 500 block of Telfair Street. So nearly everyone was within walking distance of one of the congregations. And parking of course, was no problem. Neither one of them had a parking area. They didn't need it. Because nearly everybody walked. Beryl Tanenbaum: There were no such thing as busing. We went to school in the neighborhood right around the, around the corner on Telfair, the synagogue was around the corner on Ellis Street, and the Jewish Community Center was right across the street. We didn't even have an automobile. Abe Fogel recalls the incident that greatly affected many of these Jewish citizens who lived in downtown Augusta. On the corner of Broad and 8th Street was a building called the Dyer Building. And on the ground floor of the Dyer Building was Kelly's Department Store. And the tale goes that the seamstress or the alteration girl left the iron connected on the ironing board. And the short-time there for six o'clock, the whole building was engulfed in flames. It burned on down. All the way the east boundary on the north side of Broad Street. It crossed over about where 4th Street starts, and burnt to Greene Street, all of the way down to the harbor. See, the houses are burning on each side. So everybody was tracking downtown to the middle of Greene Street because that was the safest way to go and nobody could take anything except what you could carry on your back. Downtown Augusta served as not only the center for the religious life of Jews in the early [19]30s, but also the social life. Ray Silver recalls: The young girls and boys would get together during the week, and especially on a Sunday at somebody's house. If you walk down Broad Street, you knew everyone to speak to them. Very seldom that you met someone you didn't know. At one time, we had a social club which consisted of about, I'd say 45 or 50 girls and boys. And we used to meet at least once a month. We would have a dance or a party of some sort. And Sophie Cohen describes the city then: That was the thing. We'd catch the streetcar and go downtown, figuring as you walk down Broad Street, you knew all the store keepers, all the shopkeepers, you knew everybody that you passed. There were many Jews who contributed to the legacy of philanthropy to the city of Augusta. But none more than David Slusky. David Slusky arrived in Augusta from his native Europe around 1881 at the age of 20. He learned the trade of coppersmith in Europe, and he worked in copper, tin and other metals. He attended night school, and constantly read the paper in order to improve his English. He read in the paper that Thomas Watson of Thomson [Georgia], the recent vice presidential candidate with William Jennings Bryan, had a lot of tinners tools on sale. And for a bargain, he bought the tools for $60, rented a place in Augusta for $8 per month, and thus began Slusky Builders. He did all the metal work on the Augusta Orphan Asylum, the Normal School at Milledgeville, a great number of railroad stations throughout Georgia, the ornamental work of St. John's Church in Augusta, and did nearly all the ornamental work on most public buildings constructed in this part of Georgia in the last decade of the 19th century. He was married to the former Bella Barr, daughter of Augustan Henry Barr, and their descendants still live in Augusta. He became vice president of the National Exchange Bank, member of the [Augusta] Levee Commission, a member of the K of P [Knights of Pythias] was president of the Congregation Children of Israel, was a prime mover in the expansion of the Young Men's Hebrew Association in the 1930s, and was involved in most major movements, both philanthropic and civic, in the city of Augusta. [Spoken by Helen Darling:] "Every Yom Kippur, my father, Lee Blum, and his good friend David Slusky, would go to the synagogue to solicit funds for the Joint Distribution Committee, which was a forerunner or the United Jewish Appeal. And this is the way that funds were gotten." The 20th century also brought the horrors of war. During World War One, many Jewish men and women served in the armed forces. Although the Depression was a difficult time for the Jewish population of Augusta, it was then that the Young Men's Hebrew Association was created. The Y that was born in 1935 has evolved into our present-day Jewish Community Center. During World War II, the Y's first building on Greene Street was used as a USO. Thousands of soldiers were entertained here during the war, and Jewish servicemen from all over the world were made to feel at home in Augusta. Nearly everyone brought soldiers into their homes for home-cooked meals and Southern Jewish hospitality. Many Jewish Augustans on the home front worked in the Red Cross, at the local military hospitals, in the home guard, and anything they could to help the war effort. And five Jewish Augustans gave their lives in the Great Conflict [Jack Steinberg:] "Back during the war, and we will youngsters, everybody helped out in the war effort and we were out selling, we sold millions and millions of dollars' worth of bonds during the war, and we bought 2 or 3 airplanes, and named them after some of the Jewish boys that had been killed during the war." In May of 1945, the Congregation of the Children of Israel observed its 100th anniversary. The president of the Temple at that time is another one of the giants of Jewish history in Augusta, Abe Friedman. In the mid [19]30s, Abe had moved to Augusta and started the Augusta operations of Friedman's Jewelers. Even while nurturing an ever-growing business, Abe has never faltered from giving his all to the Jewish community of Augusta. He married the former Betty Marks in 1941. All through their married life, the Jewish community has grown and prospered because of the input of this couple. They have not only been generous financially, but both of them have given up their time, their ideas, and their work to better their community. Also bringing honor to his fellow Jews as a man of the medical profession, Dr. Robert Greenblatt, a physician noted around the world for his vast contributions to the field of endocrinology. He and his wife Gwen are active members of many charitable organizations, and have contributed greatly to the community-at-large. The growth of the Jewish community continued after World War II. 1949. YMHA (the Young Mens Hebrew Association) became the Jewish Community Center, and moved to [the] Sibley Road site. 1950. Ground broken on Walton Way for the new site of the Congregation Children of Israel. 1953. Ground broken on Johns Road for new site of Adas Yeshurun Synagogue. 1967. Walton Way temple built a new sanctuary. 1970. Adas Yeshurun Synagogue built and dedicated a new education building and chapel. Today, the Augusta Jewish community thrives under the spiritual leadership of Congregation Children of Israel and Congregation Adas Yeshurun. Local organizations consist of the Temple Sisterhood, Daughters of Israel, Hadassah, Junior Hadassah, Zionist District, B'nai B'rith, Jewish Welfare Board, and AZA [Aleph Zadik Aleph]. In addition, the community sponsors the Augusta Federation of Jewish Charities. The Jewish community has come a long way since Isaac Hendricks first came to Augusta in 1802. The history of a beautiful southern city has intertwined with the traditions of a great religion and culture, and resulted in a better place to live for all of us. [Sara Dessauer:] We were a small group and we intermingled with the non-Jewish people. And I think they did not look at us as "'There is a Jew,' but 'There is a friend."' The Jewish community of Augusta. 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