Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim in Charleston

My family immigrated to the US from a mixture of  Eastern European countries at the turn of the 20th century fleeing religious persecution. Coming from that part of the world, they were Ashkenazi Jews. They came to the United States through Ellis Island.  It is a stone's throw from the Statue of Liberty.  In my case, my grandparents came here as children.  They lived on the lower east side of New York City and ended up marrying someone from their neighborhood and raising their families in Brooklyn.  That was the place to be.  My parents met and married and "moved on up" to Long Island.  I grew up in a town called North Woodmere and attended a high school that was predominantly Jewish.  Most of our grandparents were from Brooklyn via Ellis Island.  To me, this was the Jewish experience.
Imagine my surprise when I went for a tour of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim during our trip to Charleston.  This synagogue was founded in 1749.The Jews that immigrated to Charleston, fleeing the Spanish Inquisition,  came from London, the West Indies, Germany and the Netherlands. They were Sephardic Jews with slightly different traditions than what I grew up with.  The most surprising thing was that Charleston was the birthplace of Reform Judaism in the United States in 1824 and that they were an integral part of the history of Charleston. Almost 2 dozen congregants served in the War of Independence. 

The original sanctuary was built in 1794, but burned to the ground in the great Charleston fire of 1838.  It was rebuilt in 1840 and is now the second oldest synagogue building in the US.  I could feel the history as I entered the sanctuary.  The ceiling was a work of art.

And there were so many other nice details.

   Many synagogues have a gift shop where many Jewish items are sold.  It serves 2 purposes.  One is it offers us the opportunity to purchase Judaica.  It also is a means to raise some funds.  I found some of the most beautiful ritual art in KKBE's gift shop.  My favorite was this marriage license, called a ketubah:

I loved the triangles along the top and bottom edges, but what I loved the most was the saying:
"I have found the one in whom my soul delights".  Isn't that what marriage should be about?


  1. Thank you for sharing a little of your history. I really thought it was interesting. Now I need to go get started on my challenge quilt and get it out of my head.

  2. Learning new things is something that truly brings me joy, so catching up on your blog brings both, learning and joy! I love hearing about your family history. I've tried twice to tour the Jewish tennement museums on the lower East Side but it's always filled! I had no idea that Charleston also has a rich Jewish history. Thanks Cheryl!


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