Our friend lives in a large town house filled with antiques and collectable's in the middle of town.One night he cooked for us, he is an excellent accomplished chef and the next night he and his lovely wife joined us at a river front restaurant that was quite good.
I know that some of you are curious about life's details like mail and banking. Knowing that we were visiting him we had our mail service forward about two weeks of mail to us at his address. Around the corner from our friend is Temple Israel built in 1876. The first Jews of Wilmington must have come from North Africa because they built an unusual Moorish style building with red, blue, and yellow stained glass windows in diamond shaped patterns. There were no Jewish symbols on the outside but there was a crescent moon and five-pointed star in the front stained glass window. The bema was in front and pews were aligned facing it. Leading one to suspect that the building was renovated since it the first Jews were Sephardic. Another possible explanation for the bema in front could be the close relationship and assistance received from Wilmington’s Christian community in building the Synagogue. There was no organized tour. We were there the day after Simchas Torah. The building was open and being cleaned by the caretaker who was friendly he showed us around and answered our questions. There was an organ and the Temple is Reform.
At our friends insistence we took a very informative guided walking tour. The center city of Wilmington had become seedy and abandoned but like many other great American cities it is experiencing a renaissance and is becoming an attractive tourist destination. Wilmington is also home to the Battleship North Carolina and a pretty riverwalk.
During the seedy period they even destroyed the home of a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
We continued down the coast and stopped in Charleston, SC. Charleston also has a colonial period synagogue. Temple Beth Elohim is located on Hassel St. fronted by a graceful iron fence dating from the original 1794 synagogue, which was destroyed in an 1838 fire. The building is built in a white Greek revival style reminiscent of a Georgian church in both its sanctuary plan and tall steeple. A number of architectural elements include a two-tiered octagonal lantern and an imposing portico with six fluted Doric columns of stucco over brick. The stained glass windows show Jewish symbols. It is considered one of the most well proportioned examples of Greek revival.
The community began using a very strict Sephardic services. In fact you can see where the center bema stood before it was moved to the front. Congregants dissatisfied with the strict Ladino* services left for a while but were unsuccessful forming there own congregation. After returning they were successful in having an organ installed when the synagogue was rebuilt after the fire. At that point the more orthodox members of the community left and formed their own synagogue elsewhere in Charleston. It is the oldest reform synagogue in the world, the nation's fourth oldest Jewish community and the oldest in South Carolina. This is also the birthplace of Reform Judaism in America. The Congregation of Beth Elohim was established in 1749. The conversion of the community to Reform Judaism occurred in 1840.
The community supports a Hebrew day school, which is attended by members from all three denominations and a kosher restaurant. We on the other hand went out to eat at Hyman’s Seafood and Aaron’s Deli. This is not really a Jewish restaurant although the owners are and some of the dishes have cutesy Jewish names like “goy” for a ham sandwich and “kinder” for peanut butter and jelly. The restaurant is closed on major Jewish holidays and contributes to Jewish as well as general community organizations. While it was voted number one for seafood in South Carolina I have to wonder. The food wasn't’t bad and prices were reasonable but number one, I don’t know. Tables were wood with little plaques with the names of famous patrons and they have had quite a few including such Jewish luminaries as Barbara Streisand, Alan Dershowitz, Joe Leiberman, Itzak Perlman, Marvin Hamlish and Dr Ruth. The restaurant is housed in an old warehouse where the owner’s great grandfather WM Karesh started Southern Wholesale a dry goods business in 1890. His son in law took over the business in 1941 changing the name to Hyman’s Wholesale Company. His son WM Hyman continued in the dry goods business until 1986 when his sons Eli and Aaron changed the name to Hyman’s seafood and opened a restaurant at that location. The restaurant is now being run by the fifth generation, as Brad Gina, Aaron’s son-in-law is now the general manager.
From Charleston we continued down the coast to a small Corp of Engineers park just above Myrtle beach called Buckhall. We spent two days there and walked on the Palmetto trail. the trial stretches from the sea to the mountains but we only walked a small section. The connector path to the park was sort of flooded but the main trail west of Route 13 was nice easy walking and open for bicycles and hikers. From Buckhall we continued south to Myrtle Beach State Park where we walked on the beach and went to Costco's for groceries. We had once camped at Myrtle Beach but not in the Sate park. I think development has replaced the campground and its neighbors but there are still a lot of private campgrounds south of town. The State Park has water, electric and large wooded sites and would be a nice destination in swimming season.
Next we went to Savannah, GA and camped at a really nice State Park called Skidway Island. We walked the trails passed some Civil War earthworks and an old abandoned still from moonshine days.
We drove into Savannah, took the sight seeing trolley, walked on the riverfront and visited Temple Mickve Israel. The temple is built in the Gothic style usually associated with churches. However Mickve Israel is easily recognizable by the large six-pointed star above the entrance and was built as a synagogue.
Like the other synagogues we visited this is also a reformed synagogue complete with organ and choir. Both the Charleston and Savannah synagogues have formal tours and Mickve Israel has a small museum with artifacts from the colonial period. The docent showed Debby a picture and claimed one of the women in the picture was the model for the character played by Jessica Tandy in the Hollywood movie “Driving Miss Daisy”. All three synagogues also have letters from George Washington thanking the congregants for their well wishes upon his inauguration as President of the United States. Copies are available in gift stores in both Charleston and Savannah. During our tour of Savannah we also came across a plaque, which was placed at the location of the first Jewish Cemetery in Savannah, the plaque is on Oglethorpe and Bull streets and it lists some of the people buried there.
We walked along the riverwalk and saw where the factors bought cotton.
and we visited a Colonial period cemetery which Union soldiers had no respect as they moved the tombstones around when they invaded Savannah. After the war attempts were made to restore the stones, with little success so they were left along the wall.
Savannah is a neat town to walk around with distinctive architectural features and even the police respect the past.
Our Trip to Florida for the 2005 - 2006 Winter continues here.