The Community

Without contributions from the local community in Hendersonville, the Agudas Israel Congregation and Synagogue would have had a very short existence.  Members of the community took on many tasks in the earliest years of the Congregation’s existence in order to recruit members, raise funds, and keep the early histories alive, on top of their financial obligations to their own families.

The members of the Agudas Israel Congregation, along with the help from their seasonal members and non-Jewish allies, ensured the survival of the Hendersonville’s Jewish house of worship. Although many members of the subsequent generations that grew up into the Agudas Israel Congregation would eventually leave the city behind, the Synagogue and its Congregation still remain today.

Fundraising Efforts of Agudas Israel 

In order to assist in the funding for the Synagogue building itself and for various expenses that the Congregation needed to spend, many members of Agudas Israel contributed to various fundraising events. These events included dances, plays, card game gatherings, and going out asking for donations to the Congregation, even if the donors weren’t members of Agudas Israel or weren’t even Jewish at all.1

Donations and pledges to the Congregation were crucial to the community. The members of the newly-founded Congregation invested in the Synagogue and the Congregation at large, not knowing whether their Congregation would stand the test of time.2 Additionally, dues helped to support the plans for the Congregation’s development, including the funding of the lot on which the Synagogue would be located, along with a cemetery for community members.3

The good will of the local community, regardless of faith, also assisted in this fundraising process, and led to stronger relations between the Jewish minority and the Christian majority of Hendersonville, allowing non-Jews to attend events and assist them during their fundraisers.4

However, the first real test of Agudas Israel’s fundraising projects included the Masquerade Dance, held on December 14, 1922.5 It had only been a few months since the creation of the Congregation itself, with so many of the members coming together to sell tickets, distribute advertisement cards, and selling masks to patrons.6 However, despite the uncertainty with holding an event for their newly created community, the Masquerade Dance proved to be an overwhelming success for Agudas Israel, bringing in $145.65 to the Congregation’s treasury.7

With this initial success, several committees, such as the Women’s Auxiliary Committee and the Entertainment Committee, would go on to set up many events in the early history of Agudas Israel, such as the dance at the Carolina Terrace on June 28th, 19238 and the Purim Play at the Rex Theatre in late March of 1927.9

Dances seemed to be the most popular form of fundraiser that was enjoyed the most by the Jewish community while still contributing a hefty revenue for the Congregation’s treasury. Aside from the dances donating entirely to fundraising, many of the younger members from the earlier years of the Congregation attended street dances or dances that were held in local venues.10

 

Local Stores and Businesses 

Outside of the life of the Congregation, most families of Agudas Israel were busy running family-owned businesses on Main Street.  Each family tended to specialize in a particular brand or good that was sold to members of the nearby Hendersonville community, Jewish or Gentile customers.11 Most businesses seemed to stock dry goods, clothing, and sports equipment, with the different families either joining together to stake a curb on the market or simply competing against each other in friendly rivalries.12

Saturdays were the primary business days in operation between the early 1920s and the 1940s, with families competiting between each other for customers and bragging rights over the duration their businesses could remain open to the public.13 Since the local farmers came to town to sell their crops on Saturdays, Jewish establishments boomed with Saturday business from visiting families and locals who were purchasing the week’s worth of groceries and supplies.14

During these hectic days, family members of the storeowners would take turns running over to the barbershops in town in order to take showers, as most of their homes did not have showering facilities in the earliest days, with the other members of the family rotating between store management.15 Outside of the storefronts, Jewish members who were not within the personal business field sat on benches and greeted their neighbors in pleasant company, discussing personal affairs and issues pertaining to the community at large, whether or not these would be addressed at the next general meeting of the Congregation.16

Aside from relative peaceful competitiveness between family businesses, there wasn’t much strife within the Jewish community, not even from the majority local population of Gentiles.

 

Relationships Outside of the Jewish Community 

One of the most vivid stories of Jewish-Christian relations from the Agudas Israel community comes from the history of Abraham Lewis, the patriarch of the first Jewish family in Hendersonville. In the early 1920s, a non-Jewish man stood outside of his business, peering in with more curiosity than hostility, until Abraham Lewis came to greet him.  The man simply stated that he had never seen a Jewish person before, believing that Jews were supposed to “have horns”.17 However, there was no open hostility towards Abraham Lewis and presumably, the Christian man left with a newfound understanding of Jewish people.

Anti-semitism was not a widespread issue for the town of Hendersonville in its earliest history, but it’s clear that much of the Christian population was unaware of how similar the Jews were to themselves.18 Many Gentiles frequented Jewish stores on Main Street and many were contributors to the fundraising efforts of the Agudas Israel Congregation, especially for raising money for the Synagogue building. However, there were still instances of anti-semitic views towards the Jewish community, even in Western North Carolina.

Most of these incidents seemed to stem from jealousy of flourishing businesses or political standpoints, yet, many Congregational members seemed to recall that members of the non-Jewish community would come to the defense of the offended Jewish member when such events occured.19 For the most part, the majority of the population was simply curious with their growing community of neighbors, and for the most part, seemed to leave them be.

 

The Seasonal Membership of Agudas Israel 

In addition to the local membership of Agudas Israel, the overwhelming heat of the southernmost states in the United States brought forth many visiting members to Hendersonville’s Jewish community during the summer months.20 Just as they attracted the first members of the Agudas Israel Congregation, Western North Carolina’s cooler climate drew in visitors and new residents alike, either to assist in combatting respiratory diseases or simply to escape the humidity of the rest of the southeastern portion of the country.21

Jewish visitors, even entire families, made use of the local boardinghouses that were established in the Hendersonville area, where they would be among their Jewish peers and travel together to the Agudas Israel Congregation.22 While these members initially did not have much say in the affairs and plans of the Congregation, several of these visitors contributed enough to become honorary members and paid similar dues to their local counterparts.23

While most of these visitors were exclusively summer residents and seasonal members, many families also chose to travel to the Appalachian mountains for the High Holy Days, the sacred ceremonies and celebrations that revolved around the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.24 Business all but stopped during the High Holy Days, with Main Street’s establishments remaining empty until the holidays were over.25

Celebrating the holidays annually with the Agudas Israel Congregation led to many families – especially ones that already had relatives residing within Hendersonville or Asheville – to flock to Western North Carolina to gain permanent membership for themselves and their descendants.

 

Jewish Youths and Growing Up with Agudas Israel 

In spite of the incredibly small population of Jewish children within Hendersonville during the first couple decades, many of the Jewish kids suffered very few problems in schools and recreational activities in relation to their heritage. Only one or two children at a time would be Jewish within a grade or class of public schooling.26 Most students were aware of the cultural origins of these students, but most Jewish students still attracted friends of other backgrounds, or they were content to interact with children within the community, friends and relatives.27

For keeping to kosher, meeting Synagogue, Hebrew School, and service-related obligations, and observing holidays; Gentile members of authority for extracurricular and community activities worked with the younger generation to balance their responsibilities and make sure that their needs were represented without being excluded from the rest of the children who participated in the same activities.28

Within their families, most Jewish children were expected to attend Hebrew School once it was established and teachers were selected for the classes.29 Hebrew School was held after public school had ended, with different hours for students of different ages.30 However, not every child of every family were held to same strict teachings and were expected to be the most religiously devoted.31 With the incredibly close relationship between the older members of the community, many patriarchs and matriarchs expected that their children would fill many of the same roles as they did once they retired from officer duties. Time has shown, however, that the second generation was much more carefree and less devoted to the Synagogue, and the third generation was even more so.32

Despite this, the younger members of the community were incredibly close during the first decades of the Congregation’s existence. Acting as an extended family, any member of the community that received a bar mitzvah, a wedding, or a graduation ceremony and party were met with all the familiar faces of the Congregation, from their fellow peers to the older generations.33

 

Banner Image: “Beryl Cohen Travel Document” Scanned Document, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804

Page Images: “Early Donation Request Letter” Scanned Document, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804; “Framed Collage Photo 2.7” Photograph, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804; “Special Bulletin concerning the High Holidays” Scanned Document, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804. 

  1. Fundraising Appeal Letter, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  2. Meeting Minutes from 1922, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  3. Jewish Cemetery Documentation, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  4. Meeting Minutes from 1922, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  5. Meeting Minutes from 1922, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  6. Meeting Minutes from 1922, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  7. Meeting Minutes from 1922, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  8. Meeting Minutes from 1922, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  9. Congressional Meeting Minutes from 1926-1927, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  10. Transcript of an interview with Ann Kolodkin. Date March 4, 1997, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  11. Letter from Edward Mottsman to the Agudas Israel Congregation, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  12. Transcript of an interview with Kalman and Francee Sherman. Date March 6, 1997, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  13. Transcript of an interview with Kalman and Francee Sherman. Date March 6, 1997, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  14. Transcript of an interview with Kalman and Francee Sherman. Date March 6, 1997, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  15. Transcript of an interview with Kalman and Francee Sherman. Date March 6, 1997, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  16. Transcript of an interview with Ann Kolodkin. Date March 4, 1997, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  17. Letter from Leonard Lewis to Morris Kaplan, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  18. Transcript of an interview with Kalman and Francee Sherman. Date March 6, 1997, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  19. Transcript of an interview with Edward Patterson. Date March 7, 1997, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  20. Correspondence from Jill Savitt to Morris Kaplan. Dates: March 11, 1997; August 15, 1997; August 20, 1997, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  21. Correspondence from Jill Savitt to Morris Kaplan. Dates: March 11, 1997; August 15, 1997; August 20, 1997, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  22. Correspondence from Jill Savitt to Morris Kaplan. Dates: March 11, 1997; August 15, 1997; August 20, 1997, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  23. Congressional Meeting Minutes from 1926-1927, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  24. Transcript of an interview with Ann Kolodkin. Date March 4, 1997, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  25. Correspondence from Jill Savitt to Morris Kaplan. Dates: March 11, 1997; August 15, 1997; August 20, 1997, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  26. Transcript of an interview with Edward Patterson. Date March 7, 1997, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  27. Transcript of an interview with Ann Kolodkin. Date March 4, 1997, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  28. Transcript of an interview with Kalman and Francee Sherman. Date March 6, 1997, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  29. Congressional Meeting Minutes from 1926-1927, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  30. Congressional Meeting Minutes from 1926-1927, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  31. Transcript of an interview with Kalman and Francee Sherman. Date March 6, 1997, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  32. Transcript of an interview with Morris and Anne Kaplan. Date March 6, 1997, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
  33. Transcript of an interview with Morris and Anne Kaplan. Date March 6, 1997, Agudas Israel Synagogue Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804