This week I have had the distinct pleasure of working at the College of Charleston's Addlestone Library. As one of the Pearlstine/Lipov Center for Southern Jewish Culture’s Charleston Research Fellows, I have been sifting through documents in three collections in the Jewish Heritage Collection. I hope to find archival sources within the papers of the Jewish Community Center, the Jewish Community Relations Committee, and the former-JCC Executive Director Nat Shulman that will allow me to add another Southern perspective to my dissertation. I'm curious about how the Charleston JCC dealt with integration and open membership, and whether the agency provided vital recreational and social services to diverse constituencies within their communities. Adding this case study will not only help broaden the geographic scope of my dissertation, but it will also situate my national story within another local context and help me make stronger comparative claims.
This week, I made it through half of the material in these collections, and I will be here another week finishing up. Charleston is a beautiful city, and I'm in no rush to leave!
I also had the opportunity to present my research to a group of Jewish and religious studies faculty members and community members on Wednesday. I spoke about the controversy over open membership at the New Orleans JCC in 1967-8, and how that demonstrates the complicated feelings that Jews had about sharing their private Jewish spaces with non-Jews and African Americans. Even those who supported Civil Rights and legal equality for all minorities--basic liberal values--often felt conflicted about relinquishing their Jewish spaces, because they worried that it could prevent the survival of an American Jewish identity. My curiosity about Charleston stems from this case in New Orleans. Did the Jews of Charleston feel similar anxieties, and did that prompt them to act in similar ways? Or did the local contingencies of this city make for a very different outcome here? After my talk, I was asked so many good questions by the attendees. It was heartening to see that many were making the same connections--about funding, Federation and communal politics, and racial politics--that I have tried to make within my dissertation. Several long-time members of Charleston's Jewish community also provided me with helpful names of people to contact, and shared with me their own memories and impressions about the JCC. It was an immensely fun and fulfilling experience, and I'm very thankful to the College of Charleston's Pearlstine/Lipov Center for Southern Jewish Culture for inviting me to speak.