Columbia’s Jewish history highlighted in self-guided tour

Brittons, Kline, Lyons. These names represent just some of the Jewish families who helped shape Columbia, and they are now the focus on a new self-guided tour developed by Historic Columbia.

Members of the Rivkin family pose in front of Rivkin’s Delicatessen on Lady Street, the first Jewish deli in Columbia, circa 1935. (Photo courtesy of Special Collections, College of Charleston Libraries)

Members of the Rivkin family pose in front of Rivkin’s Delicatessen on Lady Street, the first Jewish deli in Columbia, circa 1935. (Photo courtesy of Special Collections, College of Charleston Libraries)

The tour takes visitors around downtown Columbia to see the former and current sites of businesses, synagogues and schools that were frequented by Jewish families in the 19th and 20th centuries.

“This a great opportunity to dig a little deeper into this group and understand how it made an impact on government, politics and business in Columbia,” said Historic Columbia Executive Director Robin Waites. “The connections and stories we’re bringing to light with this project are numerous, and we think they play a vital role in telling our community’s story.”

Waites said the Jewish residents have called Columbia home since the 1820s and that the city saw the election of two Jewish mayors before the onset of the Civil War. Jews also played an integral role in rebuilding the city after Union troops set fire to Columbia in 1865.

The Historic Columbia tour covers 34 sites around the city. Places like the Hebrew Benevolent Society Cemetery on Blanding Street, which was founded in 1822, is where many of the earliest Jewish families, as well as lawyers and politicians are buried.

Mast General on Main Street was formerly Lourie’s Department Store, which was owned by a prominent family whose descendants include retired state. Sen. Joel Lourie.

And the original site of the House of Peace Synagogue on Park Street, which Waites said was bought by a group of African-Americans in the 1930s and turned into the popular Big Apple Night Club before moving to Hampton Street, are also part of the tour.

The tour brochure map is available online in a mobile format.

A printed version can be picked up at the Historic Columbia office in the Robert Mills Historic Home, the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, Richland Library or the Jewish Community Center off Flora Drive.

The tour was developed with the help of the Columbia Jewish Heritage Initiative, the College of Charleston’s Jewish Heritage Collection, the Jewish Community Center and Columbia Jewish Federation, the Jewish Historical Society of South Carolina and Richland Library, which documents and provides access to and awareness of local Jewish history.

Waites said the tour eventually will be added to the list of Historic Columbia’s guided walking tours, but groups of 10 or more can schedule a tour now.

“I think it’s important for us to better understand people who might be different from us,” Waites said. “When we break down barriers that we may think are different, we appreciate the communities as diverse, but really similar in some ways.”

Have a comment about this story or an idea for a story you’d like to see? E-mail Kelly Petty at kelly@coladaily.com.

Categories: Hometown, Local News

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