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From Haven to Home: Charleston's Beth Elohim Synagogue

Painter and printmaker John Rubens Smith drew this pencil sketch of the first Beth Elohim synagogue building in Charleston, South Carolina, which was consecrated in 1794. The exterior of the synagogue, which resembled a church in the Georgian style, reflected the community's efforts to blend into the surrounding environment. The building burned to the ground in 1838.

John Rubens Smith (1770-1840).
Jews Synagogue in Charleston
[Beth Elohim], ca. 1812.
Pencil drawing.
Prints and Photographs Division

Solomon Carvalho's painting from memory of the interior of the Beth Elohim Synagogue shows an interior that conforms to the Sephardic tradition, with men's seating on the ground floor facing the reader's desk in the center and accommodations for women located in the upstairs gallery. American Reform Judaism traces its origins to the Beth Elohim congregation, when a group of synagogue members withdrew from the synagogue in 1825 and established the Reformed Society of Israelites, which survived for about thirteen years.

This 1872 map below of Charleston reflects a nineteenth-century trend in American mapmaking that featured "bird's-eye" views prepared for towns and cities across the nation. The map shows the location of Charleston's "Sinagogue" (no. 45) and the Hebrew Orphan Asylum (no. 85), which was incorporated in 1802 as the first American Jewish orphan care agency.

JC. N. Drie.
Bird's Eye View of the City of Charleston,
South Carolina
, 1872.
Color lithograph map.
Geography and Map Division

Sources: Library of Congress