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Charlotte, North Carolina

CHARLOTTE, city in North Carolina, U.S. Jewish communal growth followed the city's evolution from a country crossroads at its founding in 1768 to a mill town in the 1880s and then to a Sunbelt manufacturing, distribution, and financial center. The Jewish population was 104 in 1878 and 720 in 1937. As Charlotte grew into the nation's fifth largest urban region, with a city population of 540,288 in 2000, the Jewish population increased to 4,400 in 1984 and to 10,000 in 2005.

Jewish settlers arrived from South Carolina in the early republic era. Simon Nathan resided in Charlotte in 1779. Storekeepers Abraham Moses and Solomon Simons van Grol, natives of Surinam, appear on tax and military lists from 1783. Aaron Cohen was a Revolutionary War veteran. The 1820 county census lists Abraham Moses, Daniel Hyams, and Jonas Cohen.

The antebellum era saw an influx of German Jews, who peddled and opened grocery, furniture, and dry-goods stores. During the Civil War Charlotte's nine Jewish families contributed 11 soldiers, and Jewish women raised $150 to support local volunteers. Louis Leon published Diary of a Tar Heel Confederate Soldier.

Following the war a colony of 20 families formed. Henry Baumgarten, the city's first commercial photographer, organized local Jewry after arriving from Baltimore in 1866. Polish-born Samuel Wittkowsky served as a city alderman, first president of the Board of Trade, co-founder of the country club, and founder of the South's first building and loan firm. Jay Hirshinger served on the school board and helped establish a public library in 1891. By the 1920s the German families had largely faded.

An East European immigrant influx began in 1895 when Harris Miller opened a store, soon followed by Benjamin Silverstein. Tailors, cobblers, furriers, butchers, grocers, jewelers, and dry-goods merchants established stores near the "Square" at Trade and Tryon Streets. Local Jewry grew during World War II when Charlotte served as a military camptown. In the early 1960s a cadre of Cuban families arrived, concentrating in the textile industry.

The Hebrew Cemetery Society organized in 1867 and received a state charter three years later. Charlotte had a B'nai B'rith Lodge in 1877 and a Kesher Shel Barzel society. A Hebrew Ladies Aid Society formed in 1888. Shaaray Israel congregation held services at the Chamber of Commerce offices about 1893 with Henry Baumgarten as president. In 1895 an Orthodox congregation, Agudath Aachim (Hebrew Union Brotherhood) formed with Dr. Sam Levy as president. Its 25 families built a synagogue in 1916. In the 1930s the congregation hired a Conservative rabbi. In 1949 the congregation renamed itself Temple Israel when a new synagogue was dedicated. In 1942 Reform Jews splintered to form Temple Beth El, with a constitution by Harry *Golden , and built a sanctuary in 1948. In 1968 a second Reform congregation organized, Temple Beth Shalom, which leased space from a Baptist church until erecting a sanctuary in 1974. The two Reform temples later merged as Temple Beth El. In 1980 Lubavitcher ḥasidim established a congregation, Ohr HaTorah.

The community also supported B'nai B'rith youth groups, Women's ORT, Jewish War Veterans, and National Conference of Christians and Jews. A Hadassah chapter formed in 1934. The Charlotte Federation of Jewish Charities formally organized in 1939 in response to the European crisis. Excluded from elite societies, a dozen Jewish veterans organized the Amity Country Club in 1950, which in 1974 evolved into a Jewish Community Center. After it burned down, the community built a 54-acre, $50 million campus, Shalom Park, in 1986, which underwent a $32 million expansion in 2005. Shalom Park included a Jewish Community Center; Jewish Federation offices; Temple Israel; Temple Beth El; and a Jewish day school, originally founded in 1971 as the North Carolina Hebrew Academy.

Charlotte Jews have been notable for their entrepreneur-ship and philanthropy. Harry Golden, a New Yorker, published the outspokenly integrationist Carolina Israelite newspaper from 1942. Golden authored some 20 books, including the bestselling Only in America. I.D. Blumenthal, who moved from Savannah in 1924, founded Radiator Specialty Company. Blumenthal family philanthropies include the Circuit Riding Rabbi program; the Jewish Home for the Aged; Wildacres, a Jewish and ecumenical retreat; the Performing Arts Center; and the Cancer Center. Leon Levine developed Family Dollar Stores into a national chain of 3,000 stores. Leon and Sandra Levine benefactions include the Levine Museum of the New South, Children's Hospital, the Jewish Community Center, and university research facilities. Financier Dannie Heineman endowed the Medical Research Foundation. Serving in the state house were Arthur Goodman (1945, 1953, 1955) and Arthur Goodman, Jr. (1965) and in the state senate Marshall Rauch of nearby Gastonia (1967–91).


M. Speizman, The Jews of Charlotte (1978).

[Leonard Rogoff (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.