Jewish Life in the
Charleston and Savannah
Sunday, May 26th to Friday, May 31st, 2019
Study Tour Led by
Paul and Sylvia Steinberg Professor
of American Jewish History
New York University
The history of the Jews in North America and the histories of these two southern cities run along parallel tracks. Jews were present from nearly the beginning of both of these port cities and in both places Jews achieved, early on a set of rights and a public profile, unmatched by their fellow Jews in the rest of the colonies. How did Jews experience the founding years of Savannah and Charleston and why did they prosper there so easily? What aspects of the economic, social, and cultural histories of these two colonial era cities shaped the Jews’ encounter with their non-Jewish neighbors and how did the Jews build and sustain their Jewish institutions, not just during the decades of British rule but beyond into the national era? Where did they live? What occupations did they pursue and how did such momentous events as the American Revolution, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the birth of the “new south,” leave their mark on the Jews in these places? This tour will blend the histories of two cities now considered tourist destinations known for their charm and historic significance and that of the Jews, those who came there in the colonial era and those who migrated there later, from elsewhere in the Atlantic world and from Europe.
This study tour will be led by Professor Hasia Diner, an eminent scholar of American Jewish history. A tour escort and guide specializing in the Jewish history of their city will accompany the group in Savannah and Charleston.
This program is sponsored by Temple Israel in Boston and open to all.
The Study Tour in a Nutshell
· Depart Boston
· Arrive in Savannah
· Check-in to Hotel Indigo
· Introductory Remarks by Professor Hasia Diner, your scholar
· Walking Tour of Savannah with Orlando Montoya, your guide in Savannah
· Welcome Dinner at Vic’s
· Breakfast at the Hotel
· Professor Diner’s 1st Study Session at the Hotel
· Morning Walking Tour of Jewish Savannah
· Early Afternoon Walking Tour "Foot Prints of Slavery" with Vaughnette Goode-Walker
· Walking Tour: Savannah After Dark
· Breakfast at the Hotel
· Professor Diner’s 2nd Study Session at the Hotel
· Continuation of Jewish Savannah Walking Tour
· Travel by Motor Coach to Charleston and Check- in at the Vendue Inn
· The Rest of the Day at Leisure. Your guide will have suggestions to help you design your free time.
· Breakfast at the Hotel
· Professor Diner’s 3rd Study Session at the Hotel
· Full-Day Tour of Charleston including places of Jewish Interest with Rhetta Mendelsohn, your guide in Charleston
· Evening at Leisure. Your guide will have suggestions to help you design your free time.
· Breakfast at the Hotel
· Professor Diner’s 4th Study Session at the Hotel
· Visit to the College of Charleston for presentation by Harlan Greene, noted historian and author.
· Rest of the Afternoon at Leisure. Your guide will have suggestions to help you design your free time.
· Farewell Dinner
· Transfer to Airport for Return Flight to Boston
In addition to our focus on the Jewish past and present in Savannah and Charleston, we will also concentrate on beautiful architecture and magnificent formal gardens that abound in both cities. We have purposefully scheduled in free time so you can enjoy the charms of both these historic cities on your own.
Day One – Sunday, May 26th – Depart for Savannah
Fly from Boston to Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport and transfer to the hotel.
Arrive to our hotel. Perched on the corner of Bay and Jefferson Streets in the heart of Savannah's historic district lies the "Grand Lady of the Bay." This 19th century, sprawling architectural masterpiece once housed famed Georgia merchant Simon Guckenheimer. Today, it stands as Hotel Indigo Savannah Historic District, a charming boutique hotel that effortlessly combines modern luxury, contemporary design and respectful nods to its impressive past.
After lunch on your own, meet at 1:30 for Introductory Remarks by Professor Hasia Diner, your scholar. Afterwards, we will take a Walking Tour of Historic Savannah with Orlando Montoya, a local guide who is an expert on the city’s Jewish past and present. This insightful and personalized tour will focus on the city’s history and its Jewish heritage. We will learning about Savannah's extended Jewish heritage from the first Jewish Colonists to the present, and tour the many significant points of interest from the Revolutionary War era to the present. After the walking tour, you will have time to settle in and relax at the hotel.
The lower floors were known as John Stoddard’s Lower Range and the top floors as John Stoddard’s Upper Range. During the War Between the States, General Sherman’s lesser officers used this building’s empty offices for housing and planning space.
our journey into Savannah’s history with a Welcome Dinner at Vic’s along the picturesque Savannah River. In 1858, John Stoddard had this building commissioned to be designed and built by the famous New York architect, John Norris. He was one of three major architects in Savannah at the time, along with William Jay and Charles B. Clusky.
Some of John Norris’ Savannah works include the Andrew Low House, the Cotton Exchange, the Mercer House, and the Meldrim-Green House. Completed in 1859, this building was originally used as a warehouse and later housed Steven Shipping Company. The lower floors were known as John Stoddard’s Lower Range and the top floors as John Stoddard’s Upper Range.
During the War Between the States, General Sherman’s lesser officers used this building’s empty offices for housing and planning space.
Meals: Welcome Dinner
Overnight: Andaz Savannah
Day Two – Monday, May 27th – Savannah
After breakfast, Dr. Diner will conduct our first of four study sessions on JEWS IN THE NEW WORLD IN THE AGE OF COLONIZATION. We will then depart for a full-morning Tour of Jewish Savannah.
We will visit Congregation Mickve Israel, an active synagogue affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism, located in the Historic District of Savannah, the congregation was founded in 1733; just a few months after General James Oglethorpe founded the Colony of Georgia. This historic sanctuary was designed by New York architect Henry G. Harrison and built in 1876 in pure neo-Gothic style, reflecting the fashionable architecture of the Victorian era.
It is the only neo-Gothic synagogue in America. Their three-story Sheftall Memorial Hall addition, opened in 2003, houses their world-class museum and impressive library.
Our tour includes a stop at the Mercer House featured in the novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, was designed by New York architect John S. Norris for General Hugh W. Mercer, great grandfather of Johnny Mercer. Construction of the house began in 1860, was interrupted by the Civil War and was later completed, circa 1868, by the new owner, John Wilder. In 1969, Jim Williams, one of Savannah’s earliest and most dedicated private restorationists, bought the then vacant house and began a two-year restoration. This house is one of the more than 50 houses Mr. Williams saved during his thirty-year career in historic restoration in Savannah and the Lowcountry.
Throughout the house you will see furniture and art from Mr. Williams’ private collection including 18th and 19th century furniture, 18th century English and American portraits, drawings from the 17th century and a wide collection of Chinese export porcelain.
Afternoon freetime for lunch on your own, take a 90-minute walking tour on "The Foot Prints of Slavery" with Vaughnette Good. After the walking tour, you will have time to explore Savannah on your own. The guide for your stay in Savannah will have suggestions on the culinary delights of the city and recommendations of where to explore.
Meet in the hotel lobby at 8 o’clock for a special “Savannah After Dark” walking tour led by Harriet Meyerhoff.
Overnight: Andaz Savannah
Day Three – Tuesday, May 28th – Savannah and Charleston
After an early breakfast and Professor Diner’s second learning session on Savannah and its Earliest Jews: Origins and Community Building, we will depart for the continuation of our Tour of Jewish Savannah.
Though not Savannah’s oldest cemetery, Bonaventure is certainly its most famous and hauntingly beautiful. Quintessentially Southern Gothic, it has captured the imaginations of writers, poets, naturalists, photographers and filmmakers for more than 150 years. Part natural cathedral, part sculptural garden, Bonaventure transcends time. Within Bonaventure Cemetery lies a Jewish section, established by congregants of Temple Mickve Israel, with many evocative inscriptions on the tombs of the many Holocaust survivors buried here.
Military generals, poet Conrad Aiken, Academy Award-winning lyricist Johnny Mercer and Georgia's first governor Edward Telfair are among those buried at Bonaventure.
Another reason behind Bonaventure’s popularity is John Berendt’s book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which featured a cover photo of the now-famous "Bird Girl" statue, formerly located in Bonaventure.
The next stop on our tour will be Congregation B’nai Brith Jacob, locally known as “BBJ.” It boasts the largest membership of the three Savannah synagogues with about 400 active families. Many Jewish families pay tithe to more than one local congregation in an effort to support the entire community. But BBJ is more than just another synagogue. It’s the spiritual and culture center of a deeply devout and close-knit community. A little more than half of the active members live in the neighborhoods surrounding the synagogue and walk to services on Sabbat.
After a break for lunch on your own, we will depart for our bus trip to Charleston.
Upon arriving to Charleston, we will check into hotel. Located in the charming Historic District of Charleston, The Vendue Inn is in the heart of it all. The iconic hotel is close to the historic King Street shopping area and within walking distance to Charleston's City Market, where you'll find arts, crafts and fine dining.
The rest of the day is at leisure to explore your new surroundings. Your guide will offer suggestions on what to see and do and where to eat dinner.
Overnight: Harbourview Inn, Charleston
Day Four – Wednesday, May 29th - Charleston
After breakfasting at the hotel and Dr. Diner’s third learning session, CHARLESTON: A JEWEL IN THE CROWN OF EIGHTEENTH CENTURY JEWRY, we will be greeted at the hotel by Rhetta Mendelsohn, an expert guide on Jewish life in Charleston, and begin our full-day Tour of Jewish Charleston.
The walking tour will conclude at Beth Elohim (or KKBE). It is the fourth oldest Jewish congregation, as well as the second oldest synagogue building, in the United States. The synagogue building itself is the oldest in continuous use.
It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1980. Once we arrive at KKBE Rhetta will introduce the group to Charleston and the local Jewish community. Here we will discuss the early history of Charleston and incorporate the Jewish history. In the beautiful Greek Revival style sanctuary, we will discuss the architecture as well as the congregation.
We will continue our City Tour by mini coach to include the College of Charleston, the stately homes along Rutledge Avenue and around Colonial Lake. We will see out entire residential waterfront before getting out at the Battery to discuss the harbor and the important events that have occurred there. We will continue by mini coach past Rainbow Row and the Exchange Building to the Four Corners of Law, where we will again disembark to view the sites of Jewish interest around this important intersection as well as the City’s iconic public buildings.
The City Tour will be comprehensive – history, art, architecture, war, flowers, religion, politics and more. We will see houses and gardens, public buildings and churches, shops and galleries, waterways and alleyways. All along the way, will include points of Jewish interest.
After lunch on own, the tour will continue with a visit to the Coming Street Cemetery, the oldest and largest Jewish cemetery in the South, the resting place of the largest and wealthiest Jewish community in colonial America.
We will conclude the day with a drive through the Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina.
Evening at leisure. Your guide will offer suggestions on what to see and do and where to eat dinner.
Overnight: Harbourview Charleston
Day Five – Thursday, May 30th – Charleston
After breakfast and the final learning session with Dr. Diner, SOUTH CAROLINA JEWS: THE CIVIL WAR, RECONSTRUCTION AND THE “NEW SOUTH”, our touring will begin with a short escorted-walk to the College of Charleston to meet Harlan Greene, noted historian and author.
After time for lunch on your own, the group will convene at City Hall to meet with Councilman William Dudley Gregorie who will join with Professor Diner and Rabbi Zecher in a discussion on After Slavery: Confronting Hate Today. Afterwards, we will make an optional visit to the Aiken-Rhett House, a beautifully-restored complex near the waterfront. The complex examines life in Charleston during slavery and the unique nature of urban slavery.
The late afternoon is at leisure.
Our study tour will conclude with a Farewell Dinner at Paw Paw
Meals: Breakfast and Farewell Dinner
Overnight: Harbourview , Charleston
Day Six – Friday, May 31st – Return
After breakfast at the hotel, we will transfer to Charleston International Airport for the flight to Boston.
This Itinerary is subject to change.
Hasia Diner, Ph.D., is the Paul and Sylvia Steinberg Professor of American Jewish History at New York University where she directs the Goldstein Goren Center for American Jewish History. She taught at the University of Maryland at College Park and was a fellow at the Davis Center for Historical Research at Princeton University and the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College. Hasia holds degrees from the University of Wisconsin, the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois-Chicago. Hasia was a Fulbright scholar in Israel and elected to the American Academy of Jewish Research and the Society of American Historians.
Orlando Montoya is an award-winning writer and radio producer, formerly with Savannah’s NPR/PBS station (1998-2014), now affiliated with WRUU 107.5 FM and the weekly newspaper Connect Savannah. He has been doing general history tours of Savannah since 2007 and tours related to Jewish, Bonaventure Cemetery, Civil War, literary, African-American and LGBT history since 2014. While he is not Jewish, he is the only tour guide well enough versed in Savannah’s Jewish history who’s able to talk for hours on the subject. He learned about Savannah’s Jewish history from reading, studying, interviews, and original research.
Rhetta Aronson Mendelsohn grew up in Orangeburg, SC, where her family’s roots go back 5 generations. She graduated from the University of SC before moving to Charleston. About 35 years ago, she became a licensed tour guide and developed her own guide business. She has served on the City’s Tourism Commission as well as Historic Charleston Foundation’s Board of Directors. She is a current member of the Charleston Tour Association. Her family holds memberships in Charleston’s Conservative congregation, Emanu-El, as well as the reform congregation Kahol Kadosh Beth Elohim.
Accompanying the Tour
Harbourview Inn, Charleston
Minimum Number of Participants:15
Maximum Number of Participants: 23
SINGLE ROOM SUPPLEMENT
A $500 deposit is due upon Registration
Note: Price includes a 3% convenience (credit card) fee.
• Professor Hasia Diner, one of this country’s foremost American Jewish History scholars, accompanying the group and presenting study sessions throughout the program.
• Tour Escort assisting group throughout.
• Hotel accommodations.
• Meals indicated on the itinerary.
• Transportation in luxury motor coach throughout itinerary.
• Entrance fees.
• Guides & driver. Separate guides specializing in the Jewish history of each city.
• Touring indicated on itinerary.
• All tips.
DOES NOT INLCUDE:
• Personal expenses.
• Alcohol at meals.
• Travel Insurance - Insurance can be purchased at: http://www.giltravel.com/israel-travel- resources/israel-travel-insurance.html
For Travel and Registration-Related Questions:
Gil Travel Group
For Program Questions:
Moshe Margolin, Director