Charleston, South Carolina, is a small Southern city renowned for its history, charm and beauty. Tourists flock here to see where the first shot of the Civil War was fired; they enjoy the city’s graceful architecture, the pristine beaches, and the dolphins swimming in the Charleston harbor. But few know about the true hidden jewel of Charleston.
Located just a few blocks from all the action in downtown Charleston is a beautiful shul, Brith Shalom Beth Israel (BSBI), which hosts one of the oldest regular minyanim in the United States. According to legend, this shul never missed a minyan during the Civil War. In a city that has about 10,000 Jews, among whom there are only about 40 shomer Shabbos families, a continuous daily minyan is quite an accomplishment.
This minyan, as you might imagine, is not like many others that you’ll find in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, with fairly homogeneous participants who are, for the most part, conservatively clad.
The minyan at BSBI is comprised of Jews young and old in all types of attire…including the man who comes in every day wearing a different T-shirt with slogans that are sometimes so incendiary that the rabbi often has to suppress a laugh when he sees them. There are middle-school students who have been attending for about three years now; they voluntarily wake up early so that they can help out with the minyan before they go to school. Then there is Melvin the “Paginator,” who knows the page number for every tefillah in the siddur and machzor by heart and has been announcing pages for 70 years; minyan does not officially begin until he announces the page.