...is the oldest and second-largest city in the state of South Carolina.
By the 19th century, Charleston was home to the largest and wealthiest Jewish community in North America.
Jews began to settle in Charleston in 1695, 25 years after the English founded Carolina.
Governor John Archdale, in a descriptive report on the colony, mentioned having a Spanish-speaking Jew as an interpreter in his dealing with captive Florida Indians. The early Jews were mostly Sephardim who came to Charleston from England by way of the Caribbean islands for the commercial opportunities available in a growing Atlantic seaport, and the religious freedom and personal rights offered and tolerated by the colony's Lord Proprietors. They helped build the city's colonial prosperity largely as shopkeepers, traders, and merchants. Among them was Moses *Lindo , who helped develop the important indigo trade and was made "Surveyor and Inspector-General of Indigo" for the provinces.
Charleston Jewish community life began in 1749 when Jews were numerous enough to organize a formal congregation called Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (Holy Congregation House of God). Influenced by Sephardi congregation Bevis Marks in London, Beth Elohim adopted its strict Sephardi ritual and governance. Its founding fathers were Joseph To-bias, president; Michael Lazarus, secretary; Moses Cohen, rabbi; and Isaac Da Costa, ḥazzan. The Hebrew Benevolent Society, founded in 1784, and the Hebrew Orphan Society, chartered in 1802, handled charitable activities. (Both are still active.) During the first decades of the 1800s, Charleston, with more than 700 Jews, had "the largest, most cultured, and wealthiest Jewish community in America,...
The war left Charleston and its Jews decimated and impoverished. Noticeable recovery did not occur until mid-20th century. Jews were well integrated in the Charleston community. Jews were active Masons; Isaac Da Costa was a member of the first Masonic lodge in South Carolina and four others were among the 11 founders of the Supreme Council of Scottish Rite Masonry (1802). Isaac Harby and Jacob N. Cardozo were newspaper editors; Joshua Lazarus headed the utility company, which introduced gas lighting to the city; Mordecai Cohen, a peddler, became at one time the second richest man in South Carolina and was noted for his philanthropies. In 1854, the Ashkenazi congregation Berith Shalome was formed, one of the oldest in continuous existence in the United States; Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Synagogue, a National Historic Landmark, in Charleston, SC, is the country's second oldest synagogue and the oldest in continuous use.