Originally created 10/04/04

Jewish Community Center celebrates 150 years



When the Studinetskys came to the United States, they feared their obviously Jewish last name might make them targets of persecution.

So their first action at Ellis Island was to change it.

Taking inspiration from a sign advertising a nearby jewelry store, they switched to Goldberg, a strange coincidence considering what a popular Jewish name that is, Augustan Peter Goldberg said with a chuckle Sunday.

"You'd think we're all related," he said of himself and other Goldbergs. "But we're probably not."

Mr. Goldberg went on to show two prized family artifacts: the Kiddush cup he received at his bar mitzvah and a Hanukkah menorah his grandmother bought when she finally made it to Israel at age 75.

The sharing was part of an afternoon of events to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Augusta Jewish Community Center, the second-oldest JCC in the nation.

Augusta's center began as a social organization called the Standard Club, which was made up of Jews who immigrated to the area, mostly from Germany. The club spun off into the Young Men's Hebrew Association in the 1930s before it became the Augusta JCC a quarter-century later.

The center's current building in Evans opened in 1998.

On Sunday, the center's members took turns speaking about their family and personal experiences. Some, such as Loretta Levi, only recently moved to Augusta, while others had local stories to tell.

Member Alberta Goldberg said the show-and-tell-style activities were part of an overall effort to encourage families to document their histories.

"We had an archivist talking about how to save photographs and preserve them ... and we taught them about storytelling," she said. "This was the end of that period of encouraging people to document their stories."

Ms. Levi told the audience how her father was raised in Italy and survived the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II while her mother grew up in Greece and went into hiding to evade the camps, "much like Anne Frank did."

The couple met in about 1950 in Houston, and Ms. Levi became the first American-born member of her family.

Among the artifacts Paula Schwartz showed was a menorah her grandfather Sigmund made from parts of a decommissioned ship in New York Harbor.

"These are really special things to have," Ms. Schwartz said, explaining that she and her husband have no siblings. "We have inherited so much the kids swear the house will explode."

Jackie Cohen shared stories of her ancestors, including her grandmother, who had to be smuggled into the country because of an eye condition that would have prohibited her from passing through Ellis Island.

"This is such a wonderful kind of thing for us to be doing," she said. "We have so many diverse backgrounds, but there are also common threads."

Reach Dena Levitz at (706) 823-3339 or dena.levitz@augustachronicle.com.