Beth Israel Synagogue
Beth Israel Synagogue was built in 1908, making one of the oldest Jewish temples in the South.
Backstory and Context
According to historical records, the first Jew (or one of the first) in Beaufort, a man by the name of Peter Lavien, arrived in Beaufort in the 1760s. He was a half-brother of Alexander Hamilton and the son of a Jewish merchant. It appears he was born on the Caribbean island of St. Croix, which was a Danish colony at the time. As an adult, Lavien followed in his father's footsteps and became a merchant as well. However, Jews had already been living in Charleston since the 1690s so it is possible that Jews were in Beaufort prior to the 1760s.
The Jewish population in Beaufort has always been relatively small. By 1878, there were around 29; in 1937, the number grew to around 100. It appears the community worshipped in a variety of locations, including a Masonic hall that was located on the second floor of a store on Bay Street. They also met for gatherings at the Beaufort Arsenal. In the early 1900s, the community had grown enough to justify forming a congregation. The state granted a charter for Beth Israel in October 1905 and the congregation eventually bought the property on which the synagogue now stands. The congregation established a cemetery in 1912 that it still owns today. Currently, there are nearly 90 member families in the congregation.
"Beaufort, South Carolina." Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Life. Accessed February 10, 2021. https://www.isjl.org/south-carolina-beaufort-encyclopedia.html.
"Beth Israel Synagogue." The Historical Marker Database. Accessed February 10, 2021. https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=133375.
Both images by Cosmos Mariner, via The Historical Marker Database