Tree of Life Synagogue
“Clearly overdue.” That was the attitude of the 18 Jewish citizens of Columbia who met at City Hall on January 15, 1896, to plan for a synagogue in the capital city. Charleston already had two thriving synagogues, and smaller cities such as Sumter and Camden had established Jewish congregations. Past time, indeed, for Columbia Jews to have their own formal house of worship.
This energetic committee chose a tentative name for their congregation, “ Tree of Israel,” elected officers, and appointed committees. Securing a site was a primary concern, but this was to take longer than expected; two years later, fundraising was under way to raise $1,000 to purchase a lot for a synagogue.
In September 1905, the re–named Tree of Life congregation finally built and occupied a distinctive building on Lady Street, sporting an octagon– shaped auditorium and vaulted ceiling.
From the beginning, reform and orthodox factions created division in the new organization. The schism culminated in a lawsuit which resulted in the formation of another congregation, the house known today as Beth Shalom. At that time, the two congregations together had less than 25 family units. Years of struggle and bitterness have ended; today, these two synagogues occupy handsome buildings just a few hundred yards apart on North Trenholm Road.
Tree of Life thrived at its Lady Street location, adding a community building in 1935. By 1950, the need for more space brought about construction of a new house of worship on Heyward Street in Shandon.
Thirty years later, Tree of Life once again moved into new quarters, this time on North Trenholm Road. The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia took over the Heyward Street building.
Rabbi Daniel Sherman has led this congregation of about 300 families since 2006. “It’s an active and vibrant community,” he says. “Recently we had about 200 folks celebrating Purim with us with games and crafts and a meal. We had a middle school convention that brought about 150 youngsters here.
In February, Josh Nelson did a program on Jewish rock music. And on April 10 we’re celebrating our second annual NOSH with the Columbia community.”
The NOSH is a bazaar and a festival celebrating “everything Jewish. Make a challah, bite a knish, blow a shofar, and dance the hora!” proclaims Tree of Life.
The Big Nosh also features a strong educational component to enhance the understanding of Judaism in the community. This is Tree of Life’s 115th birthday party.
The annual bulb sale occupies a prominent spot in the Columbia calendar. Tree of Life’s Sisterhood sells highquality Holland bulbs to fund charitable causes such as Sistercare and Harvest Hope Food Bank. Tree of Life is leading the way, also, in “Green Gardening,” as their “Rain Garden” demonstrates.
A formerly ignored corner of the property now sports a boardwalk and bench through the wooded area. The garden collects stormwater from the parking lot and traps it before it enters Cary Lake nearby, absorbing oil, gas, and dirt that would have entered the lake. The planting is designed for maximum water absorption and cleansing effect, such as willows, dogwoods, sumacs, and herbs.
Rabbi Sherman was educated at Yale and spent his first Theology year at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem. Two years in Los Angeles, two in Cincinnati, and seven in Naples, Florida were followed by this call to Columbia. He and his wife Morgan have two children: Shai, six, and Janna, three.