He was a shochet (kosher butcher) in Brisk. When Abe Kirshtein left Europe for Charleston in the 1920’s, he figured he would continue in his line of work. After all, a shochet can’t have a better resume than getting kabbalah (certification) from Rav Chaim Soloveitchik.
But when he arrived in Charleston, there was already a shochet in town. And so after a few years of peddling from door to door, he opened a furniture business on King Street, the main street downtown. He was in good company. At one point in history, Charleston, South Carolina was the largest Jewish community in the United States and most of the Jews were merchants who owned stores on King Street. It is even said that there was a time when all of King Street was closed on Yom Kippur.
The furniture business stayed in the Kirshtein family and is today, managed by Abe Kirshtein’s grandchildren, although the original property on King Street was recently sold. But though the family retained the same profession, the religious nature of the family changed over the years. While they maintained a love and pride for being Jewish, their level of observance didn’t rise to the level of Papa Kirshtein.
And so, when Rabbi David Radinsky took over the leadership of Brith Sholom Beth Israel, the elderly shochet gave him his Seforim (Jewish books) from the Old Country, assuming his own children and grandchildren might never use them.
The names Rabbi David and Barbara Radinsky are legendary in Charleston, as the rabbinic couple who gave 34 years to the community. Their wisdom and warmth inspired many families on their path to growth, with one woman recently sharing that the voice of her conscience sounds an awful lot like Rebbetzin Barbara Radinsky.
One of the women who formed a close relationship with the Radinskys was Joellen, the fiancee of David Kirshtein, grandson of the shochet. When she was young, she had been taunted as “Jew-ellen”, because of her interest in philosophy and spirituality. Now, through the rabbi and his wife, she became enthralled with Judaism.
When their children were little, Joellen became determined to take them to shul. David wasn’t too excited about the concept of “wasting his Saturdays”, sitting through the long services. Undeterred, Joellen packed up her kids and took them to shul on her own. It wasn’t long before David started to join them.
Next came kosher. Joellen decided she didn’t want her family to eat out at non-kosher restaurants. She knew that if she said something to David, he might not agree so whenever he suggested going out for dinner, she found reasons for suggesting they stay home instead. After a few months of this, he said to her, “So, it seems we aren’t going out to non-kosher restaurants”. And that was that.
When their children graduated eighth grade from Addlestone Hebrew Academy, Charleston’s Jewish day school, they faced their greatest challenge yet. There was no Jewish high school in town. David’s business and his entire family was in Charleston and they couldn’t move. They knew that if they wanted their sons to stay religious, they would have to send them away to a Jewish high school in another town, as difficult as this would be. Each child was asked whether he wanted to stay in town or board for high school and every child chose to continue his Jewish education out of town. Rabbi and Barbara Radinsky had moved to Memphis, which had a Jewish high school with a dorm and so they sent their sons there.
Through every Jewish event in their family: bar mitzvahs, graduations, sending a child away to school, Rabbi Radinsky gave them a special and unique gift: a sefer that had belonged to Abe Kirshtein, the shochet. Each milestone earned back another one of “Papa’s seforim”.
Today, David Kirshtein is a devoted minyan-goer who drives the middle school students of the community to school after shul, so they can help out with the minyan. He served as the board chair at the school, is on the board of the shul and is one of the baalei Tefilla for the Yamim Noraim (High Holy Days). It is truly hard to imagine he was ever reluctant to spend the day at shul. Joellen, covered in her blond sheitel and (always black and funky) tznius clothes is the bedrock and inspiration of the Jewish community. She cooks for shul dinners and organizes community events, all as a volunteer. No chessed is too much for her and she never has a word of complaint or a bad word to say about anyone. She and David love to learn, attend every class the shul offers and they can easily quote anything that Rabbi David Forhman ever wrote or said, with David referring to themselves as “Forhmaniacs”. (Key word for Rabbi Fohrman affienciendos). If all of that doesn’t describe how unique and committed they are, this does: their dog is named Shatnez because she’s a mixed breed.
Their growth has not just impacted their home but has also had reverberations in the entire community. Somehow, the Kirshteins became a magnet for young men looking to learn more about Judaism. Week after week, they housed these men for Shabbos and most who spent time in their home have since become frum; some have even become Rabbis. David’s brother and his wife also embarked on a frum life after seeing the beauty of Judaism in David and Joellen’s home.
Joellen’s license plate reads “Eishet Chayil” (Woman of Valor) as a gift from David and there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that there is no more fitting a title for this modern day Sarah Immeninu.
The Kirshteins have been blessed with much nachas from their four boys. Avi spent a year learning in Israel and is about to graduate Yeshiva University. He spends his time working with adults and children with disabilities. Aaron also spent a year in Israel and is now getting his degree at YU. Asher is enjoying the wonderful opportunity of learning with his rebbeim at his high school in Memphis and Zevi will be graduating eighth grade and has chosen to join his brother in Memphis next year. A few weeks ago, Aaron got engaged to a lovely frum young woman, Haley Kandelshein and the Kirshteins are thrilled about having a daughter join their family. G-d willing, there will be many smachot in the Kirshtein family.
One can only imagine the nachas of Abe Kirshtein, a”h, a shochet from Brisk, as he looks down from Shamayim (heaven) at his family who has come back home and inspired so many to follow along.