Submitted by Janis Dickman
If you ask me to describe our Dad, I will tell you that Dad was like a “boy scout.” He was kind, generous and industrious. Dad could fix things and build things and grow things, and he could cook for a crowd. So how did a Jewish boy from New Jersey become the Latke King of Columbia, S.C.?
Dad’s mother, who immigrated from a small village in Russia, is remembered as a wonderful cook, of course Ashkenazi (Eastern European) cuisine. In his late teens, Dad spent his summers as a waiter at a Jewish hotel in the Catskills, otherwise known as the “Borsht Belt.” When the U.S. entered World War II, Dad was an airplane inspector at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, S.C. This was Dad’s introduction to the South, where he later made his home. Dad volunteered for the Army Air Force and was immediately sent to England for 31 months where he repaired “war weary” airplanes. After D-day, when there were no planes to be repaired, Dad took over as Sergeant of the soldiers’ mess. Lastly, when Dad returned to New Jersey, he owned a bakery. Dad even baked his own wedding cake!
In 1949, Max Dickman (from Newark) with Selma Dickman (from New York City) moved to Sumter and a year later to Columbia. Max Dickman together with Oscar Seidenberg (father of Fred and Debbie) founded Columbia Steel & Metal, originally on Assembly Street across from the old baseball park. The company later moved to the present Shop Road location.
As transplants from “up north,” my parents were warmly welcomed by the established “southern” Jewish families. Along with other young Jewish couples, their first home in Columbia was the Baker Apartments on Maple Street. Mom and Dad quickly became part of the fabric of Columbia’s Jewish community and made the very best “forever friends.” Their friends were a marvelous and colorful lot -- some from large southern families, some transplants like my parents and some who had survived the Holocaust – all joining together to raise their children in a close-knit Jewish community. Though most have passed on, I remain grateful to all my Columbia “aunts” and “uncles.” “Kugels and Collards” attests to their legacy.
Lots of Lakes
At Hanukkah, the Jewish soldiers from Fort Jackson were bussed to the Columbia Jewish Community Center for a Hanukkah latke party. I recall the JCC gym crowded with soldiers. Dad was the “sergeant” of a crew of men and women turning out hundreds of hot, crisp latkes. For years, Dad was also the head latke cook for the Tree of Life Temple Hanukkah parties, at its former location on Heyward Street. Now, the Tree of Life on Trenholm Road has a permanent Latke Hut that would have made Dad proud.
My childhood memory of Passover involved soldiers from Fort Jackson crowding around our dining room table. Established in 1917, Fort Jackson served as the Army’s major basic training camp. Thousands of soldiers spent their months of basic training at Fort Jackson. Until the draft ended in 1975, there were large numbers of Jewish soldiers. For the Jewish holidays, the Columbia Jewish community organized home hospitality for the Jewish soldiers. This was long before cell phones and Skype, and I recall the homesick soldiers spending as much time calling home from our kitchen phone as they did enjoying the Passover meal. Only now do I appreciate what bringing soldiers into our home for the holidays must have meant to my Dad, who himself had been a soldier far from home.
Bar Mitzvah Parties at the JCC
Before Jewish families were welcome to join country clubs and few could afford backyard pools, the Columbia Jewish Community Center (founded in 1955 on Trenholm Road, now located at Flora Drive) provided the growing Jewish community with a center for Jewish life, including a pre-school, a summer day camp, a swimming pool where kids, teens and families hung out, a gym where the interfaith basketball teams played, and a home for our BBG and AZA chapters (together the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization). Some of us “baby-boomers” also remember attending Bar Mitzvah parties in the JCC gym, complete with a disco ball. As volunteers, Dad and his buddy Maynard Neider, along with Florida Boyd (who deserves a column of her own) and Frank Boyd (not related), catered sit-down dinner-dances in the JCC gym. In my poufy dress, poufy hair and 1 ½ inch heels, I remember Dad coming out of the kitchen in his apron to check that the dinner service was progressing well. Dad’s grand finale was catering (as a volunteer) Cornish hens for 250 for the dedication of the Beth Shalom Synagogue. Eventually, Dad and Maynard retired; and Frank took over the JCC kitchen, with help from Florida.
Smoked Turkeys Can Fly
Dad was also famous for his smoked turkeys. At the JCC auctions, Dad’s smoked turkeys were sought after items. One friend of the family actually took a smoked turkey home on a flight to California!
Our Dad left us way too early. Dad, we “love you a latke!”
This recipe comes from my much loved, tattered copy of “The Stuffed Bagel,” published by the Columbia, S.C. Chapter of Hadassah, 1975-1976, Gail Lieb, President.
For each two cups of grated potato, add:
2 well-beaten eggs
Pinch of pepper
2 tbsp. matzo meal
1 tsp. grated onion
½ tsp. salt
Pinch baking powder
Fry in hot oil until crisp on both sides. Serve plain, with applesauce or sour cream.
I cannot find Dad’s recipe for smoked turkey. Below is the brine for his scrumptious smoked chicken. The skin turns a beautiful mahogany; and even the white meat is juicy.
1 gallon hot water – boiling
½ cup salt
1 cup vinegar
1 tsp. each – pepper, celery seed, dill seed and rubbed sage
¼ tsp. tabasco sauce
4 cloves chopped garlic
Hickory chips – cook slowly
For Pickled Corned Beef or Tongue
This is the only recipe I have found in Dad’s tiny, neat handwriting.