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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:           IRWIN KOPLAN

INTERVIEWER:      SANDRA BERMAN

DATE:                        AUGUST 6, 2007

LOCATION:             ATLANTA, GEORGIA

Transcript (PDF)

BIOGRAPHY

Irwin was born on May 21, 1937 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was the son of Leo Joshua Koplan—originally Kopotovske—and Minnie Louise Miller Koplan. Irwin had two siblings: Stephen Joseph Koplan and Allan Koplan. Irwin was married to Joan Jacqueline Berger and had two daughters, Kara and Heather.

From the age of three months, Irwin lived in Dalton, Georgia. His father was the owner of a series of retail stores in Dalton: Dalton Furniture Company, Koplan Furniture Company, Burt’s, and Economy Department Store.

Irwin attended public schools in Dalton and Baylor School for Boys in Chattanooga. Irwin’s family attended Temple Beth El in Dalton, where he was bar mitzvahed. Irwin was a long-time member of the Boy Scouts of America. He was an Eagle Scout and was inducted into the Order of the Arrow, Boy Scouts of America’s national honor society.

Irwin began his sales career in New York City with American Photocopy Equipment Company, (APECO) during the 1960’s. He eventually returned to the Dalton area where he continued working as a salesman in the photocopy industry.

Irwin was a board member of Temple Beth El in Dalton, serving as Second Vice-President.

Scope of Interview:

Irwin discusses his family’s origin in Georgia. He talks about his mother’s birth in Rome, Georgia in 1915. He explains that his maternal grandparents, Isaac and Ida Miller, left Poland and settled in Rome, Georgia when they arrived in the United States. He says his paternal grandparents, Isaac and Anna Kopetovske, were from Russia and settled in Chattanooga, Georgia where his father Leo Joshua Kopotovske was born in 1907.

Irwin explains that when his father was in his twenties, he changed his surname from Kopetovske to Koplan.

Irwin tells how his father and mother met and married in 1935. He says he was born on May 21,1937 and three months later his family moved to Dalton, Georgia. He remembers his father owning several different retail stores when he lived in Dalton: Dalton Furniture Company, Koplan Furniture Company, Burt’s, and Economy Department Store. Irwin discusses other Jewish retailers in Dalton. He talks about the history of the two major industries in Dalton, the chenille bedspread industry and the carpet industry.

Irwin tells about the synagogue that his family attended in Dalton, Temple Beth El, which is a conservative congregation. He says he was the second boy to have his bar mitzvah in the synagogue’s building that was constructed in the 1940’s.

Irwin discusses his family’s Jewish observances during his childhood. He says for a while his mother kept strictly kosher, including during Passover, until his brother was born. He tells about the kosher butcher and the kosher deli in Chattanooga.

Irwin describes race relations in Dalton. Irwin tells how Dalton integrated its public schools during the Civil Rights Era without any incidents. He recalls that every Jewish household employed African American help. He discusses his mother’s black housekeeper Maggie Lewis.

Irwin tells about joining Boy Scout Troop 60 at the First Methodist Church. He recalls with pride his achievement of Eagle Scout rank and membership in the Order of the Arrow.  He also mentions attending different summer camps: Camp Skylake near Helen, Georgia; McCallie Camp in Chattanooga; and Camp Sidney Dew.

Irwin recalls wishing he lived in a larger city as a child. He tells about attending professional baseball games and dating Jewish girls in Chattanooga, a larger city with a larger Jewish population. Although Irwin grew up isolated from a larger Jewish community, he says he was raised with the expectation that he would marry a Jewish girl.

Irwin discusses moving to New York City after college, where he began his sales career and met his wife Joan Jacqueline Berger. Irwin says he was married by Rabbi Emanuel Feldman—the rabbi at Congregation Beth Jacob—at the home of Gloria and Fred Glusman in Atlanta.

Irwin talks about returning to Dalton where he continued his sales career and where he currently resides. He talks about his daughters, Kara, who lives in Atlanta, and Heather, who lives in Los Angeles, California. He discusses how the membership of Temple Beth El in Dalton has dwindled from its heyday of 90 member families. Irwin expresses concern about the future of Temple Beth El and its ability to continue employing a rabbi unless the congregation can attract more Jewish families to settle in Dalton and become members.

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