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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
INTERVIEWEE: Roy Julius Sloat
INTERVIEWER: Sylvia Shorstein
DATE: October 4, 1976
R: My mother and father were married in Pushalot [Lithuania] in 1887,
and they came to this country in 1905, which would make them about
eighteen years old at the time of their marriage. At least my mother
says they were both eighteen. We have a suspicion maybe she was a
little older. They came first to Hampton, Virginia, where a first
cousin of my mother's asked them to remain with them for as many days,
weeks, months, as they wanted to until they felt a little bit more
secure. They stayed in Hampton, Virginia with Fanny Kirshner, and
until Fanny Kirshner passed away, just about six months before my
mother, she loved Fanny and idolized her and really held her in
such high regard. Really to the exclusion of anybody else in our
family, because she felt such a warmth and such an interest and
appreciation of her thoughtfulness in those early days. My mother
used to say that many people in her family, certainly people with
whom she had a passing acquaintance with, used to refer to them as
the greenna" The greenn" was kind of a denigrating appellation
they gave to all immigrants that came over that couldn't speak the
language, that really didn't know their way around, and really felt
a little befuddled by the "Columbus' Medina," the United States of
America. But she remembers Fanny as being very, very warm, thought-
ful, friendly, and a person who was a very dominant and domineering
factor in all of the family, and who had a kindness and a thought-
fulness and a compassion for everybody, in particular the greenn"
who came to this country and apparently in particular my mother.
So they stayed with the Kirshners in Hampton, Virginia, for
about three or four months, and then they were encouraged to come
to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where my mother had an aunt. Her
father's sister lived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and they settled
in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for awhile, and then moved about fifty
miles away to a little town called Middletown. It was in Middletown
that my father first began to work and to make a livelihood. Up
until that time, they subsisted on the kindness and the thoughtful-
ness of the family, and they had brought some funds. My father's
family apparently had been a very well-to-do family, and I really
don't know how to figure out how much money they brought. It wasn't
a lot, but it was enough to keep them going with the kindness and
the thoughtfulness of their immediate family. My father first start-
ed working by carrying a peckle, as I used to hear him describe it.
It was a combination of a sling and a backpack and a knapsack, in
which he used to carry pots and pans and thread and needles and some
of the household goods that the housewives of the farmers in that
general area near Harrisburg and Middletown might need. He used
to walk through the countryside with the peckle on his back, and that
was his first experience at business in this country. Obviously it
was a pretty hard and difficult existence. They stayed in Middletown
for about six or seven years.
In 1913 they came to Jacksonville. My brother Matthew was
born in Middletown. My sister Helen was born in Middletown. We
seem to get the impression, although they didn't dwell on it and
really never substantiated it, that there was another child that
perhaps was born before Matthew and perhaps didn't live long at all,
maybe didn't really survive birth. Mother never talked about it,
but we gather that there was another child. My brother was about
two and a half years old when they came to Jacksonville, and my sister
was about six months old in 1913. They came at the urging of my
mother's two brothers who lived here. One was named Joseph Cohen,
whose family still lives here. Macey and Raymond Cohen still sur-
vive their father, who was living here at the time that my mother
was encouraged to come here by him. And another brother of my
mother's, named Avron Zolman Cohen, was living here at the time, too.
These two brothers had encouraged my mother and father to come. Avron
Zolman Cohen has survivors here in Jacksonville still. He has one
daughter named Leah Janow, who lives here, and a grandson, Albert
Fleet, who's the son of an older daughter who is no longer living.
Her name was Florence Fleet. She was married to Louis Fleet, who was
a member of a very large family who lived in Jacksonville and in Live
Oak and Lake City at the time. My family came here and they stayed
with my uncle, Joseph Cohen, for a very, very short while.
My father bought a grocery store. I recall that he said that
he gave a man a little over $100.00. He didn't remember exactly
how much, but a little over $100.00, and he promised to pay another
$100.00 each month for six months, and he bought a grocery store
on Cedar Street. I don't recall what part of the city Cedar Street
is in. EOff Myrtle Avenue near Riverside Avenue] I'm not sure that
this Cedar Street even survived now as the name. Then they moved
the grocery store to Moncrief, in a neighborhood that was predominately
colored, near where my father's sister, Minnie Schemer, also had
a store. Now at the time, Minnie Schemer had been married to a man
named Velval William Schemer, and he was not living. She had been
left as a widow with four children in 1917, and my father helped her
out with the store on Moncrief. I don't know how long that era
lasted for them, but then they moved to Market Street, where he opened
up a store from the beginning. That was in 1919, and I was born on
Market Street in 1920. Now the Market Street store was on the corner
of Market and Beaver. It is now the site of one of the, would it be
Presbyterian Institution? The Cathedral? No, it's either Cathedral
Townhouse or Cathedral Tower.
S: Roy, where did you live all during the time that...?
R: We lived over the store. We either lived in back of the store or
over the store.
S: Each time?
R: Each time we moved. Each time we had a store, we lived in back of the
store or over the store.
S: Did your dad rent the store, or did he buy?
R: No, he rented these stores. He didn't own any of his property.
Up until this time I don't remember anything. I do remember hearing
my mother talk about the fact that there was a fantastically devastat-
ing flu epidemic. That, seems to me, was during World War I ,
in which people died by the hundreds each day in Jacksonville, Florida.
It might have been a nationwide flu epidemic.
S: It was.
R: And I recall that Mother said that it was just like a plague, and it
was a pall over everything. They were afraid to go out in the streets.
They were afraid for people to come in the store. They were afraid
that they would get too near strangers, and she used to keep my bro-
ther and sister in the house all the time. They seldom went out and
they didn't play with other children. There was a period of maybe
six months in which she was just afraid to let them go out and be
near other children. Then, as I recall, it doesn't seem to me that
it was long after the flu epidemic there was a period in which a
great many of the children contracted diptheria. As I recall, she
told a story that my sister had diptheria. I don't remember the
symptoms too well except that it was an extremely difficult breathing
situation, as far as the inflammation of the throat. As I recall,
she told a story about how she stayed up for three or four nights,
three or four full days in a row, ministering to my sister and hoping
that my brother wouldn't get it, and hoping that she would survive.
Of course, she did survive the diptheria. It was of epidemic propor-
tions, but people didn't die by the hundreds each day like they did in
the flu epidemic. I don't remember this era at all, because we moved
to Murray Hill, which was a considerable distance from the heart of
the city. All of these places were really in the heart of the city
that I just described, but we moved to Murray Hill, which was like
twenty miles from the heart of the city. We moved there in somewhere
between 1922 and '23, and we lived there until 1925.
S: Was that because your dad's business moved out there?
R: My dad moved us to...he rented a store out there and opened up a
grocery store out there. And it was a rather large grocery store.
Apparently they had, by those standards, prospered somewhat, although
their finances were still very meager and our circumstances were not
much above poverty level. At least it was....
S: Were you children helping in the store?
R: The children were too young to help in the store then. My brother
was twelve, my sister was ten, and they really did very little, but
my mother worked in the store. In other words, my mother and father
worked side by side in the store.
Then my father became interested in cattle, and I recall very,
very vividly that he used to buy and sell cattle. Buy and sell
cattle, I mean like one at a time. He got very interested in this
operation and at one time owned a dairy. Didn't run the dairy, I
remember a man named Oscar Blocker ran the dairy. I can recall going
out to the dairy-I must have'been somewhere between ten and twelve
or eight and twelve-going out to the dairy with him and chasing the
cows. I remember they offered me milk from a cow that had just been
milked and it was so distasteful to me because it was very, very warm
milk. I remember that rather distinctly. The warm milk from the cow
that had just been milked was very, very distasteful, because it had
a sweet and a very, very warm taste, and it was a disagreeable taste
to me. I also tried to milk the cows, as I recall, but wasn't able
to wet the bottom of the bucket. You really just have to have a
certain kind of pull to be able to milk cows.
I recall that sometime about 1925 or '26 we moved away from
Murray Hill, which is Edgewood Avenue and Murray Hill now. The Murray
Hill I refer to was the corner of Edgewood Avenue and Roosevelt Boul-
evard. My father and mother had the store at the southwest corner
of what is now Edgewood and Roosevelt Boulevard.
S: You were living in Murray Hill area where most of the Jewish families
were not living at the time. You were going to school there. Who
were your friends then?
R: I actually did not go to school in the Murray Hill area. I don't
remember my playmates in the Murray Hill area, but I do rem-
ember names in the Murray Hill area. I see a number of these
people now, and we refresh and recall these memories when I see
them. A number of them are patients of mine. The names were
Moulton, Fowler, Hollis Fowler. India Wood, the lady who used to
own the bookstore here, was a member of a family that we were very
friendly with. None of our friends were Jews there. There were no
Jews in that area. Considerable distance from the city of Jackson-
ville-from the heart of Jacksonville--and none of our friends were
S: And yet your mother, you know, your family was religious.
R: And maintained their religious atmosphere.
R: And throughout all of this, I would say, under most unusual circum-
stances. I really don't recall too much of the life out there. The
only thing that's vivid in my mind is that the railroad goes right
past the area, and the freight cars used to sometimes stay right in
that area. I used to get a tremendous thrill out of seeing the one
freight car being slammed up against the other car. I do remember
that there were hogs out in that area that used to lie in the mud
and the swamp that were right near the railroad car, and my mother
used to look at the pigs and say, "Look how dirty they are. They're
such a horrible looking animal. People should never eat pig or pork."
But anyway, let me tell you something that I really didn't know
how to work out as far as chronological order. I do remember some-
thing, and to put it really in a little bit of a perspective as far
as time is concerned, you mentioned even though we lived in an area
that there were no Jews, and to my knowledge there were absolutely
no Jews in that area, that my mother still maintained the atmosphere
that this was a Jewish home and that we were extremely religious.
And we were. There was just no question about the fact that my
family actually brought the aura of Orthodox Judaism into our home,
and in-our lives. I do remember that we used to go to the B'nai
Israel Synagogue and that, of course, was on Jefferson and Monroe.
I've really forgotten the names of the streets. And I do recall
that we went to services there. I recall that I went to cheder there.
I really don't remember who my teachers were, but I do remember going
to cheder there. And that was before school age, because I went to
school we were already living on Dellwood Avenue. I do remember that
we had a rabbi here whose name was [Samuel3 Benjamin, and he was a
spellbinder. He was just a source of inspiration and a mover of people.
He was just an inspiration to everybody, and as I say, a man who could
move people with his persuasiveness. He was a most persuasive man.
And I recall we used to go on that street and visit. That was
the Jewish gegendt [neighborhood]. That was the Jewish area, and
we used to visit a lot of people on that street. Our cousin Ida
Feldman lived on that street. The Oscar Margols, as I recall, lived
next door to her. The Wexlers, the Wexlers lived in the same house
with Ida Feldman. The Wexlers are kin to Jack Schneider. It seems
to me that Mrs. Wexler and Jack Schneider's mother were sisters. The
Haimowitz's lived on that block. I don't recall the older folk's
name. I think one was Florence Haimowitz. Florence and Sander
Haimowitz. Their children were Irene and Herbert and Eugene and
Sylvia. And I remember that they lived on that block. I remember
that the religious institution where the synagogue was was on the
corner, but we had a school building that was just on the side of it,
on the inside part of the block. And the YMHA, of course, was across
the street. Pop Hertzenberg used to run the YMHA. Did you get any
information on the YMHA?
S: I've got some from Norman....
R: Moss? Norman Moss would remember that very vividly and dramatically.
Some of my cronies at that time were Norman Moscovitz Moss, Meyer
Leibovitz, his cousin Julius Fletcher. It was an odd thing to me
that the Fletchers used to be called the Stones. Their last name
was Stone, and it was during that time, during that era, I must have
been somewhere between five and seven, where they changed their name.
All of a sudden, one day they were Fletchers, and we really couldn't
understand it. I heard it mentioned once,and I've never really pur-
sued it, that her name, that Mrs. Fletcher's name, was Stone and for
some reason or other they took the name Stone but, then as I say, in
my childhood, when Julius Fletcher was just a young boy, they changed
their name to Fletcher. It was such an odd thing because Fletcher
was such an unusual name. I don't remember ever having heard the
name Fletcher before, and we might ask them what the situation was.
S: Sounds like "flaiseaker." Could be something like....
R: But like I say, it was very unusual that he was Julius Stone for
many years as we were little fellows together and all of the sudden
one day their name was Fletcher, and that's their name now. So
Mother and my dad were able to maintain a Jewish atmosphere because
we just went to the synagogue. I recall the synagogue in that old
institution. I recall the bema was in the middle and I recall that
the women, of course, sat on one side and the men on the other. The
one thing that's very dramatic in my mind is during the service on
High Holy Days, when the cantor, and I don't remember who the cantor
was, sang the Olenu he really literally fell to his knees. I remember
once being in the back of the synagogue and rushing up to the front
to really see what this man was doing on his knees, and it was just
something that really has left a dramatic impression on my mind. I
must have been a boy of four, five, or six that I remember that this
cantor really prostrated himself to the point that I actually thought
that something physical, some physical infirmity, had fallen upon him,
but he actually was praying the Olenu prayer. Now, of course, there
are times when the cantor does come to his knees and there are always
two people on either side that help him up, but I do remember that in
the old B'nai Israel institution. I don't recall where we went from
there. I'm going to be talking to you now. What did we, where do we
go from there? I said that we later....
S: I don't think that we went any further chronologically. I think we
went back and spoke about your heritage.
R: Well we went to, yeah, well we went to....did we talk about Pushalot?
We didn't get that? The people from Pushalot?
S: Yeah. I'd like to hear them back again. The ones that were from
Pushalot that really....
R: I wonder, did we talk about the fact that they were members of the
Pushaloters' Society? That when they came here everybody who was
from Pushalot was warmly welcomed, perhaps even encouraged, to come
by the other people from Pushalot who lived in Jacksonville? Until
each member could become rather self-sufficient, the Pushaloters'
Society helped the new ones, the new immigrants, the new arrivals, I
should say in Jacksonville, because most of the time it wasn't just
as they arrived in this country. But the new arrivals were helped,
aided, abetted, encouraged by the local Pushaloters, either with advice
or jobs or shelter or money. I'm sure that money must have changed....
S: Now you mentioned Harry Goldman too.
R: Harry Goldman, I think, was probably the first Pushaloter of my family
to come here. He came in the late 1880s. And I think he came as a
result of the fact that the Finkelsteins, who were here earlier, were
from Pushalot, and he began working for them as a single young man.
I think he was either eighteen, twenty, something like that, when he
first came to Jacksonville. As a result of his being here, Ida Feldman,
who was a niece of his, came to Jacksonville, and as a result of
her being here, several of her brothers came and brought their
family, and as a result of their being here, my uncles, I probably
mentioned them earlier, I think I mentioned them, my Uncle Joe and
Avrom Zolman, earlier, came. So this, of course, created the nucleus
of the Pushaloter Society.
The Finkelsteins might have been the first Pushaloters to come
here. The Finkelsteins, Govrele and Soreva, Gabriel and Sarah, what-
ever they called her, had a rooming house on Adams Street, and that
was a mecca for all of the Jewish population, whether they actually
had business there or whether they didn't have business there. They
were just warm, friendly, hospitable, and thoughtful people, and I
recall that we were there on many occasions, especially on Saturday
night, when we used to go to the butcher shops which were located in
that area. Safers had a butcher shop. You've heard this already.
Safers had a butchers on West Adams Street, just about a block away.
No, West...their first butcher shop was in the same block that the
Finkelsteins had the rooming house. Then they later moved a block
away, very close to Broad Street. There was a butcher shop called
Hammerman's that was on Broad Street, and the Beckers had a butcher
shop on Broad Street.
S: Roy, who do you think was the first kosher butcher in town? I don't
have any records.
R: I would have to say that was perhaps Benjamin Safer. Now I'm just
making a guess, because it seems to me that--the Beckers I know came
afterwards. I think the Hammermans came afterward. I would have to
guess that Benjamin Safer, who was the patriarch of one of the Safer
families that still remain in Jacksonville, was probably the first
kosher butcher. Or at least in my recollection he would be the old....
S: Was he the rabbi?
R: He was the rabbi. He, and there was quite a controversy during that
time, because he apparently did not have what's called Schmichas.
Schmichas are like credentials to be a rabbi. But he obviously was
an extremely learned man. I don't know that I'm really authentic
with this, but it's something that is really pretty vivid in my memory,
that there was a lot of controversy. He was really a rather beloved
man, but still a controversial man because he was a doer, a thinker,
a talker. Consequently, he might have stepped on some toes, and there
were people who really tried to discredit him a little bit by
saying that he really wasn't a real rabbi, that he didn't have the
real credentials. However, he was a beloved man and he had quite
a following, and he was a most impressive man and obviously a very,
very learned man, so that he did have quite a following. And I
have to feel like his probably was the first kosher butcher shop,
certainly in my recollection.
I remember the Saturday nights because we would go there on
Saturday and wait our turn. We didn't have numbers like they have
in shops now, where you hold your number up and it's called out by
the clerk. We just waited our turn. And obviously my mother would
buy the meat order for the entire week. I recall that if we got an
extra soup bone, or a heart or a lung, that it really made her day,
because it was something extra that probably cost very, very little
or maybe didn't cost anything at all. I recall some other things
about that that we used to buy....
S: Roy, without freezers, where did they keep the meat for a week?
R: Well, it was in ice.
S: Ice box? I see.
R: It was on ice and it would keep pretty well. And it's, I don't
remember this, but it's possible that they cooked a lot of it and
it kept. They cooked a lot of it and then we ate it later. But
I do believe that with just the ice box you could keep it for a
week. I do remember that they had a full line of delicatessen and
it was obviously one of my favorites. We would buy ten cents worth
of bologna or salami and make sandwiches. And I recall there
were two men who were very, very vivid. You don't want this kind
of crap, do you?
R: Two men who were very, very vivid in my memory. Himey Bloom was one
of them who obviously was a fairly affluent man at the time who used
to order corned beef, and that was the epitome to me. I must've been
all of five or six or seven years old and I used to look at that corned
beef and say, "Gee, I hope we'll be able to eat corned beef someday."
I really don't remember the price that it was, but it seems to me that
we used to get a quarter of a pound of salami for ten cents. That's
a little, that's pretty vivid in my memory, and I really don't remem-
ber what the corned beef was, but it was out of our reach. This
sounds kind of crazy, but both of these men--the other man's name
I'll have to, I'll have to think about. The other man, Weiman, was
Harry Weiman, who to my knowledge never really worked. He always
had seemed to be associated with some enterprises where he didn't
have to work. I later understood that he was involved in a gambling
interest or moonshining or something like that. But I do remember
that he used to, he always had a big automobile, and he used to eat
corned beef at Safer's on Saturday night.Himey Bloom, I don't lump
them together at the same time except for the fact that they used
to take the end of a rye bread, scoop out the soft part of the bread,
and stuff it with corned beef, and to me that was the epitome of
something or another and I just hoped that someday I would feel
affluent enough to be able to eat a corned beef sandwich like that.
S: So it's a restaurant as well as a delicatessen...?
R: It was a restaurant, but it really was, I don't remember tables there.
I remember, I think they would make sandwiches and then just sort of
stood up and ate right there. But the delicatessen was in the front
part, and it seems to me that the Rabbi Safer was the shochet. He
was the shochet, and I do remember going in the back part, which I
assume if I saw today, if I saw a replica of it, I would shudder,
because I do remember the chickens and I do remember his throwing the
chicken's head back and plucking--do you want this kind of thing?
R: Plucking the feathers out of the neck of the chicken with the comb
pulled back, and holding the halaf in between his teeth. And then,
as he plucked the feathers out of the neck of the chicken, he would
take the halaf out of his teeth and cut it across and squeeze it and
part of the,apparently the throat would squeeze out and he would throw
the chicken, as it would be shaking in the death throes, into a barrel.
That's how the chickens were killed, and I remember being fascinated
by that. I never actually saw them kill cows. I did see a halaf
that they killed a cow with, which was a very large knife, and I rem-
ember that he used to constantly be working with his halaf, with his
chicken killer and with his "bahama" killer, as he used to call it.
"Bahama halaf." "Bahama" is cow. He would constantly be working on
a soap stone to sharpen those. So these instruments were razor, razor
sharp. I do remember that.
S: Did he use the same thing for bris too [chuckle] ?
R: I don't recall, but I do remember bris. He was a mohel too. He
was the mohel too.
S: I mean he did everything.
R: He was the mohel too. I mean he was just everything. And, as I
say, he was really a leader in the community, and it was not until
later that there were some newcomers who came into the community
that questioned his credentials and his ability to lead. But as I
say, he maintained his authority, so to speak.
S: Did he leave Jacksonville? Because I haven't spoken to the Safers
R: I think that he went to Miami, but I think he died in Israel. Or
maybe he came back here after his...he lived in Israel for awhile.
I really don't recall where he died, but I think he did go to Israel.
And as I say, I remember Mackey, his son Mackey, running the delica-
tessen part of it, and the two twins, Abba and Israel, working in there,
and Perry. They all worked in there. Doll and Ida all were working
in the shop. They're all anywhere from twenty years to ten years
older than I am, and I do remember them as adults when I was just a
little boy, or at least they seemed adult to me.
S: Roy, getting back to social life, what did they have to answer? What
did you do when...?
R: Well, the interesting part about the social life...I really don't
remember the social life. Did we talk about the Pushaloter Society?
I think almost all of our social life with my family revolved around
the Pushaloter Society early in their lives. When I say earlier in
their lives, until the Center on Silver and Third Street really came
into being. I really just don't remember how much social life there
was, except I'm sure at the YMHA they must have had dances. But I
don't remember them because I only remember going to the YMHA on
rare occasions. The reason that I was only there on rare occasions is
because we lived so far away from town. I don't even remember how
we got to town. I guess we took a streetcar. I don't remember whether
we had an automobile at that time. I'm going to have to guess that
in those days we did not have an automobile. So while the social
life did revolve around the YMHA, I don't really remember any of it.
If my brother and sister took part of it, I really just don't remember
their talking about it too much. I know that there were basketball
games in the YMHA and I occasionally did have an opportunity to play
there, but as I say, we lived so far away from town that I never really
got a chance to go there. It wasn't really until the Center moved
to Silver and Third Street that I remember much social life, and we then
moved away from Dellwood Avenue and moved to Silver and Sixth.
S: So you moved from Riverside to...?
R: We moved from Dellwood to Silver Street. Now actually what happened,
the group apparently who lived on Monroe and Jefferson moved to Spring-
field before we did, because I was already fourteen years old by the
time I moved to Springfield, and I recall that we had my bar mitzvah
while we were still living on Dellwood Avenue. I recall that Joe
Goldman's bar mitzvah was really, I'm sure, put on by my folks and
other Pushaloters. The parties, the social events, took place in
my home. And I remember not really looking at it with envy because
I really wasn't, I don't remember being envious of that, but I do
remember thinking that we had lived on Dellwood Avenue when I was
bar mitzvah and shortly thereafter we moved to Silver Street to a
much larger house, and....
S: Speaking of the bar mitzvahs in those days, how do they differ from
today's bar mitzvahs?
R: We had a party at home and that was the sum and substance of the bar
mitzvah. Friday night we did take part in the service and Saturday
we did take part in the service. Those who were extremely, extremely
capable and competent and well-versed in Hebrew did more of the service.
For instance, of my contemporaries, I felt that I was very, very
capable and I did my haftorah, I felt, very well. But next to bar
mitzvah buffer like Joe Mizrahi and Irwin Kantor I was only mediocre.
They read their haftorah from the Torah itself. I recall this very,
very dramatically, that those two--there might have been others--but
I don't think so. I think I would have remembered it, it was such an
unusual thing. Most of us who were taught the haftorah, and Rabbi
Margolis taught us in those days. Rabbi Morris Margolis was here then.
He was the cantor and the rabbi. He taught us the after, and how
to say the haftorah, and the brochas. As I recall, we had a bar
mitzvah class and that's why a great many of us were together. That's
why I realized that we were together. There might have been some
individual instruction on your own haftorah, but mainly you were in
the bar mitzvah class and you learned how to read a haftorah, and
that's perhaps why those same fellows who talked that way can still
today do the haftorah and do any haftorah. But as I recall, Irwin
Kantor, who was older than I was, and Joe Mizrahi, who is a little
older than I am, actually read their haftorah from the Torah itself.
That was the most unusual thing because the lettering doesn't even
really look like the printed letter. And it has no vowels so that
you almost have to know it by memory or really be able to read Hebrew
from the Torah exceptionally well to be capable of doing this. So
we had, as I say, quite a bit of instruction,and the Reverend Robin,
as I recall, Joseph Robin was our teacher. I think he taught us
Hebrew; I don't think he taught us to prepare us for the bar mitzvah.
I think the Rabbi Margolis taught us to prepare us for the bar mitzvah.
We, of course, came to Silver and Third Street.
You probably have all of this story. I really don't remember
it too well myself, but I do know this, that Rabbi [Samuel] Benjamin
must have come here somewhere between 1908 and 1912 [elected rabbi
of B'nai Israel, April 1, 1926]. He was such a fantastically moving
and persuasive force that it almost tore the Orthodox Jewish community
apart. He was such an imaginative, innovative, forceful man and felt
that the congregation had outlived and outgrown the Jefferson Street
B'nai Israel, and wanted to build a new center.
S: Was he an Orthodox man, or Conservative?
R: Well, I really don't know what to call them in those days.
S: Well at some point there was a breakaway by a group that wanted to
form the Conservative.
R: Well in those days I think that it was probably considered Orthodox.
The schism came a little bit later, and I really don't recall, per-
haps it was during Rabbi Margolis's regime here that we became a
little bit more Conservative, a little less strict. It was after
that that there was a rabbi, as I recall, a man named Feldman who
came here, who was an extremely Orthodox man and who really rallied
a comparatively small group of Orthodox Jews who were members of
the Center around him and it was that nucleus that broke off, that
finally, many years later, became Etz Chaim. I don't know when Etz
Chaim came into being, but it was that group that became Etz Chaim.
It was as a result of Rabbi Feldman.
S: Do you think Morris Wolfson had something to do with it?
R: Rabbi Feldman was, once again, an articulate Svengali-Rasputin type
of man who obviously was an extremely learned and I'm going to have
to assume was a very conscientious and devoted and honest and sincere
man. And he felt that the Center was not kosher enough, it was not
really Orthodox enough, and he felt that there were too many liberties
being taken. And there were some people that he had rallied around
his cause. Mr. Wolfson was not an Orthodox man. He just believed in
tradition and believed in Judaism, and I think just was persuaded by
Rabbi Feldman to lend his financial support. I think maybe it had
something to do with Reverend Safer at the time, because it seems to
me that Mr. Wolfson, Morris Wolfson, was very much in awe and admired
Reverend Safer, and didn't feel like the Reverend Safer was given
enough coved in the Center institution as it was. He felt perhaps
that they were shunting the Reverend Safer aside because the men were
more, how should I say, more modern. Not more learned, but perhaps
more formal education than the reverend and he really was not accorded
the position in the Center. And I think really that that's what
Wolfson's argument was, and I think that's why he was right for
somebody like Feldman to encourage him to support another financial
institution. I'm pretty sure that that is correct. Once again
it's a little vague in my mind, but I'm pretty sure that that's
correct. I might be authenticated by some of the other people that
would remember the day and time.
My cronies at that time, once again, were Norman Moss and Meyer
Leibovitz and the Laserus twins, Robert and Henry. I really don't
remember who else. The men that I mentioned, the bar mitzvah Borcha
[boys] that I mentioned, were involved in, we were part of the choir,
as I recall, for the High Holidays. Some of the older fellows--Bernie
Berman was part of the choir. Bernie Berman was Sarah Berman Fagan,
Molly Berman Greenburg, Betty Berman Black's brother. He had a magni-
ficent voice. He would be the protege of our rabbis and our cantors
here at the time. He really just had a magnificent voice and he sang
all the real melodic solos during the holidays.
S: Was he a paid cantor, or was he just...?
R: No, no, no, he was a young man. He was only, I would say he was not
more than three or four years older than I was at the time.
S: But he just did this on his time.
R: He just did this because he had a beautiful voice and was encouraged
in this thing and they gave him the opportunity to sing. Really,
his voice would send chills, even those of us who were just not that
impressed with voices, and not that cultured and appreciating voices.
I do remember his having a beautiful voice, and it's not that distance
or time lends enchantment. He really just had a magnificent voice.
And some of the solos that are sung....
I don't remember who came here right after Rabbi Benjamin came.
I'm going to have to assume that Rabbi Benjamin left because he
finally so disrupted the community. Somebody like Philip Selber,
who's a little older than I am, would remember Rabbi Benjamin and
perhaps the circumstances under which he left. I do recall that
the Center had, just like it has today, involved itself in a financial
obligation that it looked like there was just no way out. It just
looked like there was no way out without men like Harry Finkelstein,
who owned a pawn shop and kind of an all purpose store, a big store,
and was an extremely wealthy man and apparently had considerable
amount of property, and Max Rubin who was accorded the same kind of
respect for being wealthy, but perhaps not quite as wealthy as Harry
Finkelstein. If it had not been for those two men who signed notes
at the bank, who loaned the money to the institution, who gave large
donations, I'm sure that that institution would have been foreclosed
on, and we would not own it. But as I say, there were a lot of
people who made contributions, and perhaps many who made contributions
far and above their means, even greater sacrifice than the two men I
mentioned. But those were the two men who really, of course, were
the inspiration. I think Finkelstein was president of the synagogue
at one time and I think, and then I know Max Rubin was president and,
as I say, a very moving force in the synagogue.
You said something and I really wanted to come back to, and then
I don't remember what it was. Oh, about the cantor. I think that
Benjamin probably left because he probably so disrupted this community
that he no longer felt it was feasible here. He was an outstanding
man, but he obviously was an extremely controversial man. I recall
vividly the look of him. And I recall vividly that he absolutely was
a spellbinder, a very, very persuasive man who was aggressive and
obviously did not take no for an answer and was a source of inspiration
for young people as well as to the older people in the community.
But I'm sure that there were people who looked at him with skepticism
and were perhaps a little bit suspicious of him. While I don't know
the circumstances, I'm going to have to guess that he decided to go
on. Now I do remember a cantor named Edgar. I think that Cantor
Edgar, and I don't remember his first name, was here at the same time
that Benjamin was here. It could be that he brought Cantor Edgar
here. It seems to me that Cantor Edgar was here, and I'll try and
guess that by the ages of my sister and brother, my sister was probably
about fourteen to sixteen which means that she would be sixty-eight
now, so that it was fifty years ago or something like that. So it would
be in 1932. No, it would be earlier than that because I think Margolis
is the one who prepared me for bar mitzvah, and I think Margolis was
here then. So it might have been in 1928 and '29 and '30. Something
S: I think that '28 is when they moved into the new...
R: All right. I do believe that Cantor Edgar was here then. And I
don't think he was here long. And then we had a cantor, Cantor Isr--
no, we had a Rabbi Israel, but that's not his name. Rabbi...
S: I think his last name was Israel, wasn't it?
R: It might have been Israel but it, but that somehow doesn't seem right.
It sounds like Israel but I'm...Weisel. His name was Weisel. He
was also a cantor. And he was not here long, because there was some
controversy around him and I don't recall whether they had found
out something about his reputation in some previous city or whether
it was something that was revealed here. I don't remember. But
he left under not the best circumstances. We seem to have a pen-
chant for that. He was not here long. I do remember him very well.
I remember his wife and I remember he had this son. But I don't
think he was here very long and I think Rabbi Margolis came right after
that. He was a very beloved man who stayed here for many, many
years and who was both cantor and rabbi. I really don't recall when
he left here either.
S: Roy, I'd like to get back to your family because I know it's very
large, and it's....
R: Let me tell you one thing before we get back to my family. I do rem-
ember this, that when we moved to Dellwood Avenue, and Dellwood Avenue
was still a long way from where the Center was on Silver, because the
Center had moved to Silver and Third Street, that my mother and I
used to walk every Saturday from Riverside, from Dellwood Avenue, to
Silver and Third Street to Saturday morning services. Now, when I say
every Saturday, I mean, I guess maybe there were times when it rained and
we didn't go. I don't remember. But I do remember that we did go. And
I remember that we walked to shul on Saturday. Now that has got to be
ten miles, because it's right where the College Street interchange is
now. Now Dellwood Avenue no longer exists because the interstate, the
expressway, is there. But we used to go to the Center, and our whole
life revolved around the Center. Now when we moved to Silver Street,
I'm sure that our impetus to move to Silver Street was to be closer
to the Center. Because the group that had lived on Jefferson and Monroe
then moved to Springfield and lived on Pearl Street and Boulevard and
Silver Street quite a few years. When I say quite a few, I mean four,
five, or six years before we moved to Silver Street. So we were one
of the last ones to move from Riverside. Perhaps we were the only ones
in Riverside that really didn't go to the Temple. I just don't remember,
at the moment, any other of the Center members that lived in Riverside.
But then our whole life revolved around the Center. The social life,
the family life, the religious life, all revolved around the Center.
S: You talked about the Slotts, the Sloats, and Schemers....
R: My mother had two brothers who lived here. Their name was Cohen.
Joseph Cohen and Avrom Zolman Cohen. And she had a number of cousins,
all of course, Pushaloter. Some of them would be first cousins.
Ida Feldman, who was a Schemer, was a first cousin of my mother's.
Helman Schemer was a first cousin. Helman and Ida and William were
all brother and sister. They did not have any other brothers and
sisters here. From that Schemer family, of course, from those two
Schemer men, William and Velvel, stem a great many people, because
they had a large family themselves and their children had large
families. Ida Feldman had no children.
S: So it sounds like they settled and stayed in Jacksonville.
R: They settled and stayed in Jacksonville.
S: The children stayed here too.
R: The children stayed here too. It was a very, very interesting, I
guess, atmosphere. And it was a very interesting psychology and
philosophy that, I guess, people really didn't dream of going away
to other cities. They stayed close to their families. Single people
stayed with their families until they got married. They didn't get
apartments or rooms someplace else. They stayed with their families
to get married even after they were independent and self-sufficient
and able financially to handle themselves.
The Slotts are kin to us as a result of my mother's relation-
ship with Harry Slott, who was a first cousin of my mother's. Harry
Slott's father, my mother's mother, Ida Feldman's mother, were sister
and brother. Harry Slott had a brother who lived in Ocala that used
to visit Jacksonville frequently. Slotts still remain in Jacksonville.
Schemers, of course, remain in Jacksonville. I said Ida Feldman had
no family. Our family remains in Jacksonville. Really, our family
comes from, it's a large family, and I wouldn't know how many descen-
dants there are in Jacksonville, but from my uncles, Joseph and Avrom
Zolman Cohen, they both had rather substantial families. Mine was
a small family. The two Schemers had large families. The Slotts had
medium-size families. So all the descendants of these make quite a
Pushaloter contingent here in Jacksonville. We recently had a Pusha-
loter, Slott, Schemer family reunion, and we had 200 people from
Jacksonville alone who attended this. There were seventy-five people
from out-of-town, but there were 200 from Jacksonville alone.
S: What are some of the other names? You mentioned...
R: Morganstern are part of our family. Diamond are part of our family.
Levins, Julius Levins, and Mirkises, the Barbers, the Silvermans, the
Gartners, those are part of our family. Let's see, let's go further.
The Peltzs are part of our family, Mac Rose is part of our family.
Max. I forgot Max for the moment. Max's mother and Ida Feldman were
sisters. Max's mother did not come to Jacksonville. Max's mother,
as a matter of fact, died at childbirth and Max is named after her.
Her name was Malka and he is named Malkeel, which is the masculine of
Malka. She died at childbirth, and Max was raised by Ida Feldman
and some of his other aunts.
Let me tell you about some of the interesting aspects, I think,
of perhaps my early days. As I recall, I really don't remember my
life at Murray Hill too much, on Edgewood and Roosevelt Boulevard.
But I do remember Dellwood Avenue rather dramatically because I
lived there, it seems to me, from the time I was six until the time
I was fourteen. Those are the years that are more indelible in my
mind. There were no Jews in that area at all. I just didn't have
any Jewish friends except when I came to the Center. I recall that
my friends were among the other ethnic groups: Greek children,
Syrian children, Lebanese, and they have remained good friends of
mine to this day. There were a lot of other children who lived in
our neighborhood, but we weren't as friendly, I was not as friendly,
and I don't know, it may have been that we were drawn to each other.
The ethnic groups were drawn to each other. The real all-American
boys somehow just didn't take to us that great. It did not seem to
be any anti-semitism, and I really don't recall being called any
derogatory names. In my entire life I don't really recall any real
anti-semitic outbursts or namecalling. Every once in awhile, one
of the little Syrian boys might get upset with me, might call me a
Jew. But that was really the heat of the moment, and we were friends
immediately after that and never took exception to it. But it is
rather strange that the Greek boys and the Syrian boys and the one
Jew boy that lived in that area were friends of each other and really
have remained rather friendly to this day.
I don't remember that my father, in all of his business deal-
ings, had any real non-Jewish friends who weren't Greeks and Syrians.
They really seemed to be drawn to each other after he was in the fruit
business. It seems to me that the men, the Greek men that were in
that business and the Syrian men and my father and Kramer and the
other Jewish men that were in the fruit business, because there were
other Jews in the fruit business, were drawn to each other. And the
poierim, as they used to refer to, or the rednecks, the yokels really,
they were friendly, but they really were not drawn to them as they
were to the ethnic groups, and I guess maybe it was the spirit of
some sort of sensitivity that they had, that they had all come from
the old country and had had to make their way. And I guess that gave
them some sort of bond of friendship.
I don't really recall any, really, anecdotes or stories at the
time. My mother was quite a storyteller. She used to tell us stories
of the old country and those are vivid in my mind, but I really don't
recall too much about the early days of her life here. I have to
feel that it was really a kind of trying experience, and perhaps it
was a life that was filled with hard work and a lot of stress and a
lot of effort. I really just don't recall there was too much frivolity.
I do remember that we used to feel that it was a tremendous outing
when we'd get in the Model-T, and I really don't recall what year this
was, but it must of been in 1925, '26, '27,when we used to go to the
beach on the cobblestones. The road was a cobblestone road there.
That was just quite an event and it was an all day affair because it
took us about three hours, and we'd eat at least one time on the way
to the beach and we'd eat at least one time on the way back from the
beach, and there were at least two or three tire changes. But I really
just don't remember too much frivolity, and I have to feel that perhaps
it was because it was a difficult time for them and they did feel the
stress of being in a new area and a new era. They felt that there
were problems and of course assaults on them that they had to live
with, and I get the feeling there just wasn't really too much frivolity.
Perhaps the whole social atmosphere of it revolved around the Pusha-
loter, until as I say, until the Center came into being, then, of
course, I do remember the cabarets and the dances and the Young Judea
and the Hadassah. They all had fund raising affairs which were
frivolous times for us then.
S: Roy, most of these Pushaloters, how much education did they have when
they came over?
R: I would say that they were all fairly well-educated in Hebrew tradi-
tion. By that I mean, I'm thinking back to the men that I recall.
Gabriel Finkelstein was just accorded to be a sage, because he ob-
viously was extremely learned in the lore of Hebrew tradition and
Torah itself. Reverend Safer obviously was a beacon of light because
he was an extremely well-educated man. My mother's brothers were
extremely, extremely well-educated in Hebrew and Torah. Harry Slott,
Hattie Slott Newman's father, was an extremely well-educated man in
Hebrew tradition and Torah. But I don't think as far as other educa-
tion, there just was no other education for them. They were not allowed
to go to schools other than the Hebrew schools in Lithuania. I think
by the law that's called Draconic Law, and I really don't know what it
refers to, but the Russians did not allow Jews to get secular education,
so their education had to come from the Hebrew education that they got.
As I recall, they were all rather learned and very interested--it seems
to me that they all could davin. I do remember the older men, the men
who were a little older than my father, Moisha Kramer, who if he lived
today would be 150 years old. And Berhesa Schemer, a brother of Ida
Feldman, they were fifteen to twenty years older than my father. They
were extremely, extremely well-learned men. And there wasn't a man who
couldn't davin, any davin. My father knew the Passover Seder by heart,
and could say the Mincha and the Marif and the Shachris by heart. And
he was not alone. He was not individual in this respect; he was not
unique in this respect. Most of these men had been taught this way
and many of the women. I say many, I think that perhaps my mother
had the thirst and the desire, more than most women, to learn Hebrew
tradition and study the Torah. But many of them were well-versed
and could davin or follow the davin. So I don't think that their
education was very limited.
S: Yeah. Did they encourage you as far as going to college?
R: My mother and father, I guess maybe my mother was the aggressive
force in this respect, and I really am not so sure that that was
unique to my family. I guess my mother was a rather dominant and
aggressive woman, with a gentility. She was not overbearing but
she always used to say [speaks Yiddish] "What is too much is un-
healthy, except Torah." That's really her expression. By "Torah,"
she really meant education. My mother and father, of course, en-
couraged me to do well, to do my best, to excel, and I recall my
sister was just an extremely brilliant student. My brother was not.
My brother didn't even graduate high school, but they never put any
pressures on him. He obviously, while he was not dumb or stupid, he
just could not apply himself well enough to graduate high school,
although we never talked about it and I never knew it until I was
probably an adult that he didn't graduate high school. It just
illustrates that my mother and dad, while they really fostered educa-
tion and encouraged it, did not belabor it. They saw, obviously,
that my brother was not capable of being a student, and I'm sure it
must have broken their heart that he did not graduate high school,
because to graduate high school probably just was an epitome of some-
thing or other. I do recall that my sister was one of the few girls
of her era who went to college, of her contemporaries, and they were
just so excited about the letters that they used to get from her from
college because it was quite an accomplishment.
It was a kind of a foregone conclusion that I would go to college,
and they always expected me to do well. If I didn't get an excep-
tional grade, I was reprimanded or they criticized me because they
felt I had the capabilities. And I guess maybe that's really the
same kind of influence that most Jewish parents had on their children.
We always feel, I guess, our family's unique, but I'm sure that that
was not a uniqueness. I think that we probably had that aspect in
common, that the parents encouraged and sometimes even badgered. As
my mother used to say, [speaks in Yiddish] "You do it either way.
You'd eat with CYiddish] or you'd do it with temper." They always
tried to get the best out of us, and I think that that's the kind
of thing that we're left with is that we try to do:iwhatever we do to
the best of our ability, but we're satisfied if we feel like we've
done our best of our ability even if we haven't capitalized on every
opportunity. So that aspect of education, I guess, was unique to
Jewish families that I remember coming in contact with here.
I would say that of my contemporaries, the Jewish contemporaries,
the Jewish boys that I was, that I was friendly with, most of them
went to college. Of my high school class, I would say a comparably
small percentage went to college. Now, in my high school class were
Raymond Cohen, the two Lasarus boys, Murrey Wolfson, Abe Spevack,
Israel Rosenblatt, all went to college. Cecil Wolfson. There are
a couple, I'm sure, I can't recall, but I would say that the best
percentage of them went to college. Maybe even 100 per cent. Now
not all got degrees. Most of these fellows that I mentioned, I
guess half of them got degrees. Simon Rothstein went to college.
Maybe more than half got degrees, but I would say out of the percentage
of my high school class, maybe only twenty-five per cent went to
S: Where did you go to high school? Duval? Lee?
R: I went to Andrew Jackson. Duval was already gone by that time. My
sister was the first graduating class from Robert E. Lee. She graduated
in 1928 and that was the year, I think I'm correct, that Duval High
School closed down and the other three schools opened. I think that
Lee, Jackson, and Landon all opened the same year, and I think it was
S: Yeah. I think Duval was the only high school....
R: Duval was the only high school, and my brother did go to Duval High
School. As I say, I think Duval closed down as a high school. Now
I'm not really certain. I know that it was kept as an educational
institution of some sort. And whether it became a specialized educa-
tion, whether it became a trade school or what it is, I think its
role has changed considerably up until the time it had closed down.
But as far as I can remember, I think that school closed down and
Andrew Jackson, and Landon, and Lee took over in 1928, because I
remember my sister was the first graduating class from Lee, Robert E.
Lee. I went to Andrew Jackson in 19--I graduated in 1938.
S: Roy, when you graduated from dental school and came back to Jacksonville,
did you open up for yourself?
R: No, I practiced with a man named Riley at the time. You know it was
a funny thing, and it refers back a little bit to what you said. I'm
sure that there were some imaginative and resourceful and innovative
men of my time, but I was not one of them. It has never occurred to
me not to come back to Jacksonville because I love Jacksonville. I
love my family. I wanted to be around them. I felt familiar, I guess,
around them. It wasn't that I hadn't been away. I'd been away at
school in Baltimore for three years, I'd interned for a year and a
half in New York, and I'd been in the navy for three years. So I've
been around, but it never occurred to me to practice any place but
Jacksonville because I just felt that I just wanted to be back here.
When I came back to Jacksonville in 1946, it may be hard for you
to visualize this, but office space was impossible. There was no
office space. The man I worked with, Albert Riley, had four dentists
work for him at the time. One was a considerably older man, two were
younger men who then had to go to the service after I came back. I
worked with him for about a year and a half until I was able to get an
office. Until I was able to get space in the St. James Building. So
it was a kind of a difficult thing.
S: So you started there and you stayed?
R: I started with Riley in the St. James Building. In 1947, we had to
move out of the St. James Building because May Company bought Cohen's
and took over the third floor where our offices were. I really worked
for Riley. I mean the office was not mine, and I was not an associate,
I really was an employee. We moved to Ashley Street where somebody had
built a brand new building for one of the physicians in town. He
asked me if I'd move with him, and he told the other men that he didn't
have enough space for them so they had to find other space. I stayed
with him about six months and then some friend of mine who was influen-
tial with the Cohen family had called me and told me there was a space
available in the St. James Building,- and if I wanted it he would try to
intercede for me. I asked him and he did, and so I was able to get the
first space that opened up. I guess that was in 1948. I really don't
remember, and I've been in the St. James Building ever since. Yeah,
and I'm not going to move.
S: ...nation in the Jewish organization.
R: Well, my sister was really an extremely capable young woman. She
was a champion debater for the State of Florida in her senior year.
She and, I remember the name very, very vividly, a classmate of her's
named Oscar Camp, were the champion debaters of the State of Florida in
1928 in high school. She was apparently an extremely gifted person
in debate and she did receive considerable acclaim. I don't recall her
debating in college at all. I was kind of an outstanding football
player. I think you know, though.
S: Tell us about it, Roy. Come on [giggle].
R: I was probably bigger than most of my contemporaries. I weighed some-
thing like 160 pounds when I was in high school, and I was fairly fast.
In my junior year at Andrew Jackson I did make the first team and we
were quite successful. We won most of our games and I was, I guess I'd
have to say, the star of the team. In my senior year in 1937-38, I
guess it would be the fall of '37, we played and I was really an
outstanding star in Jacksonville in football high school circles.
Our team was undefeated that year. I made...can I tell you this?
R: I made the All-City team, I made the All-State team, and I made the
All-Southern team. I've had, I guess, my share of radio broadcasts
in which I was mentioned as the star to look for this evening, and
we used to have a quite a rivalry. Now, with about twenty high schools
in the city, these rivalries are gone. It used to be Landon, Lee,
and Jackson, and our rivalries were tremendous. The stars were just
built up to the hilt because their life and times were...the delicate
patterns of life hadn't been disturbed around here yet and there
wasn't a lot more to divert our attentions of football. High school
football was extremely, extremely important. I guess I enjoyed a lot
of attention, and I hope I was kind of humble about it, but I was
I did receive a scholarship at the University of Florida, and my
scholarship was a special scholarship that was paid for by Duval
Engineering. Duval Engineering was owned at the time by a man named
Alex Brest, who has been an outstanding and very famous citizen of
our time in Jacksonville, and [George] Hodges. These two men owned
Duval Engineering, and it was one of the better-known and certainly
one of the larger engineering companies in the State of Florida, but
it was based in Jacksonville. Through some friends of mine that brought
me to Alex Brest's attention, why that company gave me a scholarship
to the University of Florida, which I only took advantage of for two
years and then I went on to another school.
My parents really were very, very much disturbed by my playing
football. First, they felt that it would detract from my really
getting the education that they felt that they wanted me to get. And
secondly, I guess that, well maybe that was secondly. Maybe the first,
maybe the paramount importance was they were afraid I would get hurt.
I can recall pretty dramatically that my mother would inspect me every
day when I came home in the late afternoon from practice at Andrew
Jackson, and sometimes I would have a black eye and sometimes I would
have a bloody nose and sometimes I would be limping a little bit, and
she would always ask my father to intercede since she said that she
feels that she has no influence over me to give up this hoganenda on -
the football field. But as I say, I think maybe they did kind of enjoy
after awhile. I did have some notoriety here as a result of the fact-
that I perhaps did excel somewhat, and they were quietly proud of it,
even though they really didn't show too much enthusiasm because they
really didn't want to give me too much encouragement.
S: Roy, I want to thank you very, very much for allowing us to interview
you, and I would like to know if we could use this material for a
history of the Jewish community of Jacksonville?
R: I'm flattered that you've come over. It's been fun. I would just
be pleased if you will include it in some of the history of Jacksonville.