DUV 20A Page 1
SUB: Babette Benjamin
INT: Micki Goldman
G: What we're trying to do now is just talk very casually about the past and what
you remember coming to Jacksonville, what your thoughts are. And anything
that you don't want recorded just tell me, I'll turn the tape recorder off,
we can erase it. I want you to feel comfortable ..
B: I'm not worried about anything.
B: Alight, my father, my mother died in 1905, and my father brought my brother
and me here, December of the following year. We, we lived in Montgomery and
we lived with a delightful Jewish family there by the name of Hertz, there
were five children in the family, and when he brought us down here . .
G: What did he do?
B: My father traveled all over the south so we lived, we grew up like
We lived at what was called St. Augins Hotel, run by Mr. and Mrs. Conroy. And
my aunt and uncle, he was Mk _vi vos,___l_5 my mothers brother, lived
in the same, it would be a family hotel.
G: Where was it?
B: On Ashley Street and ran all the way through to Church Street.
G: This was in 1906?
B: That was 1906, we came here in December, 1906, And we went to public schools
and I finished part of the first year of high school here and then he decided
to put both of us at Stetson because of physical education. My brother was in
grammar school and I finished the first year of high school there. And I had
two perfectly wonderful years of business college.
G: Where was that?
B: At Stetson. 04 do you, had offices where we ran, one, the first time was book-
keeping and we had business law, business arithmetic, business banking . .
G: That was unusual for a woman, for a girl to attend school thenwasn't it?
Were you the only girl?
B: No, I was my father's only child _girl, but h lots of girls
were taking it. Then the following year I took up secretarial work and 49
I know I did well at it. My father had invested money he had with a firm out
/est and unfortunately they did him out of it, so at 16 I went to work. And
I worked. 4f long hours we'd go down, it was Georgia had gone dry and my
father's brother Sam had a liquor business here, but ryer<- P-k(
Company, r--r--P- o was Carol 0 Flato's
_you know her as well as I.
G: Janet Flato?
B: No, she was Carol, Carol \iV-zi s.
G: k, c-W __
B: He was no relation to me that Mr. Flato but he was wonderful because he was a
very good man and he taught me a great deal, and Etta Wolf who was his secretary
and worked there too, they, they taught me a great deal, and I was with them .
G: And you were 16 years old?
B: I was 16.
G: And what year was this about, A 1915, 1916?
B: AndjW-I displeased my uncle because I called and asked him what the name of a
town from Georgia was such and such and he said 'you heard that IwlA rv- _' -
and if you don't like it you clov'- *kh-c 4o bc-p So I quit and in
less than a half an hour I had another job, paying twice as much money.
G: Doing what?
B: Stenographic work. I was billing out goods, and I stayed with them for Iu until
I guess I was, or I stayed in the city, I didn't stay there because that was
tIgaW business and I didn't want to be in that. I worked for
Fertilizer Works and I also worked for H &W _
G: That's an old .
B: Um hum,
G: Babette, wait one minute, let me just now,,,
break in tape
B: Okay, now where did it be, where were we?
G: Yea, um hum.
B: ta7 then when I was 19 I went to the mountains with Rita Benjamin, she was
married to my husbands eldest brother at that time, of course he was just
cousin Julian, and she was pregnant with Frances and fh I stayed with her
through the summer and went to Birmingham that fall. My father had made
Birmingham headquarters. And I lived up there for three years and then I
got married. I married Walter Benjamin from Jacksonville.
G: How did you all meet?
B' I've known him since he was a little boy. You see I he lived with Judy and
Rita most of the time. Then we, we set up housekeeping here with my husband's
sister Irene Rothschild. We, that was about three months after we were
married. At first we were with Mother and Daddy,- ---7
and we had a duplex house, first she had one room and I had a room, bedroom,
she had the dining room furniture and I had the living room furniture and
we had between us things for the kitchen.
G: Where was this?
B: On Hubbard Street, and that was a long time ago.
G: What was the Jewish community like at that time?
B: It was very small, we knew everybody in the, in the synagogue
G:But how many families were there?
B: I would say about 50.
G: 50 families.
B And .ga~p our fSi the little tiny Greek Orthodox Temple that haQ just been
B: torn down.,.
G: Right, I remember.
B:--was where, where we,.
G: the synagogue, that was our synagogue then. I just recently found that out.
B: However, I'm really going ahead, I, that's where I went to to Sunday School
/ when I was a child. But by the time I got married, Dr. lo
came here, it was his first year and . .
G: He married you?
B: No, no, we were married in Birmingham.
B: By Dr. __ But he came here, it was his first year, and
that, we were in the temple that was on the corner of Laura and Church Street,
right across from where the Kohens lived, and t* the congregation of course/
had grown some by then. But it did not grow to any extent I think until after
we, until later on. When, I lived here until 19, was born in
1918, I was married in '16, he-AJ-ben born in 1918 and we lived until about,
a was three, and then moved to Birmingham. And my husband was up there for
14 years, then we moved back down here and I've been here ever since 1936. Not
very active in anything in the way of a Jewish IC ___. I went to
work soon after we weme-dewn here because of during the years of the depression.
And I worked one year partially for the Bell Telephone Company and we were
putting on and fixing the yellow pages, can you imagine the size of them now C-s
compared with those years? Fixing the advertisements. And then I worked for
wood, what you call it, woodwork place, Jack
-aowood, what you call it, wood work place, Jack f and then
after that I went to 0r rC. ,,( was there for 20
G: For Mr. Birney, downtown?
B: I worked from '37 to '57.
G: What did you do?
B: I was the office manager. I did all of his stenographic work, all of his
bookkeeping, his banking because he was out of town as much as he was in town
it seemed to me. And when he finally married he and Mrs. Birney would go to
South America and then they'd go to Europe and travel all over this country.
G: He had a thriving business in that little restaurant, didn't he?
B: It was beautiful, the best food in town.
G: It was, I remember when I first moved here, well I, even when I was in college/
I just couldn't wait to come in and have a sandwich here.
B: And tf, then I also employed all the female help. The waitresses when I went
there were having a difficult time because he was very particular. He wouldn't
engage one that wore over size 36 dress, you know. They had to be just so, and
I fixed it where we could employ them that were a little larger. And I-IoYe
tht they were very very good to me.
G: This is while you were married and raising a family?
B: That's right. And my older son was in the Marine,/orp and my youngest son went
into the Army at 18, and he came out and went to the University of North Carolina
and graduated there. Then he sold insurance for a while then he went
back in the service. So both of my boys were really servicemen. And other than
that there wasn't anything terribly excitingly lived out. And Venetia, after
we moved from the homestead on First Street, which was a, belonged to the family U
when they settled the estate, and we moved out to Venetia'and lived out there
for 13 years before we moved over to this part of town.
G: That's what this C ~ \^-. :. ., around the Ortika area.
B: Well, it's beyond, beyond.,,
G: Beyond Ortica. Did many Jews live out there?
B: None that I knew of. It was a old-type Spanish home, just beautiful, beautiful
floors and'- But my Jewish life as I told you over the
phone has never been a very active one. I belong to the Council of Jewish
Women, to the Temple Sisterhood, to the Jewish family and children whatever it
B: And the Geetie, what. is the name of the new federation now?
G: The Federation, the Jewish Federation, well) how can you say you weren't active,
you belonged to everything?
B: And to River Garden.
G: And River Garden, that's it, what else is there, ?
B: No, no, no, but there are seven different Jewish things that I contribute to.
B: Yea, and I'm not active in any of them except the Temple. And I'm not in, not
really active in it.
G: Well as I remember you used to go to services.
B: Well I did, we go to services now when Gene is intown and can take us. He and
Nellie are both interested. The children were raised in the Temple, were
confirmed there, except Marian who went to Jeruselum, to Israel really, and
decided she'd rather have that three months in the spring over there than to
stay here for confirmation. I don't think she wanted to be confirmed. But the
other children were. And they're all grown now.
G: Well what was, I mean I know your your children weren't involved in Jewish
activities, your boys.
B: My boys both were confirmed. Walter does not belong to the Temple, Gene does,
Gene is active in it, and he has his own reasons for not belonging, that's his
G: The reformed synagogue was the first synagogue here then?
B: Yes, and the interesting part of it is that my mother's father, who died before
I was born was one of the original members, what would you call it?
G: Founding members of the temple.
G: Well what was his name?
B: His given name Mando,
B: No, I don't know what his given name was, his name was Endel. I should remember
but I don't, emf but he lived in Gainesville, and his family was raised in
Gainesville. I had, my mother had a sister who lived there and Uncle 4ama and
Uncle Jake, oQnL- V1Moe'5three brothers who lived in Gainesville. But my
mother did not live there. She was raised by an aunt in Virginia because her
mother had died when she was born. And my grandfather had remarried and then he
had two other children, Alvadendra and EstellV who may be remembered here. I
never knew either of them very very well. I liked my Aunt Estelle, she was, she
was handicapped. She worked for living, and I thought she was an admirable
G: What do you remember about life in Jacksonville in those early years?
B: Well, for fun we went on picnics and had dances and I, the classes that I was
in were with men that you would have known, Harrel and
Maxy Safer, who's been gone some time, Harry Rhinestein, Kenneth Murrays, who
is a doctor, t4,Hally ion. I don't recall many more that you might be
G: These are people you went to school with?
B: That I went to school with here,w~i' da~ The thing is that most of these people
have passed away, I had known from school days, it was interesting. Lillian
Hess was a little older than I, Lillian Lookerson, and we had a nice group;-
Rebecca Brown lived in that same neighborhood. We all lived around in a small,
when I was a child, small neighborhood in Springfield. Most of the Jewish
people. It was just a small town. The people here, I'm trying to think of their
G: Do you remember the Cummers?
B: Yes, I remember the Cummers. They lived out on Riverside Avenue and they gave
L~r. Crc(c-- \ bea~~ property out there, a women's club. I didn't know
B: them -or \.-rC,1 ../ Vrr ? -, I remember seeing the town grow,
and then my husband was so much interested in the development of the downtown
area, and he did a great deal of appraising for the downtown property. He was
an interesting man, and very highly thought of.
G: Tell me a little bit about him, his background.
B: He was in real estate as far back as I can remember. He was in real estate
in Birmingham and Birmingham went absolutely broke. The coal mines were closed
down and the steel industry died a natural death. And it took him a year or two
to get straightened out, and we had built a number of houses that we had
mortgages on that we carried ourselves-V-there were no VHA loans at that time.
A-W eventually some of it came back, it wasn't just my husband, it was my
husband and my brother, or his brother Julian and Joe --< who lived
there,+'3e had 0- liric Cc0,o I -o .
lots of people would know who Joe Richards was. He was a very very fine person.
And my uncle was also interested in this property in Birmingham. I think they
all got something back out of it. Then after my husband died I, I) that was
in 1961, no it was 1962, we moved out on this side of town in 1961. I lived in
my house for two and a half years, and decided it was too much effort to try to
keep help, either in the yard or in the house and so that's when I came out
here -rb ukr- Meantime I had worked at River Garden every Monday
in the hobby shop for five years and loved every minute of it, and miss it, I
still miss it. By the way, I heard a nurse in the hospital this past, it was
last Monday when I was there, say that there is no finer nursing home anywhere
in the south than River Garden and it is just magnificent, and I think that's
G: Yesr you were very fortunate . .
B: That's one of the I belong to, and I enjoy it.
G: What do you remember about the beginnings of River Garden?
B: I remember it when it was a house and Sidney A-o6- -r\ ik God bless him, he
B: is a magnificent person. I hae a cousin who lived there, Estelle Stern, I've
had one sister-i6aw and two brothers-in-law who lived there until they passed
away. It's always been beautifully managed because it couldn't be anybody with
finer ideals than Sidney AWht_' had. I don't know anything about it
now, I haven't been over there since . .
G: They have a nice new young man there, Elliot I met him.
He's on the board of Volunteer Jacksonville where I work and I'm very impressed
B: I've heard he's excellent, but I do know that the therapy there is the finest
that can be had in town. It has a beautiful reputation. But I don't think that
I would ever enjoy going there to live, In the first placelmy children lived out
here, lived out in Mandarin, one in Mandarin, one in
and I could get to them easily, and it was quiet here, it was not anywhere near
as large as it is today. And it is a perfectly beautiful spot, very open, we're
completely free. We can come and go anywhere we want to whenever), whenever
_. There's also a wonderful nursing home here, lovely, we
had one right along, we have a new one.
G: I'd like to see her retirement -, ,- Well of course/there's Mount
B: Yes, and I have a sister-in aw who lives there and it's very well run, very well
managed, except that they have no one to prepare their meals. I should think it
would be very desirable. And a very fortunate thing for the people who are not,
are at that, are not supposed to have had the means to have gone into different
types of retirement I'm sure a lot of it is not true. In fact we had,-t.we ewes-
a-ot"ebai es came out here to live and she'd always lived well, and she stayed
here about a year and then she moved into the Presbyterian home in Riverside and
had quite a nice apartment and a maid who shopped for her and who cooked for her.
You don't do those things if you are supposed to be within the limits of the
amount of money that you have coming to you, just like Mount Carmen is the same
B: way, those are government subsidized buildings. The only thing here that the
government has any subsidy in is our nursing home, and I'm sorry it has that.
We have our first colored person living here.
G: I saw her#, she's sitting outside when I came in and I stopped and talked,_she
was just lovely.
B: A very nice woman. And that is because of our dcP,(_. interest in
our nursing home. Otherwise YV ,r"___ is mortgaged to Pennsylvania
B: We did have Dr. -f\o ___ as rabbi for many years, and when he was
replaced by Rabbi Lesterwitz a person I felt then was a real treasure, we
enjoyed his brilliant lectures. He was such a wonderful historian. And having
S________ came out to gf-r-oc '"CS c(S
on a couple occasions. People just fell in love with him. And he had some
classes in the evening which we, there were @ of us, attended an he would ..
G: Not, they were all not Jewish?
B: Not any of them Jewish, and they loved him. So we had Rabbi Greenstein coming
out a few weeks ago, and as it happened he was out of the city. So a rabbi from
was it Pewss=ee?
G: Yes, Rabbi Peros. .
B: Peros, did come and I just met him,'how do you do,' 'cause I couldn't stay, couldn't
stay for the afternoon because we were going to meet somebody somewhere at a
certain time, and he came just at that hour. But everybody enjoyed listening
to him so very, very much. We live here among people of all denominations.
G: How many Jewish people are out here?
B: Will Y1- c, a Margo Meyer and myself. And Mrs. Meyer is a perfectly
G: Who is she?
B: She came here with her husband nearly four years ago and he died. And she is from
B: New York. She is a magnificent woman, and thank goodness she lives in the
same hall, we are very good friends. And she is interested in so many things
out here and everybody loves here. So, she was very active or is very active
and if you'll come with me I'm going to show you some of the grounds.
G: Okay, I just wanted to ask you one more thing about Federation, you knowlwe
think of it as a Jewish community council. Way back when when it was organized,
do you remember anything about that?
B: No, but, no.
G: I mean during the war Alex Brest was telling me how they organized to bring
refugees. He was the head of a group that brought refugees over here.
B: No, I didn't know and probably .
G: When the Nazis were .
B: It probably was because I was either living in Birmingham during part of the
war or terribly busy working.
G: For Mr. Birneye
B: Not necessarily then, I worked for a year before that too, but I did work long
^ V0ocS. I worked from eight in the morning until six, except on
Saturday I used to get through about two-thirty after the last _
G: You know one thing I remember?
G: At Birney's, when I would come, there was always a table full of Jewish men, that
they saved this particular table.
B: Yes, Ben Stein.
G: Ben Stein and,,.
B" I'm just trying to think who the men were who always sat with him.
G: How many years ago was that?
B: Well, Mr. Birney, I worked there until, from '37 until '57 and then I used to go
in for about three years after that to help.
G: For 20 years you worked there.
B: I worked, I was there 20 years, and then I used to go in and help the girl who
couldn't keep up with the bookkeeping, helped her for a while and then Mr. Birney
G: But a lot of Jewish people used to come into Birney's
B: Yesthey did. I meet lots of people now downtown.
G: That remember you?
B: This past week I met Ann Greenbeyjwho has the store that was Long's. That's
the first time I have seen her and I have known her a number of years, and her
husband has been quite ill. And then I met him again last night when I was out
for supper with my son, and )4 I remembered howf Ann, the Ann part, I couldn't
remember the rest of it. I don't see very much of anyone because I'm not
physically able to go. I don't drive and t I don't even go into town unless
the children go with me,/cause I don't walk that well.
G: But Birney's was kind of the meeting place for the Jewish people downtown/
B: It certainly was, and, and many, many of the people speak of the beautiful food
G: Thank you very much,Bi e..