The following comments were taped by Mr. Harry Gendzier in September of 1980.
It should be remembered that these comments have been dictated and, therefore, are
conversational in nature. No attempt has been made to change speech patterns,
correct pronunciations, or edit these comments.
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In order to understand how the Jewish Community Council arrived and came into being,
I will have to start with an introduction of what Jewish life consisted of when I
arrived in Jacksonville.
At the time there was a small Jewish population, there was no Southside to speak of,
there was Ahavath Chesed the Jewish Temple, and the B'nai Israel, an Orthodox
synagogue. Across the street from B'nai Israel was the YMHA/YWHA. This was the
latter part of 1917 and the beginning of 1918.
There were many organizations in existence at the time -- some have survived and
grown, others have passed on and been forgotten. The YMHA was used not only by
members of B'nai Israel, but by Temple members. In fact, in March 1918, when I
was editor of the first and only magazine ever published by a Jewish organization
in the city of Jacksonville, the officers of the Y had as its officers people from
the Temple and the synagogue. The Y was used principally for public meetings.
There were debating teams. There were cultural activities and a common meeting
ground for any who cared to participate.
Quite a number of"mushalachim" -- solicitors -- would come to Jacksonville and
raise money for different causes and it was quite a feat on their part when they
were successful because they kept at least 50% of the donations as a reward for
I enlisted in the army. Quite a number of my age either enlisted or were drafted,
and I was sent to France. I recall no anti-Semitism. I served as top sergeant in
,an outfit consisting of 600 men, all Christians, and never had a bit of difficulty.
In fact, after the armistice, my company was sent home but they had requested me to
stay in France for special duty. I have a sneaking suspicion that it was the start
of an organization similar to the CIA, because I was sent to an outfit that had
several thousand German prisoners of war whom we examined through an interpreter.
These people were a friendly group and later could never believe that these were the
same Germans that allowed Hitler to come into power and never contested the Holocaust.
I came back to the United States late July of 1919 and since I had come to Jackson-
ville to go to the University of Florida, I had changed my mind and took a position
as salesman in New York. While in Jacksonville, I had worked for Louis Panken who's
sister-in-law, Belle, attracted me and when Louis came to New York and asked me to
come back to Jacksonville, I was delighted.
Jewish life was carried on in a very, very friendly atmosphere. It may come as a
surprise when Temple members will hear this, that Rabbi Kaplan asked me to teach
Sunday School at the Temple and I accepted. During these years no one ever dreamed
of what would happen, nor could we foresee it. Lord Balfour had declared the entire
territory of Palestine and then later on, Great Britain reneged and cut off a vast
part of the territory and thus you had Jordan, the West Bank, Gaza Strip, stricken
from the original declaration.
ZOA was a small group at the time and you had Zionists and non-Zionists. I can say
that there was quite a bit of tranquility in the Jewish community. Certain indi-
viduals attended national conventions as time kept on. The Depression was horrify-
ing in Florida, because not only did we have the Depression, we also had the bursting
of the land boom and many of our wealthy Jewish citizens lost their patrimony in these
land deals. Despite this fact, Jewish life kept on.
B'nai B'rith was kept alive by Dave Davis, Jack Rosenberg and myself. The Jewish Center
built only part of the proposed synagogue which was to have been a complete religious
center. Some of the activities would be open to non-members of the Center. In fact,
the Jewish Center organized a young people's group and it was very successful. I can
prove it in my own family. The husband bar mitzvahed at the B'nai Israel, the wife a
member of the Temple, confirmed at the Temple, met and lived happily for 46 years.
Undoubtedly there were many more.
In 1935 we began to hear rumblings of Hitler. There was always a close working rela-
tionship between the Temple and the Jewish Center and the two Rabbis called a meeting of
various citizens in the community and thus, the Community Council was born. It will
amaze you to learn that the grand total of $3,000 was raised in the 1936-37 Campaign, in
spite of the fact that a worthy son of a worthy father, Morton Hirschberg, was President
of the Council. Alexander Brest was the following President and they reached the sum of
In 1939-1940, discussion took place about engaging an Executive Director. Dave Harris
pleaded since the top figure in 1940 was $21,000, they could not see how they could pay
the salary of the Director. Philip N. Coleman and David Lazaro were the prime movers
in getting Bill Boxerman appointed as Director. After all, I have served the community
for six decades, the Community Council for over four decades, and I am in a position I
feel to re-evaluate the services of each Director that we have.
It is unfortunate that under Bill Boxerman's direction he failed to see that it was
essential not to let little problems get in the way of big ones. It is to Bill Boxer-
man's credit that he organized the Women's Committee, that he organized the Public
Relations Committee. We actually studied Community Relations. We had textbooks and
some of our outstanding citizens, regardless of affiliation, were members of the Public
Relations Committee. They had quite a laugh one time because I came back from a
Convention and brought back an idea that was expressed at a national group, that a
Community Relations Council should be a fire prevention bureau, rather than a fire
department. We had during that same period a notification of the Community Chest, now
the United Way, that they would no longer support the Family Agency which at that time
consisted of a Secretary and lay personnel. A Committee was appointed and we worked
out a deal with the Community Chest to engage a professional provided the Council
supplied some of the money. We were very fortunate that the Kipnis family came to
Jacksonville, and that the Wolfson family had become quite successful.
When we heard about the Holocaust and there was nothing that we could do, some of our
most prominent Jews begged President Roosevelt to do something and he was very adamant
in his refusal, because Great Britain objected seriously to any intervention on his
part. President Roosevelt may go down in history for the many things that he had done
in legislation that is still meaningful today, but in my personal mind, he was a coward
and while all the Jews voted for him they never should have done so because while he
had professed a great deal of friendship for the Jews, it turned out that he was not
a friend of the Jews.
Suddenly it was thrust upon us when the war ended that great sums of money would be
required for Youth Alyah, for the survivors and for a little country that later became
Israel. It was not easy for these Jews to live in the Middle East because the Arabs
found every opportunity to kill Jews and Jewish settlements. The fact of the matter is
that had the Arabs accepted the partition plan, Israel would today have been a tiny,
tiny, little land. But they resisted and fought a war. I can recall with glee that
we wereiattending a United Synagogue Convention when Ben Gurion announced the State of
The community in Jacksonville took pride in the fact that the Wolfson Family and the
Kipnis Family jockeyed with one another not on how much to give, but how much more
one would give than the other. The truth of the matter is that one year money was so
badly needed that I was asked to come to a small meeting by Sam Wolfson. I was asked
whether a second drive could be successful. I was never a top giver, but always was
included in the top giver group. I said I thought it would. Sam Kipnis asked me how
much do you think we could raise? I said, based on the need, if we presented it pro-
perly we could actually raise more money than in the first drive. I am happy to be able
to publicly state that we beat our goal by over $100,000.
Many things took place before this. For instance, Belle and I individually had bought
land in.Israel from the American Zionist Commonwealth. We owned five dunans of land
together. The Jewish'National Fund asked us to donate the land which we happily
agreed to do. One gets .personal satisfaction in other deeds. When Denmark overnight
slipped 7,000 Jews from tenmark to Sweden, the Joint Distribution Committee could not
get money over there fast enough.
A man by the name of Blecher advanced most of the money with the aid of some of the
other residents in Sweden. And later, of course, was repaid by the Joint. It was my
privilege that soon after the war, through a friend, Mr. Blecher's two sons came to
visit us in Jacksonville. They buttered their bread as though it was cheese. They
hadn't had any butter during the war.
The Community Council had its ups and downs with Directors. As I pointed out before,
Bill Boxerman was the best and it was a sad commentary that I was asked to make a sever-
ance arrangement with him because he had gotten into a dispute with Rabbi Lefkowitz. To
give you an idea how closely the two synagogues were, I had the honor of representing the
Jewish Center at Rabbi Lefkowitz's installation as Rabbi.
I kept up our friendship with Rabbi Kaplan through the years. In 1946 River Garden
Home for the Aged was started by the Ladies Hebrew Sheltering Aid Society. For the
first time in history a Jewish person left her entire estate, fifty percent to the
Ladies Hebrew Sheltering Aid, 25% to the Jewish Center and 25% for causes in Israel.
The trustees were Leonard Moss, Ira Stein and myself. The portion for causes in Israel
received a request by me that we stick it away in a bank as a reserve. Also, not to
sell any of the property and let the corpus grow. We received requests from Hadassah
and other organizations like Technion, the Hebrew University, and because our record
of payments gave us surpluses and because our losses did not come up to the reserve set
for them, when the Hungarian situation came up, we had ample money to take care of the
Hungarian situation. All from this one bank account.
Mrs. B. S. Levy, a non-Jew, left part of her estate to the Jewish Community Council and
to the Family Agency. 'There was an urgent need for funds for Hillel and Morris Witten
wanted to go out on a drive. I suggested that we use the proceeds of the Levy Memorial
Fund for our donation yearly for Hillel. It was passed unanimously.
When River Garden was born in 1946 our needs were small. I attended a meeting in New
Orleans, Louisiana. The B'nai'B'rith home was going bankrupt. From this meeting there
developed a community support agreement plan. I presented this to the Council and the
Council undertook and passed unanimously a resolution to accept this accommodation.
Fortunately we never required the Council to meet its full commitment.
During this period bombs were planted at synagogues all over the south and the Jackson-
ville Jewish Center was no exception. Al Schneider who was Chairman of the Public
Relations Committee and I sat down and figured out that Nathan Perlmutter, who now is
head of the ADL, but at that time was posted in Miami, should be brought in.
Al Schneider and Nate Perlmutter never did receive the proper credit for the operation
that took place through the friendship of Mayor Hayden Burns and suddenly all the bomb-
The Community Council always had in mind soliciting young people and it is to the credit
of the community that many of these young people are now our leaders. They learned their
In 1967 I am proud that I announced that in order to celebrate my 50th year in Jackson-
ville, that I would accept the chairmanship of the drive. Little did I know that after
having started the drive in the fall of 1966 and was practically through with the drive,
that a war would break out with Israel.
I tried desperately calling a meeting together. I had received a phone call from New
York asking us to send representatives to a meeting. And again I called on Al Schneider
who dropped his law work, went to New York, attended the meeting and we immediately
dropped the Campaign and went out for emergency funds. Never in the history of Jackson-
ville were so many people cheerfully involved in the task.
A meeting was held in the Jacksonville Jewish Center and the largest sum of money ever
raised at any one time was raised that night. I must give credit to Al Schneider, Sam
Wolfson and Sam Kipnis for the splendid job they did. Little did I realize that I would
be repaid bountifully.
On Sunday evening, January 28, 1968 at the Jacksonville Jewish Center, sponsored by the
Jewish Community Council, the Jacksonville Jewish Center and River Garden Hebrew Home
for the Aged, a testimonial dinner in honor of Harry Gendzier was held. It was a lovely
affair and I was presented with a beautiful plaque, and I have dozens and dozens, and I
value that one most highly, a large silver plate and wonder of wonders, a trip to Israel
for Belle and myself. A couple with whom we have been friends since we were kids were
present and said they would go along with us. So we added a European trip on our own
and were thrilled. After all, I had written AWAKE OH ISRAEL in 1916. I saw a land that
thrilled me and brought happiness to us. In fact that trip was the forerunner of each
of our grandchildren being presented with a trip to Israel on graduation from high school.
Several of our grandchildren can speak Hebrew fluently and Israel means much to them.
The Community Council as I stated had many Directors. There is only one that can bear
comparison to Bill Boxerman. There is an aside to this. After I severed our relations
with Bill Boxerman, a friend of mine visited Stockton, California and went to visit the
Federation in Stockton, at which Bill Boxerman was the Executive Director. And hanging
on the wall was my picture which proved that there is no animosity in our relations.
Our present Director I believe will be able to continue in the same kind of spirit that
Bill Boxerman prevailed.
I must mention that we can be proud that now River Garden is part of the Federation.
Mr. Fine, who was Jack Benny's manager, came to River Garden one day with Jack Benny
and Lily Volotin was smart enough to call me. I lived nearby. And I was only supposed
to have 15 minutes. Jack spent close to two hours with Sidney Entman and myself and
was proud of the plans and he stated that if there had been a home with such warmth in
California, there never would have been a problem with his wife's mother. So, we were
preparing our 25th Anniversary. So we got in touch with Mr. Fine and said we wonder
whether Jack Benny would come and enjoy our 25th Anniversary with us. Now this can be a
credit to the spirit of the Council. Fine answered -- no, but I've got an idea. How
is the orchestra doing? I said it's flat on it's back. Fine said if you can get the
orchestra to invite Jack for a Saturday night performance, he'll perform for you on
Sunday night at your Anniversary.
Sidney called Ira Koeger and thus it was arranged and I hold in my hand a newspaper
clipping showing that it was announced that we had reached a total of 4 million,
9 hundred thousand dollars, helping orchestras thrive. One individual anonymously
bought another ticket so that Ira Koeger could announce that we had reached the 5
million dollar mark. And the following day, Jack Benny had a grand time with us
accompanied by Fine. Thus this is part of Council work.
The building of Mount Carmel is Council work. It is a disgrace that you have three
synagogues in the city of Jacksonville who by their own religious principles believe
in Kashruth and in spite of the fact that between the three there is a membership of
over a thousand families, they cannot support a Kosher butcher shop in the city of
Jacksonville. And thus it is to the credit of your present Director that Kosher
meals are now available. Let's hope that the plan will not be a temporary one. The
man who can eat anything can eat anywhere. But the Kosher person needs Kashruth and
I salute Jerry Goldsmith for this accomplishment.
There are many activities that have been proposed in the City of Jacksonville. I have
always believed that walls never build programs. Programs build walls. I have no
serious objection if a group of people want to subsidize a community center and pay
for it, just as River Garden was born and paid for it and then asked for an allocation.
That would be in order. But it is certainly out of order to use any dollars belonging
to the Community Council to put up a center. And I think they would be making the same
mistake that was made when Beauclerc made the announcement that it will bring all classes
of Jews together. I was a charter member of the Beauclerc Club and had to leave it at
doctor's orders. Do you wonder how in other cities you can't become a member of a club
or stay a member of a club unless you do your charitable duty to the community. It's
against the rules of the Beauclerc Club to ask for a donation. Had I remained there,
I would have fought desperately to void that resolution. I think that the Council
has grown and changing it to the Jacksonville Jewish Federation is a step in the right
Federation means Federation, and when I look at the list of those that are responsible
for its efforts I feel proud because one doesn't put that many years of service in
every direction for payment. One gets a thrill out of seeing what they have worked
for, thrive, grow and strengthen. The Community Council has served its purpose. Now
let the Jacksonville Jewish Federation continue doing on its own and be a true res-
ponsible body for the needs of all Jews in the community. Am Yisroel Chai. God bless
each and every one of you.