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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
Interviewee: Jack Becker
Interviewer: Sylvia Shorstein
June 13, 1988
S: [This is an interview with Jack Becker.] This is Sylvia
Shorstein at the home of Jack Becker, [859 S. Waterman Road,
in Jacksonville, Florida]. Today is June 13, 1988.
B: I was asked by Sylvia to give a small biographical sketch or
brief of my life and the life of my late, dear wife Sue--
when I came to this country, how I came here, when I was
born, and a little history of the early days. I will start
from the beginning.
I was born December 18, 1905, in a small village that was
100 percent Jewish. They were Jewish farmers. It was
called Kolonie in what is now Russia. It used to be in
Poland. My education in those days was like every other
Jewish child's. I went to heder [Jewish elementary school
where children are taught to read Hebrew] twelve to fourteen
hours a day. In the wintertime we walked deep in the mud
with a small lantern. But we did not complain. My father
used to wake me up at 5:00 in the morning to do some extra
studying. Later on we had a modern teacher, and I studied
[There was one particularly interesting episode in my
childhood. I was about eleven or eleven and a half years
old. There was no school good enough for me in the village,
so my father sent me to a big city nearby, Kobrin. Since he
was not able to pay for room and board, it was arranged that
I would eat every day in a different home, where the hostess
volunteered to feed me. That was common in those days among
yeshiva [school for advanced Talmudic study] students. It
was called "ess'n Teg."
Well, I was caught one day in a side street carrying a
Hebrew secular book that I had borrowed from the library.
It was reported to the head of the Yeshiva, since it was
considered a severe violation to read secular books. My
father was notified that I would be expelled if I did not
change my reading habits. My eldest sister had to come and
plead that I not be expelled. She promised that it would
never happen again. (I have violated that promise
occasionally.) My father sent a letter of appreciation to
the principal. World War I broke out soon afterwards, so I
went back home to my family.]
In 1915 the First World War got to our little village, and
we had to leave for a few weeks. The Germans occupied our
village until about 1918 or 1919. It was a very confused
world. The Bolsheviks, the communists, the Poles, and the
White Russians each claimed sovereignty over our area. We
managed to survive. Food was very scarce. Every able-
bodied man and woman had to work for the Germans.
Fortunately we were able to leave in December 1920, and I
came here in January 1921. I came six months ahead of my
family because I was already a boy of fourteen years old,
and they were drafting [boys my age] into the army [in
Poland]. So my parents remained in Poland, and I came on a
boat that was called Gotland [that sailed from Danzig,
Poland]. My older brother who came to this country in 1913
or 1914 met me at Ellis Island and took me directly to
Savannah, [Georgia] where he had a business. I had to start
to work immediately.
S: What was your brother's name?
B: My brother's name was Max. He was in the hardware business.
I had to go to work in order to support myself. I did go to
night school. I managed to receive a ten-dollar gold-piece
award by the Daughters of the American Revolution for an
essay that I wrote. I was quite proud of it. As is, I
never had a chance to attend a regular day school. I got a
job for seven dollars a week working from twelve to fifteen
hours a day in a pawnshop. I worked there for about two or
Then my father, who came six months after I arrived, got a
job as a shochet, which is a ritual slaughterer.
S: What was your father's name?
B: Mathis Becker, and my mother's name was Chaya Leah. I had
three sisters and two brothers in addition to the one that
was already here.
S: What were the names of your sisters and brothers?
B: My eldest sister was Shifra, the next one was Ruth, and then
there was Naomi and Pearl. Naomi and Pearl became
professional Hebrew teachers in the Jacksonville Jewish
Center. Only Naomi was teaching. Pearl went to New York to
study at the Jewish Theological Seminary [of America]. I
may be mixing up a little bit on the logical system, but I
do not have any of this written down. The way it comes in
my mind is the way I recall it.
S: Who was the oldest?
B: Sophie was the oldest in the family. Actually, Max who was
here [in America] was the oldest of the family.
S: Max was older than Sophie?
B: Yes. He had a hardware business in Savannah, Georgia.
S: What brought Max to this country?
B: That is a good question. An uncle of mine, Pinnie, left in
1912 or 1913, and he is the one that brought my oldest
brother, Max, to the United States. That is how we came to
My father got the new job in Jacksonville, Florida. A new
kosher market opened up by the name of Hemmerman. Safer's
was already an old, established kosher market, but, as
usual, there were so many dissatisfied customers. Dave
Kramer helped Mr. Hemmerman start a new kosher market, and
my father came from Savannah to be the shochet in
Jacksonville, Florida. My boss did not let me leave his
place of business, and I remained there two years by myself
in Savannah. I attended night school while I was there.
S: In what year did your dad come to Jacksonville?
B: My dad came to Jacksonville, I guess, in 1924 or 1925. They
lived right next to the old YMHA [Young Men's Hebrew
Association], at 728 West Duval Street, which was across the
street from the old synagogue that was on Jefferson and
S: B'nai Israel?
B: B'nai Israel, yes. That was the area where most of the
Jewish people lived.
Upon my arrival in Jacksonville, the first day I took a
short walk to see the area. I happened to walk into a pawn
shop ran by Harry Finkelstein on the corner of Bay and
Jefferson streets. Mr. Finkelstein came over to me and
asked me, "Who are you? What are you? When did you come?"
I told him who I was, and he asked me if I wanted a job. I
said yes. "Why not go to work now?" he asked. I said, "I
just came in from Savannah." "Never mind. Take off your
coat, and I will give you a job. You can start right now."
I started to work the same afternoon, before I had a chance
to know how to get back home.
I worked there for about two years in the hardware and
sporting goods department. Joe Becker was one of the people
that worked there.
At the end of two years, one of the co-workers, Mr. Sam
Bergman, and another friend [and I] decided to go into
business for ourselves. We opened a sporting goods store on
the corner of Julia and Adams [streets], where the First
Federal Bank is. We had a very good sporting [goods]
business. I was the inside man, and I taught them all how
to play golf, how to play tennis, and whatnot, although I
myself have never played any sports. However, it took more
time, and my two partners wanted to get rich quick. I told
them I was not going to join them on that particular
venture, so I sent out registered letters to all the
creditors and told them that as of that day I was no longer
associated with Duval Sporting Goods. That was the name of
the business. Within a year and two or three months they
went into bankruptcy after they had bought a great deal of
merchandise from various stores.
S: How old were you then, Jack?
B: That was in 1926, I think. [Mr. Becker was twenty-one.
S: That is when you left the sporting goods store?
B: That is when I left the sporting goods [business]. I was
looking around for a job. In the meantime, my father was
not feeling well, and he could not take care of the job that
he had. His boss was very harsh and kept him working day
and night. So he [my father] decided to open a kosher
market for himself. I, not having anything to do, promised
to help him for two or three or four weeks to get
established until I found my own business. Those two or
three weeks have turned into forty years, my entire life.
S: Was it 1926 that your father opened [his own store]?
B: No, my father opened the business in 1928. Excuse me. It
was October 1928. I still have a card that announced the
S: Where was the store?
B: That was across the street from Worman's bakery. It was at
209 Broad Street, next door to the Goodyear Tire Company.
We stayed there for forty years in the same place. Times
were very difficult during those years. 1929 and 1930 were
during the days of the crash. They used to come and cut off
my electricity every month because I did not have the money
to pay my electric bill. There was a time I needed one
single dollar, and I did not have it. A man that was in the
cattle business would not trust me for the dollar. I will
not mention his name.
S: Did you sell on credit? What happened when other people did
not have money?
B: Everything was on credit. A few people used to come in [to
the store]. We had three or four bicycles, and everything
was delivered. If anybody wanted a quarter pound of deli
lox for fifteen cents, we might have to deliver it way out
Hamilton Street or Talbot Avenue in Riverside, where the
rich people used to live. That was the kind of business we
had. It is hard to believe, but that was a fact of life.
We worked very hard.
In 1930 my father became extremely ill. He caught
tuberculosis while he was yet in Europe--he was the schochet
and mayor of the village--and he passed away January 3,
1931. I was left to pay all the bills. Those were the
days, in 1932 and 1933, when the banks failed and conditions
were very, very harsh. Every Monday morning I used to go
collect from the customers what they had bought during the
As hard as it was, I still managed during the week to go to
Jacksonville University, which was on Riverside and Roselle
streets, to study there. I met my late wife at the YMHA one
evening in 1930, I guess it was. We wanted to get married
in 1931, but after father died I could not afford to have
any kind of thought even about getting married. Then my
mother got sick, and she died the following year.
S: How old was she, Jack, when she died?
B: She was fifty-four years old. My father was fifty-eight
years old. When my mother died my wedding date was
postponed again. Finally, a man by the name of Joseph
Robin, who was the reverend in the center, insisted that we
get married and break the hard-luck cycle. So on August 3,
1933, we got married at the apartment of the late Rabbi
Morris Margolis. We hardly had a minyan [quorum for
conducting a Jewish public worship] at the wedding. After
the wedding, Sue went to her house and I went to my home.
Material conditions were very, very bad. However, we
managed. My sister helped in the store. Later on we took a
trip to the World's Fair in Chicago in 1933. We had a
little jalopy car, and we traveled by car. When we came
back she had a job with Brash Fendig Insurance Company. She
used to work there late at night. Then she worked at
Swindle-Powell furniture store as a bookkeeper. I used to
come at night to pick her up. That was in the early 1930s.
S: Was Sue's family from here?
B: No, Sue's whole family moved here from Brooks Park,
Pennsylvania. Their name was Balter. Her father's name was
Meyer Balter, and he was a jeweler. He had a store at Main
and Church [streets in Jacksonville]. Her mother's name was
Rosie. Sue was the middle daughter. Lena, who just died
recently, was the eldest sister. The youngest is Ida, who
is married to Sam Eff in Ocala. [She also has a brother
In those days there was a fellow by the name of Hertzenberg
who was in charge of the YMHA, and all the social life of
the city was in the YMHA. The old shul, the synagogue, was
across the street, and it had a small Hebrew school in the
cellar. There were very few children. [Reverend] Safer was
at that time the head of the community. It was not long
before we had Rabbi Benjamin. He came in and changed the
entire Jewish community of Jacksonville.
S: Where did he come from?
B: He was a rabbi somewhere in the Midwest.
S: Was he the first ordained rabbi that we had?
B: As far as I remember. There may have been one before that,
but I do not remember. He raised money, and we built a new
shul on 3rd and Silver streets. Harry Finkelstein was the
president. Some of the people are gone already.
S: Do you remember the year they built that?
B: I cannot think of the year.
S: Was it 1940?
B: Yes, because we moved this stone from 3rd and Silver streets
and put it into the present center. I think Nathan Krestul
knows the date.
S: Was it before the Second World War or after?
B: It was before the Second World War.
S: So it was before 1940.
B: Yes, it was before then. We had dances there often, and
basketball. The entire Jewish social life revolved around
there. There was Abe Newman, Harry Gendzier, and Phil Bork.
They were at the head of the Hebrew League, I think it was.
I was not accepted there because I was too liberal, too much
of a rebel, so I was not good enough, I presume. That was
the Jewish life.
There was the Zionist organization, but it was very weak.
There is nothing I can remember about any other organized
Jewish social activities in Jacksonville.
S: When did you and Sue become interested in Zionism, Jack?
B: I have been a Zionist all my life. When I was young, during
the Russian revolution in 1917, I was also a communist for
six months or a year, thinking that that was the panacea for
all men's ills. As I got a little older I realized that
that was wrong, and I have dedicated all my life [since] to
the Zionist organization, which I believe is the only way
that we can perpetuate the survival of the Jewish people.
That was in the 1930s.
Let me skip a few years. In 1945/1946 I took a year
sabbatical from my business and spent a year in New York
studying at the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia.
That was a great financial loss to me, but it was the
happiest year of my life up to this day. I enjoyed the
teachers at Columbia, and I enjoyed the teachers at the
Jewish Theological Seminary. I met some of my colleagues
there. [Rabbis] Abe Karp and Simcha Kling and some more
rabbis that I met recently remember me yet from Jewish
Then I came back to Jacksonville. I had papers to go to
Palestine in those days during the British Mandate, but
somehow, subconsciously or intuitively, I told my late wife,
"I do not want strangers to give me a visa to go to
Palestine." Sure enough. It did not take long. In the
spring of 1949, I guess, I got one of the first planes that
went from Europe to Palestine--it was a small Sabina two-
engine plane--and I saw Israel right after its birthday.
S: When was that?
B: That was in 1949. Food was very scarce, and conditions were
very severe. Wherever you went you saw signs about mokshims
([land] mines) all over. They were all over, and there were
signs not to go here and not to go there. I have visited
and spent time with those people that lived in the Ma Barote
in those tents, in those huts. They all complained to me
about their way of life, and they thought I could help them.
S: Who were these people living in these huts?
B: Those people came from all over the world, especially from
the Arab countries.
S: What language were they and you speaking so you could
B: We communicated with them in Yiddish. They could not speak
Hebrew, and I could speak a little, but not enough to
communicate with them. There were many Jews from Poland
that came from the [concentration] camps.
The situation in Israel, of course, was [David] Ben-Gurion
was the man that ruled the country [he was prime minister],
and the Mapai, a socialist group, had the complete charge of
the country. All the newcomers were urged to join the
Histadrut, the labor movement, in return they were promised
jobs. School children that came in from the Arab countries
with their payes [hair allowed to grow down the side of the
head] and their orthodox dress were persuaded to cut their
hair and change their clothes, and they were put into
kibbutzim that were conducted by the socialists, by the
Mapai, or by the Histadrut. This is how they tried to build
up a voting power in the country. There were not many
opposition parties then because it was still wartime.
S: Was Sue with you?
B: Oh, yes, Sue was with me.
S: Where did you live?
B: We lived on a little one-room apartment on the third floor.
We hardly had water because the pressure was so weak. There
was not much to eat except bread and soup from fruit,
meetzpayrot [fruit juice]. I went into a restaurant and
asked them what else they had, and they said they had
sardines. I said fine. They gave me one sardine and three
big slices of bread. [laughter] One man was so generous, a
friend of mine, that he took an egg that was destined for
his child, for his baby, and he gave it to me. I did not
know; I found out later. Eggs were rationed; there were no
There was a very interesting incident I remember. I was on
a bus going to town from a kibbutz, and a woman had a
chicken hidden under her apron. An Israeli policeman came
on to check the bus, because it was against the law to bring
them [chickens] from the country. When he found the chicken
and tried to take the woman off the bus, the entire bus got
a hold of the policeman and prevented him from doing it. He
said, "If I were a British [policeman] you would have more
respect. Just because I am Jewish, that is the way you
handle your officers." That left an impression on me. This
is the general respect that the Jew has for a Jewish
policeman now. After all, you are my cousin, you are my
brother. What right do you have to arrest me? That was one
of the very few incidents.
We did a lot of traveling. At that time there was no green
line. [The Green Line separates Israel from territory
acquired in the 1967 Six-Day War. Ed.] We did see many
Arab villages that had been destroyed. I guess the military
had destroyed the villages of those Arabs that had left the
country in order to discourage them from going back. It was
wartime. It is a sad story, but that happened. Most of the
Arabs left because they were promised that within two or
three days they could come back and inherit every building
that the Jews had built. Fortunately, it did not turn out
that way. Once they left, they could not come back anymore.
This is how the refugee camps started, ever since 1948.
S: How long did you and Sue stay that first trip?
B: We stayed about two months, I guess. We generally used to
go every other year. We used to take our vacation for two
or three months. We left the business under somebody else's
supervision, which was not the best way for business to be
conducted. When we were in Israel we always went to an
ulpan to study Hebrew. We enjoyed it, as usual. Sue and I
enjoyed the studies very much, and the travel.
Finally (to make a big jump), in 1980 we decided to have a
home in Jerusalem. The previous years we always spent the
summertime in Tel Aviv. But having spent a month or two in
Jerusalem, I decided that Jerusalem was for me, not Tel
Aviv. We found a very nice apartment and furnished it. We
had a very happy home.
Let us go back. When I went into the meat business, I did
not know one cut of meat from the other. I did not know
what a shoulder, a brisket, or whatever it is. We had a
Jewish butcher by the name of Lazarus. He was the butcher,
and I helped him. The chickens we killed in the rear of the
store, and we plucked them. We used to charge a nickel for
killing it and a nickel for picking it. Some rich women did
not want to spend the nickel for picking, and they picked it
themselves. So they had a cleaning job to do, but they had
the satisfaction that they did not give us a nickel for
cleaning the chicken. Later on we made progress. We
already had a machine for cold water only to pick the
chickens. That was later on in life.
We used to call the customers every day, in the afternoon,
and get their orders. At 6:00 every morning I was there
with the help, rain or shine. The orders left about 8:00 by
bicycle so the housewife would have it in time to kosher it
and cook it in time for 12:00 lunch. In the summertime I
used to get up early in the morning and go to the farmers
and buy the cattle from them. I would come back in time to
open the store at 6:00. We stayed open until about 8:00
[p.m.] generally during the week. Thursday we stayed open
until 10:00 or 11:00 [p.m.]. On Saturday night, after
shabbat [Jewish sabbath], we used to come back and open the
place of business. We cooked hot corned beef. We had
customers that used to come Saturday night to Becker's for
hot corned beef. Some of our customers had stores on Davis
Street, and they used to stay open until 12:00 at night. So
after they closed over there, then they used to come to us
to do their shopping.
S: Where did you live in those days? Did you live near the
B: No, we lived first at 126\ West 6th Street. At that time
Rabbi Margolis lived there, Nathan Shmunes lived there, and
some more people. Then we moved in to 1747 Pearl Street.
We lived upstairs from Oscar Margol. The Margols lived
downstairs, and we lived upstairs.
The meat that was sold was all on credit. Hardly anybody
ever paid cash for it. Those that had it paid for it.
Those that did not have it, I had to go back and collect.
S: Who slaughtered the cattle?
B: We had some white people and a couple of black men--when we
used to buy the cattle, they came on a great big truck; I
still have a picture of it displayed--and they used to
slaughter them in the woods. We used the forequarters when
it was kosher, and the hindquarters we used to sell. At
that time we used to buy a cow for eight dollars.
S: The whole cow was eight dollars?
B: The whole cow was seven, eight, ten dollars--it depended.
We used to sell whole barrels of boneless beef for twelve to
fifteen cents a pound. At that time on Bay and Broad
[streets] there used to be Armour Swift selling huge barrels
of boneless beef for ten to fifteen cents a pound.
S: Now, was this in the 1930s or later than that?
B: This was in the 1930s and early 1940s. Udel Goldman used to
come to us. He used to buy a cow and use our store for
boning it out and selling it.
S: Who was Udel Goldman?
B: Udel Goldman was the father of Joe and Sol Goldman.
Becker's Kosher Market generally was the main headquarters
for any Jewish activities. If anybody came from New York to
Jacksonville, they knew of only one station where they could
stop, and that was Becker's. We accepted everyone. All the
mishalochen (that means the collectors) used to always come
to us. I used to take time off from my business and go over
them from store to store to collect.
S: What were they collecting?
B: For various yeshivas, religious schools. I know some women
used to come in the store and tell me that their husband had
a weak heart, that I should not go in to see him because it
made him sick. So we did not. Very rich people had enough
real estate to be half a millionaire, anyhow. But they
would not let me go to see him.
S: Finkelstein's boarding house.
B: That was on Adams Street at that time. That was the
boarding house until That was before my day. When I
came it was already on the out, and he was an old man and
she was old. Begals took over. Begal had a kosher
restaurant, and every Jew used to congregate there and take
their meals there. He had his business on Forsythe Street
at Julia. Later they had one on Clay Street and Adams.
S: So Begal's was a restaurant, and you were mostly a meat
B: A kosher market, yes, and delicatessen.
S: Did you sell sandwiches?
B: Yes, we sold sandwiches, too. We had corned beef and
salami. I had one black man who worked for me. He started
for five dollars a week, which was the regular price. He
worked himself up to a hundred dollars a week, and he never
asked me once for a raise. I used to give him the key to
the store, which I hardly gave to anyone else. During the
time around 1948 when there were refugees [coming in] I gave
jobs to people whether I needed them or not until they were
able to find other jobs. Fortunately I can say that
everyone that worked with me during that time got to be my
best friends. I used to give jobs to those newcomers
whether I needed a man in the market and delicatessen [or
not]. As soon as they got a better job they left me, but at
first they knew they had something to hold on to. Thank God
all the people that worked for me are still alive and are my
best friends. There is a love, respect, and admiration that
is mutual among us.
S: Who were some of these people?
B: There was Ted Freeman, there was Joe Glick [and others] who
used to work for us. When they came over here they knew
they could get a job at Becker's. I have always received
every one with a pleasant face. I never showed any anger at
anyone, no matter how busy I was. I used to take time off
and go teach at the Jacksonville Jewish Center. There were
many days that I left the business and went to teach because
there was no Hebrew school. When I was president of the
Jacksonville Center .
S: When was that?
B: That was 1964 or 1965 or 1966. I used to leave my business
and go attend to the center business. I used to get home at
11:00 many, many nights. Sue used to complain that 11:00
was no time to eat supper. She suggested that I should take
a bed over there with me. But I always did my share, even
when I was president of the federation. At that time we had
no director, and I was acting as director, collector, and
S: What time was this, Jack? What was it called? The Jewish
B: Yes, the Jewish Community Council. I have so many plaques
in here from all over. When I was president of the
Jacksonville Jewish Center, Bill Goldberg was the executive
director, and he quit in the middle. I had to take his
place. Fortunately [things went well]. I remember we
reduced the deficit that year by $11,000.
I must say that my success was due to the good cooperation
of my chairmen. I had Luke Ansbarker Jordan, Ed Pressure,
and some others that did a marvelous job. That lasted until
I was fired, because I did not want to be president anymore.
Do you have anything else you want to ask?
S: Why did you want to go to Isreal?
B: That is some question. What Jew would not want to go, or
what Jew should not go there? After two thousand years,
when every pious Jew prayed three times a day every day,
"Help us to return to Jerusalem. May we see Zion," I meant
every word that I said. I really believe that there is no
other solution for the survival of the Jewish people unless
we have the state of Israel.
For two thousand years we survived because we had a goal.
The goal was to have an independent state, not so much to
build a temple and sacrifice animals, but where we could be
a majority and have Hebrew as our language, observe shabbat,
and observe the holidays. To me I cannot find any excuse
for any Jew that does not want to at least visit Israel.
What person would not want to see a phenomenon that happens
once in two thousand years? And not only once in two
thousand, but for thousands of years our people have been
out of their land, and we have gone back and built our own
language, our own ideology, our own culture, our own
literature, and have built it upon the foundation of the
old. How beautiful it is to take the old and renew it so it
becomes new and modern!
So I always wanted to go to Israel. I love my people, I
love my language, I love my history, not because I am a
chauvinist, but because I believe if everyone would respect
other people as much as I do, I am sure there would not be
any wars or any ill will in this world. When I go to Israel
I study Hebrew, because it is my language. I study history,
I study the entire building of the state of Israel, how
people have sacrificed their lives. [It is interesting to
learn about] what the Hagannah [Jewish Defense Forces] did,
what the Palmach [the elite first-assault force of the
Hagannah] did, what the Itzel [irgun Zzai leumi, the radical
right-wing underground force fighting the British, of which
Menachem Begin was a member. It later became the basis of
the current Likud Party in Israel.] did.
S: Do you belong to a synagogue in Israel?
B: In Israel I belong to the conservative synagogue. I am a
member of the board. I take active part in that. But over
there I cannot teach, because there are a hundred professors
for every individual Jew. So a man without a diploma--what
chance does he have to teach?
S: So you become a student.
B: Yes. I have always been a student there. I attended the
Hebrew University, and I studied at the ulpan. [An ulpan is
an intensive course in modern Hebrew for Israeli
immigrants.] Every night there is a lecture, whether in
Hebrew or English or whatever you want. There is no other
place in the world [where you can get that kind of an
In 1980 we bought the apartment in Jerusalem, and we were so
happy to have a home in Jerusalem.
S: Jack, what do you pay for an apartment, in general?
B: For my apartment I paid $70,000. That is more than it was
worth, but I love the place. It is near the shul; it is
within walking of the shul over there. We do not ride on
S: What kind of an apartment is it?
B: It has only one bedroom, one large room that is used as a
living and dining room, a big porch that I turned into a
bedroom, and a small kitchen and bath. We have a beautiful
view. We could see the Knesset [the Israeli parliament
building] from the building. From my windows I can see the
entire area of Beit B'Gun, which is built on a hill. I can
see the hills of Jerusalem, one of the greatest, most
pleasant visions in this world--Jerusalem, which is built
S: Do most of the people in your building also own their own
B: Yes, everyone owns their own apartment. There are fourteen
apartments in that building. Around the corner from me is a
business area where there is everything from a supermarket
for ready-made food, where you can get the best meal in town
all ready for you. There is a bakery and whatnot. The bus
is very accommodating; it comes every five or ten minutes.
As a senior citizen it costs me fifteen or twenty cents a
ride any time of the day. My apartment is within walking
distance from downtown. So there is so much to live for.
It is not far from the Vanleer academy, which is the
scientific academy of Israel. There are very good lectures
there practically every evening. Our synagogue--all
synagogues--hold four or five classes every day of the week
except Friday and Saturday.
S: What is the name of your synagogue?
B: It is called Moreshet Israel. It is the official branch of
the United Synagogues of America in Israel [the Mazorati
movement]. In fact, the rabbi in our congregation is paid
by the United Synagogues of America. There are activities
going on there [all the time], and it is all free. Many
tourists come in, and they do not have to pay anything.
S: It is free, but you pay dues, though, do you not?
B: I pay dues, yes. Then I also belong to a regular shul that
is an orthodox shul. I go there on Friday nights and for
mincha [the afternoon service]. I have a Talmud class in
Hebrew every shabbat afternoon, which is very enjoyable.
There are wonderful teachers over there. And that makes
life worthwhile in Jerusalem for men like me that do not
have any better sense. [laughter]
When I go into the supermarket I hear more English than
Hebrew there. There are many young Americans that have made
aliyah [immigrated to Israel] in our area, it seems like,
and they all go there to trade. Many times I serve as the
interpreter. The supermarket is very modern. It is not as
huge or as big as this one, but it is clean. It opens at
7:00 in the morning. I go there many mornings and get a
fresh roll in time to have my breakfast. I do not know how
manna tastes, but I know that tastes much better.
S: Jack, is that the supermarket that was bombed a few years
B: Yes, that was the supermarket that a few years ago a bomb
was found in. But we are used to those things.
Right now in Jerusalem there is no fear. People walk there
at 11:00 and 12:00 at night. Single women walk by
themselves--I have seen them at 11:00 and 12:00 at night--
without any fear. That is in West Jerusalem. In Tel Aviv
it is out of the question. People walk there [in
Jerusalem]. I do not have a car, and I do a lot of walking.
It feels so good to walk in the streets of Jerusalem, which
is the capital of the state of Israel. It is hard to
believe. Why I was worthy to live in that period of time to
enjoy the independent state of Israel after the destruction
of the temple two thousand years ago [I do not know]. So I
am a very happy and lucky man.
Sue fortunately has enjoyed the same values in life as I
did, and that made life so much more meaningful.
S: Who paid for the tickets for your family to go over to the
B: Let me tell you. As soon as I came here [Jacksonville], as
I told you before, I started work. I borrowed money in a
bank in Savannah, and I paid it out gradually from my meager
salary. I kept on paying until I paid off the tickets for
them [the rest of my family] to come here originally. Of
course, my brother Max was the one that guaranteed the
account, but I paid for it all. The same thing happened in
1931, when my father died. As bad as it was, I did not have
enough money to pay for the funeral expense. [I had to
borrow money to pay for my father's funeral.] It took me a
few years, but I paid off myself whatever funeral expense
there was. He belonged to the Beitshalom at that time. It
was an organization that I think Max Marcus and Dave Kramer
and Charlie Kroser were members of at that time. I think he
had four or five hundred dollars of insurance, and the rest
I paid off myself.
S: What was that organization?
B: I think it was Beitshalom.
S: What kind of an organization was it?
B: It was the parent organization of the late Progressive
S: Why was it formed?
B: It was a G'miliutchesed [acts of loving kindness] society.
G'miliutchesed were people to whom the bank would not loan
any money. They could go to that organization and borrow a
hundred or two hundred dollars with two signators without
interest. That went on for a long time in those days, when
many Jews had small stores and three or four hundred dollars
would buy a whole inventory. That was the job of the
Progressive Credit Union in those days.
S: It was primarily for businessmen?
B: Primarily for businessmen, yes. All he [my father] had was
four or five hundred dollars of insurance. It was very hard
going in my young days.
S: When did things start getting better?
B: When did things start getting better? That is a very good
question. I had learned to save every dollar [I could]. I
bought a piece of property on 11th Street and built a house
for myself. Jimmy Edelstein built it. Then I bought a lot
next door for $300 and built a four-unit apartment and
furnished it. Gradually from the rental that I saved up I
bought another apartment at 1780 San Marco Boulevard from
Jimmy Edelstein. In addition, as hard as we worked in the
store, we were also busy with furnishing apartments, the
with the moving in and moving out. Sue had to take care of
all the interior furnishings. We worked hard for every
penny, and we saved up.
Then I bought a piece of property on Riverside Avenue, next
to St. Vincent's Hospital. They later paid me more than
twice as much for the building, and a year or two later they
tore it down and made it into a parking lot.
S: When was this, Jack? What year are we talking about?
B: That was in the 1940s, I think. Then Max Rubin got me to be
a partner in a piece of property that he and my brother Max
bought. It was called Atlantic Mills. It was the first
discount store in the city or area of Jacksonville. We had
fifteen or twenty registers, and they were all so busy that
there were police officers directing traffic. That was the
best investment I ever had in my life, and that helped me to
get along. That is the answer to the question. That
changed my economic condition.
S: So you invested in land and in other businesses.
B: Yes. By the way, the first time we went to Israel, in 1949,
the first thing I did was buy a piece of land. The piece of
land at that time was in the desert, and I could not get to
it. But they told me that eventually it would be worth a
lot of money. Unfortunately, up to this day the city has
not given permission to build there, because it is right by
a small airport called Tsdei Dov. I have kept paying taxes
since 1949. The satisfaction that I owned a piece of land
in my own country was tremendous. I could have sold it many
times, but I did not want to. So this is part of my life.
Then in 1951 Mayer Gil came into our lives. That changed
our lives considerably. He gave us purpose; he gave us
life, a goal, values in life. We gave him, I think, the
best education that he could absorb. He was not the
academic type, but he was a very good child. He was always
the leader. He was president of the U.S.Y. [United
Synagogue Youth, the youth organization of United Synagogues
of America]. In the universities he was always president of
the student league or the senate. He now has a good
position in Chicago. To my regret, he is still single. I
am about to give up hope.
S: Don't do that!
B: "You must not do that." That is what Sylvia says. He is
thirty-seven or thirty-eight and still single. It is pretty
sad to live alone without any future wife. It is not a nice
way to end.
As a rule we always end on a happy note, so I hope you will
give me a question so I can give you a happy answer. To
finish on a happy note [let me discuss] our tradition.
One of the happy moments in my life was when I helped start
the Solomon Schechter Day School. Mrs. Goldbloom, the
rabbi's wife, and I went to many homes and pleaded with the
parents to send their children to the day school.
S: What year was this?
B: What year was that when Goldbloom was here? Do you
S: I think it was 1952.
B: Yes. We offered to pick them up in a bus, take them back
home, and give them lunch, all for ten dollars a month. The
parents told us they did not want to build a ghetto around
their children. They wanted them to be equal with the rest.
When I look at the Solomon Schechter Day School now I have
so much satisfaction. Thank God I had something to do with
it. I received a national recognition at that time. I was
asked to go to New York and receive an award for starting
Solomon Schechter Day School in Jacksonville, Florida. I
had a diploma here, but somebody came and borrowed it. I do
not know who it was. But that was one of the happy moments
in my life that I look back on [proudly]. When I come
shabbat morning and see two or three hundred children I just
thank God I am alive. When I sit in shul on shabbat morning
I feel I am part of the eternity of Israel.
Our Jacksonville Jewish Center certainly has made great
progress. Thanks to the rabbi, the cantor, and the lay
leadership, we have a solid Jewish foundation in
Jacksonville. All this is good. But the goal has to be
some aliyah to Israel. There is a saying in the Talmud that
the mitzvah of living in Israel equals all other mitzvahs,
because if Jews did not live in Israel there would not be an
So this is my pleasure. A day from now I am going back to
Jerusalem, going to the ocean of Jewish knowledge, of Jewish
history, of Jewish contemporary life. Thank God for that.
I will not mention anything that is sad. Shalom, and