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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
JEWISH FEDERATION OF PALM BEACH COUNTY
INTERVIEWEE: Sylvia Lewis
INTERVIEWER: Evelyn Blum
DATE: November 21, 1981
B: Sylvia, would you please tell me when and where you were born?
L: Yes, Evelyn. I was born in Manhattan, New York City, November 24, 1919.
We lived in the West Bronx, for those who are not familiar with that area.
We lived on Woodycrest Avenue, Ogden Avenue.
I attended the public school system. The public school system at that time
was integrated. We lived in an all white neighborhood, but there were black
and Hispanic children attending school that I was attending.
B: When you say, we, how many in your family?
L: My mother, my father, bless his memory, one sister who lives in Stamford,
Connecticut. Her name is Rosalee Langrack.
B: And you lived in the Bronx, you say?
B: How long did you live there?
L: We lived in the Bronx from the time I was born until 1935. It was after the
depression. My father had been wiped out in the stock market.
B: What did your father do for a living?
L: He was in the jewelry business. He had always been in the jewelry business.
After the crash things were very tough. In 1935 he decided to go to St.
Petersburg, Florida, to open up a wholesale jewelry business to see how it
B: Why did he choose St. Petersburg?
L: I really don't remember too well except for the fact I think he had a friend
who had gone down there. The weather was very, very pleasant, and aside
from business, I think one of the reasons was getting away from the terrible
New York winters. We went to St. Petersburg.
B: Did the whole family move down in 1935?
L: Yes, 1935. We went down in November. I had attended a country high school
on 96th Street and 5th Avenue for September and October. Then I transferred.
It was one of the most difficult moves I ever had to make as a child. It
happened that I was, if I must say so, a good student. And when I took the
entrance examination for Hunter, there were 432 girls, and I came out the
highest on the exam. So it was quite a wrench for me to leave Hunter and to
to to St. Petersburg High School.
There were very, very few Jewish boys and girls in the school -- in fact
there was a very small Jewish community in St. Petersburg. If I remember
correctly, they did have two temples: a reform temple and a conservative
synagogue, but there was a very small amount of teenage boys and girls. My
father did not like me to date anyone who was not Jewish. I remember one
particular night I had gone to a basketball game. The whole group of us
came home, dropped me off, and my father was waiting on the doorstep. And
it happened the youths in the car were not Jewish. I got quite a bawling
out for it.
However, we did have a small group of Jews. Irving Cypen who is now Judge
Irving Cypen in Miami Beach, his wife who was Hazel Abrams, Arnold Jacobs --
I can remember quite a number of the names. I have kept in contact with
Hazel and Irving. As a matter of fact we were all supposed to be at our
40th high school reunion a few years ago. There was also Jenny Sierkese
and Frank Kleinfeld, -- I can't remember too many of the other names. It
was a very small group but we were pretty friendly and we dated. We didn't
date individually. We dated in groups. I don't know if the youths today do
this or not, but we did. We were very comfortable.
B: How old were you at that time?
L: Fifteen, sixteen. Something like that. And as far as my religious upbring-
ing, we knew each holiday we were Jews. Although my grandmother, bless her
memory, was Orthodox, and I would go with her to her little shul where the
women sat upstairs, none of her children observed. We were Jewish. We
observed holidays. We went to grandma's on Friday night for Friday night
dinner. The male children wore yarmulkes, and we didn't smoke in her house.
She knew exactly where you were going when you said, "Mama, I want to go for
a walk after dinner". She knew the children were going out to smoke. But
out of respect for her -- we knew we were Jewish, and we had a feeling for
Jewishness. We didn't really realize that we were different. I didn't
realize I was different until I went for my first job interview. That comes
later because that took place in New York.
B: Sylvia, did you graduate from high school in St. Petersburg?
L: Yes, I did. The class of '36, 1936. And there were four Jewish boys and
girls in that class of about 320. After that my father wanted me to go to
St. Petersburg Junior College.
Junior Colleges back then were extensions of high school. I, being a good
student, felt it would be a waste of time for me to go there, and I wanted
to go to Duke University. I was interested in journalism and Duke at that
time had an excellent school of journalism. However, my father felt that he
could not afford to send me, even though I said I would wait tables, scrub
floors, anything, daddy, just to go to Duke University. But he said
I had saved some money. I would work for my father. He had a jewelry shop
in Ocean City, New Jersey during the summers, when we came up from Florida.
B: In other words, during the summer your entire family left the south and went
back up north?
_L: Right. Very few of the snowbirds stayed down all year round at that time.
I had saved some money, and I made this deal with my father. I said I would
pay for going to business college if he would pay for room and board at his
sister's house who had said she would be willing to have me stay there. He
agreed to this. I was delighted because my Aunt Esther's daughter Rosiland,
who played the original role of Rosey on "The Goldbergs" on the radio, lived
a very exciting life. She was in the theatrical world. As a matter of fact,
if I hadn't gotten the chicken pox when I did, who knows? I might have been
Rosey too, because we both went to the children's school of dramatic arts,
and we were both going to the tryouts, but I had the chicken pox. Who knows
what might have happened?
Anyway, I stayed at my aunt's house for the fourteen months, and went to
Packard Business College. I remember graduating from the school in the early
part of 1938, and being told by the dean not to lower the standards of Packard
and accept a position for less than $15 a week!
B: Sylvia, at that time, were your grandparents alive? Were they living in the
L: My mother's parents, my grandfather who had come from Germany had died when I
was three years old. His name was Elias Stock. He had been married Previously
to my grandmother, my mother's mother, and had five children.
After his wife died,he sent back to Germany and a little serving girl, my
grandmother, Joanna, was sent over. She was seventeen when he married her.
B: Was she Jewish?
L: Yes. Her name was Joanna Mendell. And interestingly enough -- I was able to
check back and find out that her parents' names were Leo and Rachel Mendell.
So I can go back to great grandparents on that particular side. Anyway,
grandma got married. She was seventeen, and her oldest stepdaughter was
sixteen. She produced five more children, so there were ten children on my
mother's side of the family. My grandfather, as I mentioned, died when I was
three. I don't remember him at all except the picture of a very, very stern
type of Wilhelm type of person with a beard, stern eyes. I remember hearing
stories that all he had to do was look at you with those eyes and you stopped
whatever you were doing.
I don't remember my father's parents at all. The grandfather was Mendel Falk.
The grandmother Molly Falk was a very, very little old lady who stayed up in
the mountains some place. I don't remember that part at all too well. My
mother's mother, Grandma Stock, is the one I remember having the greatest
influence on me. I loved her dearly. We all loved her. There were six
grandchildren and she never showed favoritism. We were all her favorites.
We could always go to grandma with any problem we had. I remember one time
when we lived in the Bronx, we lived about ten blocks away from her. She
lived on Featherbed Lane. Very interestingly, this had been an area that
had been used in the Revolutionary War and the women during the Revolutionary
War threw out featherbeds so that the soldiers could sleep on them.
Grandma lived in a house on Featherbed Lane. Mother and I had an argument,
and I ran away from home, and I ran to grandma. She took me around. She
was a little short tubbish lady, with a lovely bosom to rest your head on.
She said that everything would work out well, and she comforted me and I
was never going to go home.
I think the reason I ran away was that I didn't do the shopping right. At
that time you didn't have supermarkets. You went to the grocery store, and
you went to the vegetable market, and you went to the bakery, so you had to
go to four or five places. Somehow or other I guess I missed one, and my
mother was angry and that's why I ran away.
Anyway, grandma called my mother up. My mother came over, and we made our
peace. But it's just a little incident we remember in life, I guess. She
was a lovely, lovely lady. She observed everything. I remember particularly
one expression that she used and it's very true today. It's as true today as
it was then. She said one mother can take care of ten children, but ten
children can't take care of one mother. And it held true in our family.
There were (at that time I guess some of the older children had died) six
children left, and my mother was the baby of the family. Maybe this is why
she was much closer. If my grandmother needed anything and if my mother
didn't have the money she would take her engagement ring and pawn it, give
mama the money, and the next time she had money she got her ring out.
My Grandmother Stock was a lady that I would never forget, that none of us
would forget. It wasn't a Judaic influence that she had on us, it was a
human influence. She had a little pushke, a little blue box I remember,
and when the man with the beard came around every week, the box was full.
She might have had a roll and coffee instead of an egg, but she put the
money into the box for the people of Zion. She was a lovely lady and a
lady who will never be forgotten. I get emotional about it. I think we
all do when we think back to people who had a very deep influence on us in
life and fortunately, I think my mother inherited her feelings, and her
B: When you lived in the city with your aunt, did you see your grandmother
L: Grandma started going down to St. Petersburg in the wintertime with my mother
and father and my sister. When she was in the city I did go to see her, on
Grandma passed away in 1942 which was the year after I was married, but while
I was going to business school I did see her. As I grew older still I con-
tinued to feel her influence, as I feel it today in many, many things. But
getting back to business school, I mentioned previously that we were told not
to accept a position for less than $15.00. I walked the streets of New York
for three weeks. There were no $15.00 jobs available in those days for some-
body fresh out of school without any experience. I did go to one employment
agency who had a marvelous job in a florist shop on 5th Avenue. I filled out
the application. At that time, as many of us did when it came to religion
which was on the form, we wrote Hebrew. And when she saw Hebrew she looked
at me and she said, "Would you mind writing Christian Scientist"? And I
said, "Why"? "And she said, "Well, they won't employ a Jew". I said, "No,
I'm very sorry but I am of the Jewish faith and I couldn't accept the job".
And that was my first real personal incident of discrimination, prejudice or
what have you. Finally, I did get a job for $8.00 a week at a textile
company where I learned more in the first two weeks than I did in the pre-
vious fourteen months of taking my business training. I stayed with them
and then I went to Revlon. I stayed with Revlon in a loft on 45th Street
until the year after I was married.
B: Where did you meet your husband?
L: It was a blind date. A friend of mine was going with his cousin and she
asked me if I would like to go out. I said, yes. As a matter of fact I
met his cousin and him that night. I preferred his cousin. But it turned
out we went together for about a year, and became engaged. He came from
Toronto, Canada. He had been born in the United States and was allowed at
the age of eighteen to select his citizenship, and he chose American citizen-
We lived in Elmhurst, Long Island.
B: How old were you when you got married?
L: Twenty-two, and Shep was a year older. His mother had been an American who
married a Canadian, so she became Canadian. Her parents were from England
and Tillie Lewis's parents were from England, and my father-in-law's parents
were from Russia. Louis and Deborah Lebinsky.
I became ill and I came down to visit my mother and father who by this time
were in West Palm Beach.
B: They had given up their business in St. Petersburg?
L: They had given the business up and moved over to the east coast, opened a
shop on Clematis Street called the Jewel Box.
B: Was there any particular reason that they came to West Palm Beach?
L: My father, in his business as a wholesale jeweler had traveled, the state,
and he liked it here very much.
Incidentally, he found a very good group of poker players including O.P.
Gruner and Jake Rubin, I think Cy Argintar, the established Jewish Community.
Those people had been here for quite awhile, and I'm sure they were the
My mother and father had a little cottage on Okeechobee Road where the Florida
Power and Light Company is now, between Dixie and Olive. I came down to get
rid of my ear ache. I was down here for three weeks, loved it. I really loved
it, and I went back and told my husband I had sand in my shoes. So we decided
to come down here. My father was going to open a shop in Fort Lauderdale and
Shep and I were going to manage the shop on Clematis Street, which we did,
B: I thought they didn't welcome Jews in Fort Lauderdale.
L: They didn't. It took my mother and father six months to find an apartment.
They also were getting a story. At that time, when you applied for an
apartment you had to tell your religion. They were also asked to please
change their religion. People would like to have them as tenants, but they
were sure the other tenants wouldn't like them. But they didn't have to
change their religion. They persevered, and they found a place. And my
father had a shop ,on Las Olas Boulevard.
I remember one time going down during a hurricane. Some aunts and uncles
had come down here and I was driving them down to Fort Lauderdale. And I
didn't realize until the next day that I had driven through a hurricane.
It was pretty wild. We just came down for the season.
B: To help your father?
L: In '42 and '43.
I became pregnant, Jeffrey and Mark, our twin sons were born July 4th, 1944.
They were born in New York because we had gone back to work in the shop in
At that time as I remember West Palm Beach was definitely snowbird territory.
The town emptied out. The shops were kept open probably until May and then
the shopkeepers went up north, back home.
I also remember Wednesday afternoons every shop on Clematis Street was closed,
and we all went over to the beach and the clubs. We were not open at night
except during Christmas. It was a very relaxed way of doing business. It
was very, very lovely.
So here we are. We're up to 1944.
B: Were you living in New York in '44?
L: Shep and I still had the apartment in Elmhurst, but I was staying in my
mother and father's apartment on West End Avenue. The children were pre-
mature, which was fortunate that I was with my mother. We came down the
following year with the little babies, and we rented a house on South
Lakeside Court that belonged to Benny Pepper.
B: Another old timer?
He had an apartment in the back, and we had the big, big house up front. It
was one of those old Mizner homes, very nice. I remember sitting outside
with the boys in their playpen. I saw this one lady who walked down South
Lakeside Court every morning and we'd nod to each other. She was wheeling a
baby about six months older than mine. One day I happened to be on the
sidewalk, and I started talking to her. Her name was Florence Faber. We
had no way of knowing whether she was Jewish. I was Jewish, and we started
to talk, and we struck up a friendship then with Florence and Harry Faber.
I remember the day that Franklin Roosevelt died, I was sitting outside on
the patio and I had the little radio on and I remember my feelings then.
That was in April, 1945. Being interviewed this way, your thoughts just
tumble one after the other.
B: In the time that you lived here until now, what has happened in the community?
How has it changed?
L: Oh, my goodness. It would take a whole other tape to discuss that.
B: Sylvia, I know you have small children, but did you become involved in any
community work at that time?
L: Not at that time, Evelyn. As I say, we were here just for the winter from
probably the end of October until the beginning of May, and then we went
back up north. I was not part of the Jewish community.
There was Florence Faber and I remember my father took us to a Seder at a
restaurant. I think it was called Casablanca on North County Road. Temple
Israel was having a Seder there. I remember going there and meeting a lot
of nice people.
I was busy with the little babies and helping my husband in the store, so I
really didn't become involved until we moved back here permanently.
B: And what year was that?
L: That was the year of 1947, when we decided to make this our home. In the
interim, the two and a half years between, we had gone up to Toronto to live.
Shep's father was in business and needed him up there, so we were continually
running back and forth between fathers and businesses.
B: Were you able to make a living wherever you went?
L: Yes. I would say it wasn't a tremendously wealthy living. It was comfort-
able enough that we lived on what we made. We raised our children.
B: How many children do you have, Sylvia?
L: Four. There are Jeffrey and Mark, the oldest ones who are thirty-seven,
Randy who is thirty-three and JoAnn who is twenty-seven. Randy and JoAnn
were both born in St. Mary's hospital in West Palm Beach.
We had a rather interesting.life. It was never dull or monotonous, but
never too great an exposure to the Jewish communal life; My husband had
been brought up and trained to be a rabbi. His grandfather founded the first
orthodox synogogue in Toronto, Canada. Shepherd never played football, never
played baseball. He went to heder every day after school, and left Toronto
at the age of seventeen because of the anti-Semitism there. Unfortunately,
not being able to get a job, he went to New York and lived with his sister
in Brooklyn. So it's a long way around to remininisce about anti-Semitism.
As I say, I had never been exposed to it until the prejudicial job hunting
B: Shepard, as I remember was a handsome young man who certainly, I would think,
would be able to get a job any place.
L: Yes. There was never any problem, you know,with getting jobs, but the idea
was you wanted to set down roots, particularly when you have a family.
We did decide, when my father wanted to sell the business here, that we would
buy the business from him, and this would be our home. The old Jewel Box had
been on Clematis Street right next to a hotel. Where Walgreen's Drugstore is
now, there had been a hotel.
B: You say there used to be a hotel where Walgreen's is now?
L: Yes, there was a hotel on that corner.
B: Do you remember the name of it?
L: I don't.
B: When did they knock that down?
L: I'm not good on dates. You'd have to figure that my father had the store
during the war years, '41, '42. They must have torn that down probably
about '44, because then he moved to where Lerner's was. There were two
little stores, one was called the Shoe Box and one was called the Jewel Box
on either side of Lerner's which, of course, is not Lerner's.any more. And
there's no Shoe Box or Jewel Box any more.
But It was a good living, and the town was full of soldiers.. I know some of
the younger Jewish women in the community were very active with the U.S.O.
and I'm sure they will talk about that. I was not involved in that.
My first commitment to Jewish life in West Palm Beach was in 1950. Jeffrey
and Mark were six years old, we lived on Linda Lane. They wanted to know
why Sunday mornings all the children on Linda Lane went to Sunday School and
they didn't. It happened that we were the only Jewish family on Linda Lane.
With that, I picked myself up, I went down to Temple Beth El on Fern Street,
spoke to Rabbi Greenstein and told him I would like to enroll my children in
Sunday School. The fact that they didn't have enough teachers was going to
keep them back from being enrolled, so we made a deal. I said I would
become a teacher. And my background, I have to confess, was not a very broad
The rabbi said to me, "I will teach you, and you will keep one week ahead of
the children". And this was my introduction to formalized Jewish learning
and I became a Sunday School teacher. As I became involved with that I
became involved with Sisterhood, I became involved in Hadassah, I became
involved in B'nai B'rith Women, and it just grew and grew and grew and grew.
So I really have to thank my children Jeffrey and Mark for my involvement
into Jewish life.
B: I remember coming down, and being greatly influenced by you and working for
B'nai B'rith Women. I think it became your choice of the organization that
was your favorite, if I may say that?
L: Yes. Actually, my first women's Jewish involvement after Temple Beth El
Sisterhood was in Hadassah. And I became involved in that through Ruth
Manalan, may her soul rest in peace. Ruth and I were neighbors and we were
car-pooling our children to nursery school. We became very friendly and
close, and Ruth had been the secretary for Hadassah and had suggested my
name to take the term the following year. I knew very little about B'nai
B'rith Women at that time except that one day I got a call from a friend of
mine, Mildred Moss, who asked me if I would like to go to a B'nai B'rith
Women's meeting at Temple Beth El. It was going to be really exciting
because the president was going to resign, Nicky Wilson.
I went to that meeting as a non-member, I came out as the secretary.
B: I'm asking you how you became involved in B'nai B'rith Women because it was
because of you that I became involved and I wanted to know who influenced you?
L: Well, as I said, I had gone into the first meeting as a non-member and came
out as a member and secretary. You must remember, Evelyn, at that time, 1951,
the Temple Sisterhood, Hadassah and B'nai B'rith Women were the only Jewish
Women's organizations here. We had a small handful of women who worked in
everything really. You could do this because you had enough nights for
meetings, days for meetings. And I found my work in Hadassah was very grat-
ifying to me. My work in the sisterhood was very gratifyingito me, but in
B'nai B'rith Women I saw a challenge because it encompassed so many different
facets of Jewish life and the Jewish world reaching far beyond our own com-
munity. And I think that is why I really fell in love with B'nai B'rith
Women and have stayed in it.
I've gone through all the chairs in B'nai B'rith Women, and have been State
Federation president. I've been on the district level, I'm 6n the south
coastal regional level now. I think that some of us may take a sabbatical at
times because of the changes in our lives. I know I had to, after Shep died
in 1966. I had to kind of restructure my life, being left with four children.
He had always been so very wonderful and remarkable asia husband in allowing
me to do the work that I did for organizations, in staying home with the
children when I went to meetings, out of town, conventions and so on and so
forth. I really had to restructure, but I've always had this very deep love
in my heart for B'nai B'rith Women and I guess that's why I've stayed in it.
Meanwhile, of course, the community has grown so. I think we have fifty-four
or fifty-five Jewish Women's organizations now. I try to support as much as
I can by membership. If I can't do the work, at least I support them with
my membership. I do believe that every Jewish Women's organization -- every
Jewish organization has a purpose to serve. Because of time limitations and
financial limitations sometimes you can't do it all, but I think we should
all try to do as much as we can and sometimes even a little more than we
B: Sylvia, I know you've done a great deal through B'nai B'rith Women for the
entire community including the non-Jewish community. I know that you've
been active, but could you tell me how you became involved with the non-
Jewish community? I know you've been a first in many projects. Could you
tell us some of the projects that are very close to you where you have been
recognized as leader?
L: The fact that B'nai B'rith Women had an Interfaith and Brotherhood program,
I believe is where I became interested in the outside community. Recognizing
the fact that the cause of Jewry, the problems that we faced, are not really
known to the non-Jewish community, that by becoming active in the outside
community we could share with them our concerns, and we could share their
concerns with us because so many of our concerns are mutual.
As I'm thinking back, my first concern for the black community was when we
lived on Linda Lane. Shep and I had one car and he would take the car to
work, and when I was ready to leave I would take the bus down. And one day
in 1950, I got on the bus and I heard the bus driver say to someone, "Nigger,
sit to the back", as I was walking towards the middle of the bus. And it was
an elderly black lady sitting, and I said to her, "Sit where you are. I'll
walk to the back". And the bus driver stopped the bus, and refused to move
unless she moved to the back, and I took her seat.
It was a case of standoff, and I was called damn Yankee, and "Go back home
Yankee", and so forth. And I was so furious, so angrylbecause remembering
that I had come from New York City where anybody could sit anywhere they
wanted on a train or a bus or a trolley car, I was not used to this. I felt
that something had to be done. I didn't know what I could do.
Through B'nai B'rith Women and their brotherhood program, which we presented
to the Florida Council on Human Relations, which was an offshoot of the
Southern Regional Council out of Atlanta, we presentediprograms to them.
We had, "Dolls for Democracy" Program, the "Rumor Clinic", and I became
interested in the Council, the first integrated organization of its type in
Palm Beach County. We met at the County Commission chambers. We were quasi-
official I guess you might say. Maybe we were a forerunner or the Community
Relations Committee that the city has not, I don't know. I became friendly
with a very, very activist type of woman, an articulate woman, Harriet
Glasner. Through Harriet, through people I met in the Council, I became
interested in the Civil Rights Movement.
I became president of the Council on Human Relations. I was president for
two years. We played a great role in keeping our community peaceful through
cooperation with the management of department stores ahd restaurants, when
the year before the civil rights law came into effect, we integrated the
lunch counters. A black person and a white person would go in together, and
sit down, after consultation with management. We were active in desegregat-
ing the Jai Alai, and the Palm Beach Kennel Club where blacks always had a
It gave me a very, very good feeling because I had always felt that the rights
that I enjoyed must be given to every other human being. If it sounds like
preaching, consider it preaching, but this is my own feeling. I just felt
that it was so wrong for human beings to be treated differently because of
their color or because of their religion. Maybe because I believe in the
ethics of Judaism, (I am not a formalized Jew as far as religious observance
goes), but I believe in the ethics. And I do feel that everyone is our
brother, and what we want for ourselves, we must want for our brothers. So,
if this is a little rambling, and long-going, it is difficult sometimes to
express what's in your heart as well as your mind.
Whatever I have done, believe me, Evelyn, like you, we have gotten much more
from it, I believe. It has helped to make us much better people.
B: Sylvia, did your children ever experience anti-Semitism in school?
L: Yes. Jeffrey and Mark played basketball and on the basketball court they
were called dirty Jews. They handled it their own way, and they did personal
fouls on whoever called them a dirty Jew. They were never called dirty Jews
again. I think that's about the only incident that I really can remember,
you know, that stays vividly in my mind.
B: Did you ever find it in your business?
L: Yes, there was an incident later on in the years we had shops on Worth Avenue
and Shep had become very friendly with one of his customers. As a matter of
fact he was one of the ushers at the man's wedding. A gentleman -- I call
him a gentleman advisedly -- came in one day, talking to Shep and said, "I've
got to buy my wife a birthday present. I think I'll buy her a car. Don't
know what to buy her though because we have a Jaguar, we have a Rolls Royce".
I piped up, "The new Cadillacs are very nice". And he said, "Oh, no. I
wouldn't buy a Jew car like that". And my husband sent me this pleading
look over the counter. I said, "Well, isn't that funny, Ted. We don't have
a Cadillac". That was the end of him as a customer, of course.
That's an incident I remember. I'm sure there were others but nothing that
we couldn't handle in the proper way. Shepard and I never lost our temper in
hearing anti-Semitic remarks. We corrected them and we pointed out very
clearly that we were of the Jewish faith. And people would say, you know, I
didn't mean it that way. I don't really remember anything personally directed
against us. But whatever is directed against Jews is directed against me
personally. And therefore, through B'nai B'rith Women I became active in the
Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. That was where I felt that I was
fighting for the rights of all Jews, not to be deprived, not to be slandered,
not to be discriminated against on a broad basis.
B: What do you find since we have such an influx of Jewish people? We never
dreamed we'd have such an influx of Jewish people. Do you find that there's
been a rise in anti-Semitism in the area?
L: Evelyn, I think you will remember along with me, and we go back thirteen,
fourteen years ago, when Century Village of West Palm Beach came into being.
And there was a very large in-gathering of Jewish people at Century Village.
There seemed to be a rising surge of anti-Semitism. The A.D.L. office was
getting tremendous amounts of calls about prejudicial remarks, and discrim-
inatory actions. At The Jewish Federation the Community Relations Committee
was getting a lot of calls. I remember very well a meeting that was held
at Temple Beth El, their representative from Century Village, Hank Grossman,
was at that meeting. Arthur Teitelbaum came up from A.D.L. in Miami, the
representative from the American Jewish Committee came up from Miami, and
representatives of the Federation. It was decided that there would be a
learning experience, a teaching experience. And a committee was formed to
go to the supermarkets where the discrimination remarks were being bandied
about, and to go to merchants at the Palm Beach Mall which would never have
existed if it hadn't been for the people coming from Century Village. There
seemed to be an outward growth of anti-Semitism -- anti-Semitic letters to
the newspaper. I think though, as I remarked to one person, if 10,000
Chinese had come into the community or 10,000 Italians or 10,000 Irish had
come into the community and settled in one place, you would have had a
similar kind of feeling, but it was anti-Semitic because they were Jews.
I think that the community had simmered down. I think the community recog-
nized the contributions that the Jewish community and particularly the people
in the retirement areas have given to this community in the school system, in
the health system, in hospitals, in any facet of volunteer life, I think we
have a tremendously effective volunteerism amongst our so-called retired
citizens who came down to retire but they haven't.
B: Sylvia, since you were always active in community work, did you ever think of
running for political office?
B: Do you know of any Jewish people in our area that did become politically
involved or wereall the Jewish people kind of low key?
L: No, I really don't think so. I tell you truthfully, when it comes to politics,
I really never felt I wanted to go into that field. I know we've had rep-
resentatives like Carol Roberts, Mike Hyman. The first Jew to be a mayor
was Mayor Mendal back in the 1920's.
I know we have had people try out for political positions. I'm sure there
are others, but I've never really been too interested iin the political scene,
although I think it's very advisable to be very good friends with politicians
and be able to go to them. I think we have had some very good non-Jewish
representatives on the political scene to whom we could go. Stella Monchick
I know had been very active in the political scene.
Where I became involved in the political scene was in the presidential cam-
B: Which presidential campaigns?
L: The McGovern campaign.
It was interesting because you would find that going from the Council of
Human Relations to a meeting at one of the offices, democratic offices,
let's say, you'd see the same people there that you would see at the protest
against the Viet Nam War. And you would see friends from the Quaker Society.
And we became, I think during the McGovern period, a very pacifist group on
the political scene. And I think we carried some weight.
B: How do you feel about Israel? Do you have strong feelings about pacifism?
L: I have the strongest feelings towards Israel at this stage of my life than
I have ever had. We hear Israel being discussed from the terms of, "Well,
I'm not a Zionist". Now, the term Zionism really has changed in the last
thirty or forty years. I think from the year 1948 it started to change. I
think Israel is a dream come true. Israel has the only democracy in the
middle east. Israel as a country, as a people that have existed -- I mean,
when you think about it, Evelyn, you get goose bumps. Here we are, 5,000
years later we're sitting here talking,and on a Friday night when you go
into your services you know that all over the world people are holding the
There's such a feeling of pride that I have in being a Jew. Again, I must
repeat, I am not a ritualistic Jew, I am an emotional Jew. I think that
there is not enough that we American Jews can do to ensure the safety of
B: Sylvia, it may sound like we're kind of jumping around, but I want to get
back to our own Palm Beach County. Can you recall in the 50's and 60's,
were Jewish people involved in humanistic or civil rights movements?
L: Evelyn, as I look back on that period of time there were very, very few
members of our Jewish community involved in the civil rights and human rights
struggle. As I mentioned before, through my activities in the Council on
Human Relations, ,I was directly involved. We had a march on Clematis Street.
It started at the top of Clematis Street and went down to where the library
is now. At that time it was the bandshell, and a little theater there. I
think that in that entire group of people, of black and whites, there were
two or three Jewish people including myself. As I recall it wasn't a popular
movement to be involved in. It wasn't popular primarily in the Christian
community as well as the Jewish community, but I was concerned with the
Jewish community. I did try to involve people I knew, but to no avail. There
were times when I was very discouraged because I knew all over the country
that Jews were in the forefront of the civil rights movement. A Jew was the
president of the N.A.A.C.P., the defense agencies were emphasizing Jewish
participation in the civil rights movement.
I did not get to the Selma march nor to the Washington march for which I have
been always a little sad, because I would have liked to have participated in
that. But I felt that staying on the local scene and doing what I could do,
along with others, and most of the others that I had been involved with over
the years have remained in the civil rights movement, human rights movement.
Today we always feel everybody's civil rights are protected, but they're not.
The Reagan administration is trying to lighten the Voting Rights act, remov-
ing certain things.
B: Sylvia, did you have other Jewish people with you in the civil rights move-
L: During the 50's and 60's, there were very, very few of our Jewish people in
Palm Beach County involved in the movement, for whatever reason, I don't
know, I did try to involve some of my friends, but it did not work out
that way. There were a handful. Rabbi Irving Cohen of Temple Israel was
most active. When we marched from Clematis Street down to the end of the
street, I believe there were three Jewish people in the entire group. When
we held our protest meetings against the Viet Nam War, I was the only Jewish
person at what we called the pray-in in front of the county commission. But
that didn't bother me because I couldn't be responsible for other people's
feelings, I could only be responsible for mine. And if they did not feel
moved towards working in the movement, it was their loss really. I really
believe that as a Jew, this is one of our commitments. As I mentioned before,
we must be involved for all people. I had people say to me, "Well, I cannot
work for the Jewish community and the non-Jewish. I don't have the time".
There are none of us that have more than twenty-four hours in a day, you
certainly are one who knows that. If you really want to work for something,
you will do it, you will find the time. And I really regret very much that --
while I'm sure many people were in sympathy -- many Jews were in sympathy,
they did not come to the forefront.
I must mention one woman who worked closely with me in B'nai B'rith Women and
was involved in the Council on Human Relations, and that is Millie Fier, and
I remember some of the things that we participated in together. It was the
showing of the Martin Luther King film at the theater. Millie was one of the
committee people on that. I don't want to mention any other names because I
might leave somebody out.
B: Sylvia, do you find that the southern Jew has a different attitude perhaps
toward minority groups than a northern Jew would have?
L: Well, I don't know. Remember that Atlanta which has a very well-defined Jewish
community out of which came the southern Regional Conference, out of which
came Martin Luther King, had quite a number of their Jewish people involved.
You might say that they were more southern Jews than the Jews in West Palm
Beach because there were no Jews in West Palm Beach during the Civil War,
there was no West Palm Beach. So if we're going to go back to the Civil War
when we talk about southern Jews and their feelings -- I have met a lot of
northern people who I'm sure were quite broadminded and moved down into this
area and I remember in St. Petersburg in the 30's people telling my mother
that she was paying too much to her black maid and that northerners would
spoil it for the southerners. This is not necessarily Jewish people who
But we are in a time that can't go back to Civil War, and it can't go back
to anything but what your feelings are for other human beings. I really don't
think that whether you're a southern Jew or a northern;Jew should have too
much bearing. If you are Jewish, you have been instructed on how to act
towards your fellow man.
B: Some of us are perhaps a little more conscientious and more sensitive.
Sylvia, because of the anti-Semitism in our area, the Anti-Defamation
League felt that they should have an office here and as I understand it,
you were selected to be their first Executive Director in the area, is that
L: Yes, that's correct. Doris Zagysk, a member of the Board had been trying
for many, many years to get an office opened in the Palm Beach County area.
Miami was the regional office and was just overloaded with work. It was
in 1979, that the National Commission decided that Palm Beach County should
have their own A.D.L. office. I, had been a volunteer for A.D.L. for many,
many years, and had worked very closely with Nathan Pearlmutter when he was
the regional director in Miami. Nate, of course, as you know, is now the
National Director of the Anti-Defamation League. When they asked me if I
would open it, I said I would be delighted to. I was really very happy to
open the office. And we now have our director, Samuel Gaber who is a long
time professional from Philadelphia. The reason for opening the Anti-
Defamation League office was not necessarily to just combat anti-Semitism in
this area. We have always had to a certain degree the Ku Klux Klan, and we
have always had to a certain degree neo-Nazis in Palm Beach County. Because
of the times and because of what we know about when economics are bad in a
country, people turn to scapegoats and the Jew has always been the scapegoat
as he was in Germany.
The educational process of A.D.L. was very important. And along with that,
the other defense agencies. I'm very proud that I'm a member of the Community
Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County. We have
had a feel of the local community for many, many years, but with the coming
of our director, Rabbi Alan Sherman, we have been able to take it out of the
well-meaning volunteer who wants to do things but doesn't have the facilities
or the direction to do them. We have a professional who leads us now.
I recently attended the legislative seminar in which I saw our people together
with representatives from health and social service agencies to hear our
legislators talk on budget cuts. I must say I was very proud of being in on
that meeting. I'm very proud of the fact that as the Federation representative
to the Community Action Council, I heard a report the other night from one of
the people who attended the legislative seminar praising the Jewish Federation.
And the next day at the Urban League, I heard another report of someone who
had been there praising Jewish Federation for bringing together all these
representatives and that definitely is a first for us. I'm hoping that this
will continue because in the interchange of ideas among the non-Jewish, the
blacks and Hispanics and Jewish community, we will find understanding. We
will find that we have similar goals. And in bringing people closer together.
I am very proud of the role that I have played.
B: Sylvia, I really want to get back to your work with the A.D.L. What were
some of the problems, unless they are confidential and I don't know if you
can tell me, what were some of the problems that you were confronted with
as far as our community is concerned?
L: Over the years, Evelyn, many, many incidents were reported to the A.D.L.
regarding anti-Semitic incidents. We have had swastikas painted on the
synagogue, as you know. We have had swastika and obsenities smeared around
condominiums that are largely Jewish. We have had the Ku Klux Klan with
their telephone messages. And I remember one incident where the telephone
company was contacted. The Ku Klux Klan did not have an address listed,
which was against the law, so their phone was taken away from them. There
have been so many isolated incidents though. I feel we live in a big com-
munity but I also feel we live in a community where there are sick people.
And we know that it was a very sick person who caused the tremendous defama-
tion of our people in Germany.