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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
PALM BEACH COUNTY
INTERVIEWEE: Ruben Farro
INTERVIEWER: Dr. Haviva D. Langenauer
DATE: December 23, 1981
PLACE: West Palm Beach, Florida
L: I want to thaik you very much for agreeing to give us this interview. Please
tell us when and where you were born?
F: I was born in Amsterdam, on April 23, 1910.
L: Your name, Farro, is an unusual name. Do you know anything about the origin
F: I believe that when my forefathers came to Holland in 1496, that they adopted
the name of the city where they came from.
L: Do you have records about these forefathers? That's going back in history
F: I have no real records except that one of my forefathers was an official on
the Board of Directors of the Synagogue in Amsterdam in 1560 and his name
is on the wall of the chapel in Amsterdam.
L: What is his name?
F: His name was Baruch Farro and the dates of this notation on the wall dates
from 1560. One of my forefathers by the name of Yehuda, de Shmuel Farro,
was called from Amsterdam to Curacao in the year 1590 and died in Curacao in
the year 1625. We have a picture of his grave in Curacao dating from that
I started in Amsterdam at the age of five in a school called the Elte School.
It had Hebrew subjects for three hours a day and secular subjects also for
three hours. I was in this school for four years. My father had taught us
at an early age, (the age of four-and-a-half) to read and write Hebrew in the
Rashi script. The Sephardim in Amsterdam didn't use the modern Hebrew script,
but they used the Rashi script.
L: Were you reading as well as writing Hebrew then at age five?
F: Yes. The Rashi script.
L: Did you then go on to learn the other Hebrewscript in Amsterdam?
F: No, not in Amsterdam. Not until we moved to Antwerp, when I was 13 and went
to the Yesodo Torah which belonged to the Machzikay Hadat, a very orthodox
group of Chasidim.
L: When you went to this Amsterdam school were there girls as well as boys?
F: In Amsterdam, it was mixed, boys and girls.
L: Do you remember the secular subjects which you studied?
F: Reading and writing and arithmetic. We learned German at an early age and
French, French was the favorite subject.
Lk And the Hebrew studies, what were they?
F: The Hebrew studies consisted of Schulchan Aruch and Humash and Rashi.
L: Would you say that the discipline was strict?
F: Very strict indeed. We had no liberties whatsoever. We were highly super-
vised and punished for any infraction of the rules. The rules were laid
out and there was never any compromise. When you had to be punished you
were punished. You were kept after school to write a hundred to two hundred
lines, you know, to correct the infraction, whatever it was.
At the age of nine after the four grades of the Elte School I was transferred
to a secular school. At that.time my father took over the responsibility of
the Hebrew education on a nightly basis. And we learned Humash and Rashi
and Mishnayot and Shulchan Aruch. And my father was very strict and he
believed in corporal punishment. And sometimes when I rebelled that I didn't
have enough leisure time I was punished severely, In fact, some Friday nights
after the Kiddush I had to go to bed without supper.
L: Would you say that your father was unusual in being able to teach you,or was
this usual in the Amsterdam community?
F: No, I don't think it was typical but he believed in good Hebrew education and
he was very well learned. And he believed in bringing up the boys and my
sister was not forced to partake in this education.
L: Would you tell me something about your family background? You refer to your-
self as a product of a mixed marriage, is that true?
F: It was customary in the Sephardic community in Amsterdam to marry within the
fold. One Sephardic family, would join another Sephardic family but my father
didn't believe in that. He wanted to break out of the custom. Also as a
matter of general interest, that you might be interested to know that a banker
named "Sortes" about 250 years ago established a fund for prospective brides
a dowry if she married another Sephardic young man. Now, this dowry consisted
of either 10,000, 8,000, 6,000 or 4,000 florins depending on the lottery which
was run every Purim to determine how much this prospective bride would get.
And this fund is still in existence because'there were never enough brides to
claim this, especially when they started to intermarry.
L: How did you define this Sephardic community? Where did one have to come from
in order to be classified as Sephardic?
F: If your background came from Portugal and Spain or if you came from Greece
where these Jews migrated to, or Turkey, you could be a full-fledged member
of the community.
Our synagogue had a portion on the side reserved for those that were not
Sephardic, but the center part of the synagogue which was closed off, and
into which you could only enter if you were Sephardic, was strictly reserved
for the old families, for the Sephardim.. Visitors sat on the side.
L; Your mother was not a member of the SeDhardic community. Where did she come
F: She came from Hamburg. Her father was a merchant, but one of her uncles, was
a director of the Hirsh Royale Schule in Frankfurt, His name was Fink. And
her uncle was an ear, nose and throat man in Hamburg. And another uncle was
a professor of Semitic languages at Berlin University. A grandfather, Reuven
Fink, was a great scholar and was a Rabbi in Hamburg, And in fact when I
visited the late Nathan Isaacs of Harvard University and went through his
library, I found a volume of Sh'aylot and T'shuyot that my great grandfather
(after whom I was named, Ruben,) had written. His Sh'aylot and T'shuvot were
in a volume in his library.
L: Your father and mother met in'Amsterdam?
F: My father met my mother in London.
L: And brought her to Amsterdam, is that right?
L: What did your house look like in Amsterdam?
Fi Our house was a modest house, It had two apartments on the second and third
floor that were rented out. It had two entrances, and we had a fair amount
of space, We were four children. I had two brothers and one sister. We had
a Sukkah in our garden that stood the year-round. We used it for our bicycles
during the year, and for Sukkot we could open up the roof. It had a closet in
there for dishes and it seated approximately 25 people. Every seat in there
was taken during Sukkot because my mother loved to entertain, and loved to
have guests, In fact, my father, on most Friday nights went to a local
synagogue called the "Russisheh Shul" where a lot of transients came from
Russia or Poland on the way to Canada or the United States. They sojurned
in Amsterdam sometimes for months on end. He went "orchim hunting". My
mother had always prepared enough food for six extra over the Shabbat. We
were always delighted with the stories that we heard from some of these
people that came from Russia and Poland, It added a lot to my background
and to the pleasure of the Shabbat both on Friday night and Shabbat after-
noon. When they came on Friday night they automatically came the next day.
L: You mentioned the Sukkah in your yard. Were there other religious objects
in your home that you can remember?
F: Well, I have a menorah that was bought by my grandfather on my mother's side
in Russia on one of his trips to hunt antiques. In 1880 he went to Russia
and bought this menorah. And according to tradition that I have and also
the things I read in books on menorahs, this menorah belonged to the Baal
Shem Tov, It dates from 1775.
L: Do you remember using it?
F: Oh, yes, we used it. In fact, it caused a fire. In 1921 it was burning
near the window in one of the rooms. We were in the dining room, and all
of a sudden we heard the fire engines. Apparently the neighbors had seen
the flames and the fire engines, which weren't far from from where we lived,
were on the way. My mother rushed into this room and pulled the drapes down,
and put out the fire. She put out the fire on the 8th day of Hanukkah,
before the firemen really came into the house.
My father had an extensive Jewish library which contained approximately 1,500
volumes including two Shas and one Talmud Bavli. Everything was put in
storage including all the silver and all the objects they had saved over the
years. The storage house was bombed in Antwerp and no trace of it ever turned
L: You mentioned earlier what the famous synagogue of Amsterdam looked like, and
the special section which was for Sephardic Jews. Is there anything else about
that synagogue that's unusual?
F: Well, the unusual part is that they could never put heat in the synagogue
because it was built over water. Under the planking, which is covered with
white sand, there's water. In fact, in order to get to the vault to take out
some of the ornaments that date back for hundreds of years they had to use a
There was never any electricity. They thought of putting electric lights in
there in 1920, but the city of Amsterdam decided that they would like to
prevent this because they wanted to keep this synagogue in its original state.
There are hundreds of candles that burn, and beautiful copper candelabras
which give a very romantic effect when you walk into the synagogue. It is a
very unique effect.
L: Do you remember some of the ornaments in that synagogue that were so precious
that had been stored in the vault?
F: Well, the dish and the pitcher for the Kohanim were made out of silver. It
was a tremendous plate of silver that was beautifully chased. And there were
all the ornaments for the Sefarim. They had approximately 40 Sefarim in the
synagogue. Some of the ornaments were kept'in the vault. The very old ones
were kept, except they were taken out on Yom Kippur or for Rosh Hashonah
when they were used. Some of them were priceless and they're still there as
far as I know. The only thing that disappeared during the war was a hanging
around the synagogue that fitted in back of the benches. It was leather
with gold overlay and covered the major walls. Apparently the Germans took
it down and stole it. That's the only thing that really disappeared from
the wall of the synagogue. All the other things were left intact.
L: You mentioned that you are a Kohen. As a boy, did you participate in any
F: Oh, yes. In the Birkat Kohanim which was said on a weekly basis. Every
Shabbat we had the Birkat Kohanim, which is also unusual because I know in
the Ashkenazic Synagogue this is not customary at all.
L: In the synagogue you mentioned that the Rabbi and Cantor wore unusual cos-
tumes. Could you describe those for me, please?
F: Well, they wore silk vests and silk pants and long stockings and patent
leather shoes. The Rabbi had a tribcornered hat and the Hazan also had a
silk hat which was round. The Shamashim who were in charge of keeping the
gate closed for the Ashkenazim had peaked, two-cornered hats. They all
were in uniform, and it was quite strange to see it because I'd never seen
it any other place,
L: Are these costumes you mentioned from Dutch history?
F: Yes, They were brought from Spain originally, They wanted to preserve all
the costumes from Spain,
Also all the announcements as to what was going to happen in the synagogue
during the wqek, all the current events, were all announced in Ladino. My
father was the last generation that spoke Ladino. We were not taught Ladino,
but all the announcements were in Ladino. After awhile you understood what
was said, because you heard it repeated. So, as a matter of curiosity we
did find out what it was, but my father understood it perfectly.
L: What language was spoken in the home?
F: We spoke Holland Dutch.
L: As a boy, how did you participate in the synagogue services?
F: Well, at the age of five and a half, I read my first Haftorah. It was the
custom that only the boys until Bar Mitzvah read the Maftir. Once you were
past Bar Mitzvah it was left to the younger children. That was a custom
that they had through the years, and they stuck with that. Today, not so
many boys are available, so they have done away with that.
L; What was it like to be Bar Mitzvah in Amsterdam?
F: It really was not a day of extensive festivities the way it is in this
country. It was just that you said the Maftir, and there were refreshments
in the little hall next to the synagogue, and a short address by the Rabbi.
That's about all, Presents were given, you know, the way most Bar Mitzvah
boys receive them, but other than that there was no great fuss made over a
Bar Mitzvah, It was a very natural thing.
L: Can you remember what a typical Bar Mitzvah present was?
Fl Well, mostly fountain pens and various books for the library.
L: On a daily basis was there religious observance in your home?
F: Oh, yes. We went to synagogue on a daily basis before going to school in
the morning. We went to synagogue at 7:00 o'clock in the morning, to the
"Russisheh Shul" that was a half a block away from where we lived.
L: Was that an Ashkenazic Shul?
F: That was an Ashkenazic Shul.
L: Did your father fell comfortable in that setting?
F: Oh, yes. Quite comfortable. It was very Orthodox with much ritual.
L: About how large would you say.the Sephardic community was?
F: When I grew up the Sephardic community had approximately 15,000 or so.
L: And the Ashkenazic?
F: And the Ashkenazie community had about 50,000 so we were in the minority.
L: Well, you mentioned that eventually there were a lot of marriages between
them. On a day-to-day basis was this just a very natural relationship?
F: Oh, yes, it was. What I was impressed with a lot was a Rabbi by the name of
Dehond. It's an unusual name because Dehond means the dog in Dutch, but that
was his name. And he was a terrific orator and every Shabbat afternoon at
3:00 o'clock he gave a sermon in the synagogue near the Sephardic synagogue.
And we generally went there and we had a lot to say. He always had a very
good message and it was a great pleasure to listen to him. My parents were
quite friendly with him and he used to come and visit us once in awhile and
inspect our books. His name was Dr. Dehond.
L: Was the synagogue a place for meeting your friends in addition to services,
or was it restricted just to religious activities?
F: Well, it was restricted to religious activities. They had a boys choir
there that was quite active. I associated,mostly with the boys that I met
in school, that lived near us. The synagogue was not built for social pur-
poses the way it is customary in the United States, it was more for religious
inspiration and observance.
L: Were the schools distinguished into Ashkenazic and Sephardic schools?
F: No, they were not. The Sephardic school was not up to par really, but at
the age of nine I switched to the secular school and got my Hebrew education
from my father. Also every Sunday I went for three hours in the morning to
have private lessons with Hacham Palache who was the Chief Rabbi of Amsterdam
at that time, He took delight in teaching us because we were so advanced.
We were exceptional boys, really within the community because we knew a lot
more than the average boy did.
L: What did you study with him?
F: We studied Shuchan Aruch and Talmud.
L: Can you tell me anything about the relationship between Amsterdam's Jewish
community and land of Israel?
F: Well, in 1880 my father was taken by his father, my grandfather to Palestine.
They went by boat. The main propellant of the boat were the sails that were
on there. My father lived for two years in Palestine when he got very sick.
Sanitary conditions were very bad at that time in Palestine. Two doctors
advised my grandfather to return to Holland because they didn't think my
father would survive under the sanitary conditions that existed at that
time, so they went back to Holland.
L: Was there a relationship in terms of sending charities to Israel or were
people traveling back and forth, as far as you know?
F: Oh, yes, they were, but not in great numbers. You know, the Jews of
Amsterdam, most of them made a fair living but there was no great accumula-
tion of wealth at that time. They all lived rather comfortably. They saved
money but they didn't have a chance the way the Jews did in America. There
were outstanding people, but there weren't that many that made a great deal
L: Were there poor Jews in the Amsterdam community?
F: Oh, yes. There were a great number of poor Jews and the community made
special arrangements to help those, very quietly. It was done with great
L: There again, was there a separation between the Ashkenazic community and the
Sephardic community in the charities that were provided, or was it one
F: Well, they had central funds and they also had separate funds; the Sephardim
and the Ashkenazim had separate funds too, but some charities were done
L: You mentioned earlier how hospitable your father was to strangers. Would
you say that this is typical of the Jews of Amsterdam?
F: Yes, I would, but maybe not to the extent that we have ever shown, because my
mother used to love to cook. She didn't object to spending a few nights a
week cooking to prepare for the Sabbath. In fact, she started on Wednesday
to cook for the Sabbath.
L: Do you remember any of the favorite dishes that she cooked?
F: Well, gefilte fish, which was unusual at that time, Dutch Jews never went for
gefilte fish, and she did. She brought it to Amsterdam. And one of my other
favorite dishes was stamp pot which was a typical Dutch dish that had a
mixture of vegetables and meat. It would be called a stew today, but in
those days, when it was well prepared with lots of spices that were usual in
Holland, it had a special taste and I was very fond of that. We used a lot
of condiments in Holland because the spices came from Java, (Indonesia).
That was a Dutch Colony at that time. And most people cooked with plenty
of,condiments, spicy and unusual preparation,
L: Where did you get the challah for the sabbath?
F: My mother baked the challah. They were also sold by the bakery but my
mother baked bread. That was the usual thing.
L: Were there non-Jewish servants in your home to help you on the Sabbath?
F: Yes, we always had a German maid. My mother used to go to Germany and hire
one on a yearly basis. They.were sent back, for their holidays. We were
always sure to have someone in the house to take care of the lights and
everything like that.
L: When it was Passover time, was the house subjected to any special cleaning
F: I'm not exaggerating when I say my mother started the cleaning process two
months in advance of the Passover. I don't recall anyone who was more
meticulous than she was, when it comes to cleaning house, to having it
cleaned and prepared for the Passover. It's completely different from what
I see in this country.
L: Were there different foods that you had?
FI Oh, yes. My mother's specialty was Kremselach which is a mixture of soaked
matzo with spices and nuts and raisins. And she made them in such a way
that it was very delicious. We always looked forward to that on Passover.
L: Did your father have any Sephardic dishes that he would introduce to the
cuisine at this time?
F: Well, they had a mixture of horseradish and something else that went into it,
to sweeten it. The horseradish was grated from the fresh horseradish and
they added some condiments to make it taste a little better than it would
have without. Other than that, no special dishes were made for Passover.
L: What was the Charoset made of?
F: The Charoset was made out of raisins and nuts, mostly nuts. There were
chopped nuts and raisins, and also cinnamon and a few other condiments and it
was very delicious.
L: Was there anything unusual about the Seder?
F: My grandfather, (my father's father), lived until I was seven years. I
remember him. He retired at the age of 60 and lived 14 years after that,
and his main pasttime was to study and was a very genteel wonderful man. I
respected him highly and he was very revered in the community, you know,
where there were hundreds of people.
L: Who conducted the seder in your house?
F: My father conducted the seder.
L: How did he dress?
F: Oh, he had a Kittel and it was very formal in a way because, every passage
was discussed. We didn't just read it, or sing all the songs. The passage
was discussed, especially for the children, to make it more interesting.
He always had some interesting anecdotes to add to it, and the Seder took
between four and five hours before it was finished. I must add an interest-
ing thought. Since he was married to an Ashkenazic wife, all the Ashkenazic
songs were sung, Besides all the Sephardic tunes, all the Ashkenazic tunes
L: So did you sing everything twice? Is that what you're saying?
F: Well, part of everything twice. Some of the Ashkenazic songs we didn't have,
but we did use a special book with the Ashkenazic songs and we sang them for
my mother's sake,
L: Who asked the four questions?
F: Well, sometimes my sister and sometimes my younger brother.
Lt Were there guests at the Seder?
F: Yes we always had between 15 and 20 guests at the Seder. We always had a
very big Seder.
L: Were any of them strangers?
F: Strangers and also friends that came on a daily basis. Some of them used to
say L'Shana HaBo with Madam Farro.
L: Do you remember special celebrations for Chanukah?
F: Yes, Chanukah was a special day for us because we were not allowed to play
with cards during the year. Only on Chanukah were we allowed to play with
cards,and have some gambling games, and a dreidel. It was a very pleasant
Holiday because every night we received a new present. We always looked
forward to Chanukah being a special week, a very happy memory.
L: What did you do on Purim?
F: On Purim we read the Megillah. In fact when my father came home after
services he read Megillah for my mother and my sister. Also during the day
the Megillah was read, On account of that I know most of it by heart.
L: What kind of noisemakers were there in the Synagogue.
F: Oh we had the groggers, but not in the Sephardic Synagogue. We used them at
home. We made no noise in the Synagogue. That didn't exist. And only the
last time Haman was mentioned did they stamp on the floor. That was the only
noise and you could hardly hear it. But other than that in contrast to the
Ashkenazic Synagogue we had no noise.
L: What kind of Groggers did you use?
F: Oh they were made of wood. We just kept them at home. We did not use them
in the Synagogue.
L: Did you make them at home as well?
F: No, no we bought them.
L: Were there unusual foods for Purim?
F: We had Hamantashen that my mother baked. You know those three cornered
triangles, in memory I guess of Haman's hat, They were three cornered.
And that was the specialty of the house that my mother provided.
L: What were they filled with?
F: I think they were filled with stewed prunes.
L! I know that you left Amsterdam after Bar Mitzvah. Where did you settle
F: We settled in Antwerp, Belgium. In the Jewish community most people were in
the diamond business and taxes and regulations in Holland changed at that
time. The diamond industry moved en masse to Antwerp at the end of 1923.
My parents lived there for the next 16 years until 1939, when I brought my
father and mother to the United States before the war. But they lived there
very peacefully and they liked Antwerp. They had lots of friends, who had
moved about the same time. They formed a small Sephardic community in
Antwerp. They had services over the weekend, though in Antwerp there was a
Turkish Sephardic community. Their customs were slightly different from
ours. So they saw fit to form a small congregation of Sephardic Jews for
L: Did you live all together in one neighborhood?
F: No, not particularly, Antwerp was not that big at that time, and they were
quite spread out. But everyone lived within walking distance.
L: And what kind of education did you have in Antwerp?
F: Well in Antwerp I went to the Yisodo Torah. It was a very orthodox and
religious school where they taught more Hebrew than they did secular
subjects. The day started at 8t30 in the morning, and lasted until 6 o'clock
in the afternoon. We had an hour and a half for lunch, and we went home for
lunch. We lived within walking distance. We had to use the bike or walk.
Education was very extensive. We learned Rashi and the Prophets and
Humash and Shulchan Aruch and Talmud. In fact through this education that
I had, together with Dr. Pool and Dr, Gerstein, I led the Talmud class for
five years on Shabbat afternoon in New York of the Shearit Israel 70th
Street Synagogue. My training was very good and I enjoyed it very much.
I also attended the Talmud class every Friday night for 6 years when I
lived in New York. This was at Dr. Leo Jung's house, which I enjoyed very
L: What were some of your other studies in Antwerp?
F: Well after I left the Yisodo Torah and went to the Athenee d'Anvers, as my
mother insisted that I go to a French school for a couple of years. Then
we asked Rav Pesachovich to come to our house four or five nights a week.
He was a great Talmudist. In fact, he knew the Talmud by heart. When he
gave up the quotation he could give us the daf and the line of his quotation.
He had a photographic memory. I have such wonderful memories of him. Also
I had the privilege in 1939 to get him an affidavit and get him to the states
with his family. He died in Brooklyn and taught in Brooklyn in a Yeshiva for
about 8 years. He was a great, great Talmudist and he was anav, anav m'od.
I've never seen a man so humble.
L: Would you say that this sort of education was a typical of your generation?
Were there plans for you to enter the Rabbinate?
F: No there were no plans for me at all, except my younger brother who eventually
was a dentist and died 25 years ago, The Chief Rabbi of Antwerp, Rabbi
Rothenberg, came to our house to beg my father to make my younger brother
study for the Rabbinate, because he felt he would make a good Rabbi. But my
brother was not so inclined. Though my father was in favor of it, he was not.
eventually he studied dentistry in London and became a dentist. Unfortunately
he died 25 years ago.
L: How old were you when you left Antwerp?
F: I was 17 when I left Antwerp. Then I went to London to live with my grand-
father. My grandfather was a great Talmudist, though he was a retired, very
successful diamond merchant. He studied Talmud on a daily basis. Four or
five nights a week I studied with him, together with a cousin of mine, who
lived in the same house on the upper floor. He could take one line and
spend an nour on one sentence. My cousin attended the sessions with my grand-
father. He was my age. His name was Rome Shapiro, and he always shared in
L: What was the reason that you left Antwerp?
F: Well an uncle of mine in New York had asked me to come over. He had no
children and he thought I would get a better education in English customs in
London, He recommended that I live with my grandfather for a couple of years,
and go to school in London,
L: When you finished these few years in London, what was the next thing that
F- I came to New York to my uncle, Nathan Fink, who is still alive.
L: Do you remember any impressions of yours of the American Jewish community,
as compared with what you had known in Europe?
F: Well I found great comfort by going to Spanish- Portugese Synagogue every
weekend. You see my uncle was Ashkenazic and I attended this Sephardic
Synagogue. I felt very much at home there because the services are very
similar to what I was used to in my past.
L: Is the layout of these two Syfiagogues in any way similar? The one in New
York and the one in Amsterdam?
F: Well they are similar because there is no Parochet in our Synagogue. We
have no Parochet we only have the doors. The structure is similar except
the center part of the synagogue in New York has no benches in it at all.
And between the Bimah and the Parochet and the Aron Hakodesh the space was
empty in New York, while in Amsterdam, that was the most important part
because the center was used for the Sephardim and the side for the Ashkenazim.
L: For how long did you continue to live in New York?
F: I lived in New York from 1930 until 1939 and again from 1944 until 1950.
There was a period from 1939 until 1944 when I lived in Freeport, L. I.
L: There are people in the Spanish-Portugese Synagogue who call you the Orchid
man. What is that in reference to?
F: Well I have known that there was such a beautiful Sukkah in New York. After
I graduated law school and started work, in 1936 I once bought seven orchids
for the center of the table in the Sukkah in New York. After I did that
three years in succession Dr. De Sola-Pool came over to me and said Ruben,
I think after 3 years you have the Hazakah to do this for the rest of your
life. Since then, for the last 45 years I have always provided seven orchids
for the center of the table in the Sukkah in New York.
L: Did you participate in the Synagogue in any other way in New York?
F: Well I share the responsibility for the Talmud class on Shabbat once a month.
One Shabbat Dr. Pool, the next one Dr. Gerstein and the next one I took care
of. The fourth one was done by Robert Solomon who was well versed in Talmud.
L: You come from a family of Kohanim. As a Kohen can you remember any unusual
experiences, or privileges that you have had.
F: Well the Pidyon HaBen. I went with my father to a number of them, and I
officiated at about 20 in my adult life myself, which I enjoyed very much.
L: You have some interesting stories to tell about your grandfather.
F: Yes my grandfather on my mother's side who lived in London. I had the
privilege of spending two years with him. His background was originally in
Hamburg. He was a soldier in the Franco-Prussian war. His specialty in the
army was the Morse Code. He was a great expert at using the Morse Code and
was very fast at it. He was very well trained in that. He had for his
commanding officer a general, who in peacetime was a Governor of German East
Africa. lHe sort of liked my grandfather, for his efficiency and his attitude
toward life. He invited my grandfather, whose name was Chaim Fink to come to
his 'office in Berlin, after the war which he did. When he came to his office
he offered him a contract to work for the German government as a go-between
as a broker to transport and sell the diamonds that came out of Germany's
Colony in Africa on a monthly basis. He would sell these to the British
Syndicate called the Beer's. Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, the original Sir Ernest
Oppenheimer was in charge of the Beer's setup in London, and my grandfather
did that on a monthly basis for about 8 years.
In 1879, on his last trip to London, this Ernest Oppenheimer approached my
grandfather and asked him if he would like to become a broker for this
Syndicate in London. "Why work for the German government, you might as well
come to London and move your family and work for us. We will give you a list
of customers in Amsterdam and Antwerp, and these people come anyway on a
monthly basis for the diamond sigthes we provide, and you will be their broker.
We will pay you a commission of 2% for the rest of your life, or as long as
you wish to have this job." So he moved his family in 1879 to London and
became the principal broker at this Syndicate. He was very successful in his
work, and retired about 25 years later and accumulated quite some money that
went to .his sons who carried on the business. Three of them were paid out
approximately a million dollars in 1921.
L: We've said very little about your present career. When you left London you
came to New York to your uncle and then you had some additional schooling.
F: Yes I went to law school in New York, and graduated from law school with an
L.L.B. But being that I was not a citizen I couldn't take the bar, or
practice law. So I worked for my uncle for about two years. I realized
after two years that our paths had to cross He wanted me to stay with him
and eventually have the business that he had, but I didn't see that we could
get along too well. It may be partly his fault and partly mine, I told him
I want to be a friend of his, and that we had to separate. And that's what
I went into a similar business, but a different business. I told him at that
time that anything that I had experienced with him, and any customers that I
had called on, I would never call on on my own. I went into a specialty that
he never handled himself, which is the mining business. Diamonds for mining
purposes. And till this day I am still in this business. I am semi-retired,
I am still active with a few favorite accounts.
L: When did you first come to Palm Beach?
F: I came to Palm Beach 3 years ago.
L: And what made you decide to settle here?
F: My wife made the decision for me. She was very enthused with Palm Beach
and begged me to settle here. Mostly on a trial basis, but so far I haven't
upset the trial period. Maybe some day I might go back to New York or
Chicago possibly, but in the meantime I'm here.
L: Well I .think that your rich background of experiences in the wonderful
Jewish .communities of Amsterdam and Antwerp certainly adds much to our
present Palm Beach community and I thank you for allowing us to have this