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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
JEWISH FEDERATION OF PALM BEACH COUNTY
INTERVIEWEE: Rhoda Cole
INTERVIEWER: Lila Seidler
DATE: February 17, 1982
PLACE: Palm Beach, Florida
S: To start, would you please tell me when you were born and where?
C: I was born August the 7th, 1926 in Newark, New Jersey.
S: Do you have any brothers or sisters?
C: I have an older sister that is about 13 months older than myself,
and I have a younger brother that is about 41 years younger
than I am.
S: Now, tell me about your parents, where were they born?
C: My mother was born in New York City and my.father was born in
Romania. My father was born in 1893, came here at the age of 12
years old. My mother was born in 1903 and she will soon be 79,
my father will be 89. They are still alive.
S: That's wonderful.
C: Thank God.
S: Thank God. What was your father's occupation?
C: When my father first came to this country (in those days the
children didn't go to school), he worked as a delivery boy for a
yard goods company. He would be running up and down the streets
of New York with big bolts of yard goods on his shoulder. He
later went into a haberdashery business of his own.
When my mother married him, he had a store in Newark, New Jersey,
and that's where they settled for about five years of my life.
Because of the depression and robberies and fire, my father was
forced to give up his business and later in years he became a
furrier, working for my uncle. Then, again, later in years, he
started working in children's wear as a sewing operator in a
factory and that is what he retired from.
S: Does he now live here in Florida?
C: He lives in West Palm Beach. Both of my parents do.
S: Oh, that's wonderful. And your mother, was she just a housewife?
C: Well, my mother was born in New York City. She went through
high school and she always assisted my father in his business in
the earlier years. Then she was a housewife until we children
got a little bit older. Because of the depression years, she
did go to work as a sales woman in a department store.
During World War II, she worked for the Brooklyn Navy Yard. You
should have seen my mother in overalls, because she used to
paint stencils on crates that were being shipped during the war.
She is an incredible lady to this day.
Later on, after the war was over, and work like that was no
longer needed, she went for her civil service examination and
passed. She worked for the State Unemployment Division, I
believe, in New York State until she retired.
S: How about their brothers and sisters, did their families follow
to the United States?
C: Well, my father was the baby of the family of about 9 or 10
children and only six of the children ever got to the United
States. We have some cousins, in fact, I have a first cousin who
is living in Brazil. They all lived in Romania and my father
is the only surviving child at this point..
My mother was one of six children, all having been born in New
York. All of them are college graduates, but my mother. She
was the oldest, so she had to help mama in the home while the
other children were being raised, but all my other aunts and
uncles were college graduates, which was also very incredible
in those years.
S: It certainly was.
C: Yes. Today I have two surviving aunts. One of my aunts is a
Rebbitsen with one of the most outstanding rabbis in the United
States, his name is Rabbi Abraham Habrutta, who was President of
the Rabbinical Council of America and very often called to
Washington. This aunt of mine is also the writer of one of the
most popular, more recently published cook books, a Jewish cook
book, and has gone into it's third publication. So, I'm very
proud of my family. This is on my mother's side.
S: Then you must have some marvelous family anecdotes.
C: Oh, well for sure. A lot of my memories as a child growing up
was during the depression years. It was very difficult for us
because there were long periods that my father did not work.
At 12 years old, I started working and I babysat. At 15 years
old, I worked in a store in Manhattan, a gift store that a
cousin of my father's owned, and it was also during the war, and
it was a souvenir-type store,so that I could help in the house.
But yet, with it all, we children never felt deprived. Our house
always seemed like there was enough to eat, and there was always
a great deal of love.
The person that I guess I felt the closest to growing up was my
grandmother. To this day, 1 miss her terribly. Every day that I
had off from school, I would go to her. In the summertime in
Rockaway, or wherever, or I would go shopping with her on the
east side, which was the famous shopping ground for all Jewish
people in Williamsberg and Manhattan.
I look back at my childhood as being very happy and fulfilled, even
though it was in very bad times, between the depression and war times.
As I say, I was very close to my grandparents and all the Jewish
holidays were celebrated in their home. With six children and six
spouses and many grandchildren, the house was filled. The thing
that I remember the most is Passover.
I can remember my grandfather Sitting on a pile of white pillows
and he wore a white robe and white, big yarmulkeh, and when they
used to hide the matzoh, I would creep under the table amongst all
the feet and go to find it amongst his pillows, where the matzoh was.
S: That's where he kept the matzoh, he sat on it?
C: Yeah, some people leave the room and go someplace to hide it, my
grandfather sat on a bunch of pillows, you know. Passover is like
you are reclining, and he reclined, and he was sitting very
It was a huge, big, round table, and where he sat was like a couch,
and all these pillows were behind him and on the side of him, he
really looked like the master, and he conducted the full seder.
He used to hide the afikomen underneath him somewhere within the
pillows. Then we would slip under the tule like little children
and try to find it and if we found it, we would slip it to my
mother from under the table and she would put it under the tablecloth
and hold it.
At the end of Passover seder, my grandfather would ask where it was,
and that was when we had the most fun. We made it very difficult
for him to retrieve it unless he promised us the world, practically,
and, for children, the world wasn't very much.
S: And, then you got your just rewards?
C: Oh, yes, absolutely.
S: He came through?
C: Absolutely, and my mother, having been the oldest, and my aunts
were the younger ones going to school, so while I was growing up
as a very small child, they were still at home. I used to love to
go to my grandmother's house because I used to sleep with them in
their bed, and they had these big, down beds, and these big, down
quilts that they made years ago themselves. They lived in
In my later years (we left Newark,New Jersey when I was about five
and we lived in Brooklyn), when I was about eight or nine years
old, I started traveling on the subway alone to go to my grandmother.
That was from the Crown Heights, Flatbush area of Brooklyn to Greenwich
Village. I'd get off at 14th Street which was out the llth Street
exit and walk down to the docks where they lived, and my grandfather
had a store for longshoremen that used to work on the ships and on the
piers, and they would buy supplies from him. That's where my
grandparents lived, across from the Hudson River where the big
ships would leave.
Sometimes they were luxury liners and I used to run across the
street and watch them throw confetti and all these things, and as I
said, I look back at my childhood, even though it was in the big
city of Manhattan, it was a lot of fun.
S: Was Greenwich Village Bohemian?
S: Very arty?
C: Very arty, I used to walk from the train station down llth Street
and it was a very beautiful area. It as a very arty area and a very
elegant area in those days.
I think that later on, maybe, it became a lot more hyppie and
beatnik-type of thing, but, in my day, it was the artists and the
writers, and people just looked wonderful, you know.
I never had any fear of walking through those streets in those
days and I was just a child.
S: They were safer in those years.
C: Oh, yes.
S: Not like it is today. So, then tell me about your teen years.
C: I graduated 161 public school and went on to Samuel J. Tilden
High School and graduated there. I was a little bit of a tummler,
and I was voted the most cheerful senior when I graduated.
From school, I used to go into Manhattan and I worked in the after-
noon and on Saturday for, first a CPA, then I worked for a manu-
facturer of ladies' sports wear.
When I graduated high school, I became their head bookkeeper. It
was called California Sportswear, which is not in existence anymore,
but I worked for them until I got married.
I met my husband when I was 15 years old. He was overseas for three
years, and when he came back, he went to school. There were no
jobs to be had and he went to Delahanty Institute to learn
television technician and we were married about year after his
return. We were married November 28, 1946, which was Thanksgiving
His brother, who was also in the service was stationed in Boca
Raton, Florida. When he was discharged he came right to Florida
because he thought it was the land of milk and honey.
My husband wasn't my husband at that time, but when he was dis-
charged, his brother had already settled down here. A year later,
when my'husband got through with school, it was still very
difficult, number one to get a job; number two, to find an apartment,
because there were so many young men that were out of the service.
We wanted to get married, and we were determined that we wouldn't
live with our parents. Because his brother felt that Florida was
such a land of opportunity, he encouraged my husband to come down.
So, my husband came down in September, before our wedding to see
whether he would like it, and he was going to work for his brother
who had been in the radio repair. Television was non-existent
in those days in 1946, but it was the formative years, where
people were learning,then television was discovered and he,
himself, made a little, tiny screen.
Anyway, he came down here and his brother offered him a job to work
for him in a little radio shop. My husband, being young and
naive, did not question where he would live, or how much he would
earn, and called me up and said "The season in Palm Beach or the
surrounding area starts as of December 1st. I have to be here by
then." And, that is how we determined to get married on November 28th.
We got married on November 28th, Thanksgiving, we went away for the
weekend, came back to New York and left for Florida by train.
That was the only way people traveled in those days. If there
were airplanes, believe me, I wasn't aware of what airplanes were
all about. I was young, and sheltered and did not ever experience a
great deal of traveling, or even vacationing because of the financial
situation in my family.
So, we came down by train and we moved in with my brother-in-law and
he paid my husband $15 a week. It was impossible for us to find
a place to live, and they also would not permit me to go to work
because his wife would have to be home taking care of this little
house, and shopping and cooking, on our behalf. Therefore, I
stayed home, and I did the cooking,and I did the shopping, and I
took care of their little girl of two years old at the time.
We finally decided that we could not, happily, exist the way we did,
so, my husband decided to open up a little shop of his own in
Now, you may know Riviera Beach as being a very cosmopolitan
area today with Singer Island completely built up, but in the days
that we opened up our little store in Riviera Beach, Riviera Beach
was a little fishing village. I'm going back 35 years ago.
There was no paved highway, there were no paved sidewalks, there
were no shopping areas,there were no developments.There was nothing
but one strip of about six stores.
On the corner was a gas station, which was a grocery store as well,
and there was a barber shop, there was our little store, there
was a little post office and everybody came to pick up their mail,
there were no postal deliveries. There was a little restaurant
and a little printing shop, and, that was Riviera Beach, except for
maybe a few scattered little buildings down-the way.
Singer Island was nothing but a sand barge in thoae days and the
only way to get to it was over a little wooden, rickety bridge.
That's what Florida was like when we arrived. West Palm Beach,
Clematis Street was just two blocks long and that's where every-
The first time my parents came down to visit with me and I was
walking on Clematis Streetwith my mother and everyone I passed, I
said "Hi" to and thor said "Hi" to me and we walked into an office
building and when you walked into an elevator everybody said "Hi",
my mother said to me, "Rhoda, you know everybody in town'" and
I said, "No, mother, but just everybody says 'hello'." And,
everybody was friendly. That's what a small town is like. You
always said, "Hello how are you?" to whoever.
S: What kind of population was there, what would you say were the
numbers? Could you remember?About what would you say the West
Palm Beach area was?
C: Well, I would say in those days, West Palm Beach maybe had about a
population of twenty thousand, and I'm guessing. I know Palm
Beach maybe had about a permanent population of about three hundred,
because that town was completely shut off.
The Jewish population was about one hundred and fifty people, and
I'm talking aboutmaybefifty to seventy-five families. There were
two temples: one was Temple Beth El which was on Fern Street, which
was a very small temple. I believe the seating was about for forty
to fifty people with a small social hall in the back called
Shwartzberg Hall. Temple Israel, which was a Reform Temple, I
remember had about twenty-five members, and it had a small build-
ing on Butler Street. What was so beautiful about it in those
days was though there was a conservative temple, and there was a
reform temple, everybody was very friendly with each other and
everybody knew each other and everybody cared about each other.
Most of the people that were in business as merchants, or in
business on Clematis Street (what you see on Clematis Street today
is completely different than when I first arrived), those who were
in the professional businesses, doctors or lawyers, were either
in downtown West Palm Beach in the Comeau Building or at the Harvey
Building.i So,your professional people were clustered downtown on
Clematis Street and your merchants were downtown on Clematis Street,
and that's where everything was.
S: Were there many young, Jewish families?
C: The families were older. They were parents of couples that had
smaller children in their teens. When I came here there were no
children, or young adults, my age, I'm talking about 20 years old,
22 years old, there were none, because those couples that were
raised here had children that were six, eight or ten years old, and I
watched those children enter and graduate high school and going into
college when I was still in my early 20's.
So, there were no new, young people settling in this area in those
days. Those that were here, had come prior to the war years. Their
parents settled here, they grew up here and they married and they
were having children here. There was no resettlement at that time
at all. When I was new here, everybody had been here five, ten,
fifteen, twenty years. It wasn't until I was here fifteen or twenty
years, that there really became an influx of increased population.
S: Were there many problems with the non-Jewish community at that time?
C: I think that the greater problems was the situation with the black
community, therefore, there wasn't really a problem with the Jewish
The Jewish community was the one that serviced the Christian community,
because they were the merchants that people bought their clothing
from. They were also the doctors, and lawyers that most of the
people went to. I, personally, did not experience anti-Semitism
in the West Palm Beach area.
I was not aware of what was happening in the Palm Beach area. That
was another world to me. We would ride over the bridge and go to
the beach in Palm Beach, but we were not aware of the fact that there
were no Jews living in those beautiful, big mansions, or that there
were no Jews that were going into some of the hotels. However,
there were very,wealthy Jews that would come down, that stayed at
the Palm Beach Hotel and the Whitehall Hotel.
Now, my husband being in the electronics business, did a lot of work
on speaker systems for the terraces on the outside areas of places
like the Palm Beach Hotel and the Whitehall Hotel. In those days
when people only had radio, we used to rent radios to visitors and
vacationers that stayed in these hotels and we would deliver the
radios to the Biltmore, to the Palm Beach Hotel and to the Whitehall.
People would rent a radio for a week or two weeks or as long as they
were staying there. That was the only encounter that wevuld have
if my husband sometimes had to make a delivery into Palm Beach, I
would ride with him, and I would sit in the car and watch the people
only in formal attire because Palm Beach in those days on Saturday
night in any of the hotels was completely formal attire, the Palm
Beach Hotel, the Biltmore, the Breakers. We never went to the
Breakers, but the Biltmore, the Palm Beach Hotel and the Whitehall
Hotel were the ones that we had any exposure to. And, of course,
I would sit in the car and watch all of these people in their finery.
S: You were a housewife at that time?
C: Well, I started off as a housewife, but when my husband started in
business, I assisted him in his business and did a lot of his work
with servicing outside of the store. I also took accounting in my
home and did bookkeeping for a man who did accounting for some of the
Then I got a job as a bookkeeper for a company that still exists
but not the same owners, they've moved and become Lily's Transfer
and Storage. I also worked on Christmas Eve for Burdines in the
lingerie department. Burdines was on the northwest corner of
Clematis Street and Olive, which later became the Belks location,
but that is where Burdines was then in those days, and I worked there
until I became pregnant with my first child and stopped working,
except for helping my husband. Then I started working for a pediatrician
in his office. I always had towork, so, it was from one type of job
to another. I was part housewife, mother, in those days, I must tell
you, having household help, when I think of it now it seems a little
bit criminal, but having full time, household help in those days, was
very inexpensive. When my son was born, I had a full time housekeeper
(I referred to them as housekeepers now in those days it was called
maid), and she worked 51 .days, from eight o'clock in the morning
until eight o'clock at night, she cooked dinner and she cleaned up,
she got twelve dollars a teek. It made it easier for me to be able
to help my husband in business because it would have cost him more
money to have someone in the store than myself.
To talk a little more about the Jewish community, I have to back
track a little to tell you that I was raised in a very orthodox home.
I came from a very kosher home. When I moved to Florida, West Palm Beach,
I wanted to have a kosher home. There was one kosher butcher that
was on the hill on Clematis Street, west of the railroad track,
and I'll never forget what he looked like. He wore a long beard
and he had this little kosher butcher shop and in those days there
was no refrigeration and all they used was ice, and all the meat
was displayed in his window and because this is a tropical climate,
the meat was covered with flies and it was very difficult for me to
comfortably shop with him, or for other people, because there were
just a handful of people that bought kosher meat.
He sold the business to another younger man who came out of
Atlanta who ended up being the Mohel for my son when he was born.
So, the butcher was the Mohel. I was married in '46 and came
here in '46 and my son was born August 12, 1948.
So, that was a little bit of the Jewish area and what it was
like, with the temple, the small Jewish community, the kosher
butcher, and the new kosher butcher, who came just in time to be
the Mohel for my son.
My son was born Mitchell Hal Cohen (the family name was Cohen in
those days). My mother took the train to come down with her little
girl, to be with me when my first born was born. She was very
upset over the fact that I was in this area, so far away from home,
all by myself. When my husband picked her up from the train
station, he brought her directly to St. Mary's Hospital where my
son was born. When she walked through the hallway, she heard a
lot of noise and wondered where it was coming from, and thought
how noisy this hospital is, but the noise was coming from my
In those days, whether you had a simcha or some sadness, everybody
turned out, and there was a room full of women visiting me in the
hospital. My mother's first comment was that, "I was so afraid
that my little Rhoda was all alone having her first baby." My son
was also the first Jewish male that had a Bris at St. Mary's
Hospital, and the nuns in the hospital were absolutely amazed at
the ritual and came to see what was going on.
And, the Mohel the butcher was the one that performed the
circumcision, right in St. Mary's Hospital.
S: That's very interesting. What about your other children, I know
you have other children.
C: My daughter, Barbara, was born in 1950 and she also was born in
St. Mary's Hospital, and then I had my third child, Sharon, who
was born in 1952, also in St. Mary's Hospital.
S: Well, that was the only hospital, wasn't it?
C: No, Good Samaritan was here at the time, but it was a known fact
that St. Mary's Hospital, because of the nuns that were there and
the care (they also had a nursing school at that time which no
longer exists at St. Mary's Hospital, but in those days, nurses
were trained in St. Mary's), so, the care was incredible. Of
course, in those days, we stayed in the'hospital after having a
child for seven days. That was a wonderful experience, and I
know that some of the people that may still be involved in St.
Mary's would appreciate my remembering that for about five years
after my first child was born, May Day, May 31st, St. Mary's
Hospital had a party for all of the children that were born in
The hospital was only bout five or six years old when I had my
first child, so for the first ten years, approximately ten years,
they had a big party for every child that was born in that
hospital. Of course, today it would be impossible to begin to
even think about it because of the numbers.
S: The profound numbers.
C: Yeah. It has grown so drastically.
S: Your children are now grown? They have graduated from college already?
C: Oh, yes. My son is now 33 years old. Children that were born and
brought up in this area and did not know the change of climate,
and also felt that they missed a lot of culture. Today, we have
a lot of culture, but going back 15 years ago, when my son
graduated high school, there was not the culture we have today to
offer. So, his desire was to go to a school in a northern area, and
he went to Boston University. Two years later my daughter, Babby,
we call her Barbara, went to the University of Georgia. One of the
reasons that I sent her to Georgia in preference to area schools
was because, again and still, there was a very small Jewish
population in this area, and my children were not exposed to a lot
of Jewish children.
When she graduated high school, she was one of the three children
that was Jewish in high school. Their friends were Christian
children, and we wanted her to be sure and have some exposure to
some Jewish children and the University of Georgia in Athens
catered to a lot of the Jewish children from Chatagooga, Tennessee,
from Atlanta, from Charleston, South Carolina, these were very
strong, good southern Jewish communities, more so than West Palm
The other choice was Miami, but because they also wanted to get
out of this type of climate, I was anxious for them to also be
exposed to other children, and that was the reason why I sent her
to that school.
Of all the schools, that was the smallest, the closest and the
school that would expose her to the most Jewish children, and
it's true, when she went to that school, she immediately was
swarmed with love and affection from these southern, Jewish
children. There is something different about Jewish people born
in the northern, big cities, that only know their relatives and
don't know a lot of the surrounding people, compared to Jewish
people brought up'in a small community where the whole Jewish
community is like one, big, happy family, as we were here. So,
you didn't confine yourself to maybe your next of kin.
Like I was saying, in a big, metropolitan area, Jewish people did
not congregate as one, big happy family like we did here because
we needed each other. Our whole social activities were as together
and in a big city, it's your close family, your close friends, and
I wanted my children to have the exposure of the same warmth of
this community, and that's why I decided to send her to a college
in a southern community that experiences the same type of
atmosphere that we have here.
Particularly in this community, there were the two temples as I
stated. When it was Yom Kipper, the two temples got together for
one, big Yom Kipper dance and this was where we had the opportunity
to meet with each other and wish each other a Happy New Year.
There was no conflict of some being reform and some being conservat-
ive. Those people that we knew from each temple were our friends.
Unfortunately, in the age group of my children, there were not that
many Jewish children, and that's why when they went to school,
there was such a small amount in their classes. They were not
exposed to teens as they were growing up, so going into this
college, for my daughter, particularly, was the best thing that
ever happened to her.
To this day, those same Jewish children that she met at the
University of Georgia are still her friends.
S: But, there must have been a trickling down of Jewish people.
C: Not then. I would say that for the first 20 years that I lived
here, and when my children were still in their teens, there was
not that influx of people.
The influx started when developments and condominiums started being
Now, I'll go back into a little bit of my career and tell you when
that started. In the very beginning, let's say 1952, 1955, 1956,
people started taking an interest in the land in Florida. Two
particular companies were formed in this area, that started form-
ing syndications where people would group together and invest in
big tracts of land. Most of the land was swamp land all over
the state of Florida. In fact, in this area, where you see the
railroad tracks, that was the edge of our town. If you look
about (I talked about Clematis Street), ten blocks south of
Clematis Street was a cemetery, that was the outskirts of the city.
We didn't have any westward expansion. When we used to ride into
Miami, we had to take U.S. Highway No. 1. It was a two lane
highway, you didn't have the turnpike in thosedays. The turnpike
today is about 20 years old, but none of these major highways
So, the first interest that came about in Florida was where some
people started formulating syndications to buy and sell big
tracts of land. But, nobody was using the land and the U. S.
government started frowning on it because there was no control
over these investments. The government started stepping in to
see what was going on.
Just like everybody else, we got interested in investing and
purchasing a little tract of land. Our first investment was
three hundred dollars ito participate in something, somewhere in
Florida, because this was the thing to do at that time. Nothing
was happening with the land, but people were buying it in bulk,
and selling it. In those days it was going for twenty-five
dollars an acre, fifty dollars an acre. They would buy it for
fifty dollars an acre and sell it to another group for a
hundred dollars an acre. They motivated business within them-
selves, but nothing really happened with the land.
S: Was that the time when air-conditioning was then being used? You
lived here without air-conditioning?
C: We lived without air-conditioning and television. The first
television station was the Miami station which we could not even
get. We put up outside antennas, and rabbit ears but we could not
get it. This was in the latter part of 1940 into the early part
of 1950 and there was no air-conditioning. Nobody air-conditioned
their house, and nobody even put heating in their house in those
days. We used a little gas burner if it got a little chilly.
We didn't even experience the cold weather that we do today. The
heat was just something that you expected. You used a fan, an
electric fan, but there was no air-conditioning, there was no
heating systems, I'm talking about central, there was no tele-
vision until into the '50s.
My husband's business kept growing because of television. We
moved out of Riviera Beach, because apartments came about and
the post office built a major post office. The highway became
four lanes. U.S. Highway No. 1 was the more heavily travelled.
You rode through Riviera on this little dirt road, and, because of
it you couldn't get to our little store. My husband opened up a
store in Northwood Hills, which was on Northwood Road.
Now, for community area, we had Clematis Street as our main
business district, we also had Northwood Road as another little
business district, and we had, just maybe a few stores on
Belvedere Road. The rest of the area had nothing. Everybody
shopped in small, shops on Clematis Street or some of the neighbor-
hood stores. We ended up building a home in Northwood Hills in
1951, that was the first house which we lived in for 21 years.
My children were born and raised primarily in that area.
When I started making this little investment in this syndication,
being someone who is very inquisitive and wanting to learn, I
noticed in the newspaper that a real estate course was being
given. I applied to take the course, only to find out that what
the course offered was the law which qualified you to have a
real estate license. I thought I was going to be learning a
little bit about what I had put my three hundred dollars in, but
I was really learning the law of Florida that was required so
that you could qualify for a license,
The company that I had made my little investment with, when I
told one of the head men that I was taking this course, he said,
"Rhoda, we're going to have a little desk for you in our office
and we want you to come with us." That was when I started in my
real estate career, so to speak. It was very short-lived. About
nine months later was when a lot of changes and government ruling
came about that was questioning these syndications that were
After that syndication period ended, developers started building
apartment buildings in place of the hotels that had started to
be built in the Miami area. Miami was growing and hotels were
being built in Miami, but nothing new in a hotel resort was being
built in the Palm Beach County area. We still have the same hotels
that existed in Palm Beach, but nothing new was being built, as
everybody experienced in the Miami area. All the tourists were
still heading towards Miami, and that was growing.
The broker that I was later licensed with, sold a piece of property
on Flagler Drive to a developer who had already built a building
in Miami, an apartment building. That was the first exposure in
this area of a high-rise apartment building, and it was a
co-op, and it's called the LaFontana. It was the very first
building. It exists now across the street from where Temple
Beth El is, but at that time, Temple Beth El was not there, it was
still on Fern Street and I worked for them in that apartment
It was a very difficult thing to educate people of this area to
not going to a hotel, or renting a little efficiency apartment in
back of somebody's home or a garage apartment. That was the
first start of any high-rise apartment building where people could
own or possess something.
Later, it started in the Palm Beach area and that was really when
the influx of people moving into this area began, and that is 20
years ago. It was when I was working at LaFontana that I had my
fourth child who is now 19, so, that was 20 years ago.
So, if I'm counting back years, and could go by that because I
worked for them prior to becoming pregnant with my fourth child
who is now 19. So, I know that 20 years ago, the first apartment
building was built.
S: What happened after that?
C: Then, things started being built in Palm Beach and people started
moving down. About 12 to 15 years ago, the first community
project was build in this area which is called 'Century Village'
which was also the next big influx of Jewish people to this
community. I must tell you that I feel that a very dear, close
friend of mine by the name of Irwin Levy was responsible for the
influx of the Jewish people to come into this area and live in
Century Village because he felt that a home should be offered to
some of the people who had worked in the sweat boxes of the big
cities, to be able to live in a nice climate and to see some
greenery around them. In big cities they never had the exposure
to greenery, and he built these apartments at very nominal prices
and they were eighty-nine hundred dollars. The cheapest was
about eighty-nine, then ninety-nine and then maybe ten thousand,
nine hundred, and that's the way it all began. And, because that
became a veryisccessful retirement-type community, other builders
started coming into, not only this area, but other areas south
Apartment living was not common. People came into Miami and
stayed in hotels, or people owned little apartments, or rented
little apartments that somebody else owned. I would say that 15
to 20 years ago, was when the development first started, and the
Jewish community first had a chance to grow to the point that it
is today and it is still growing. Of course, because of this, the
whole face of the Palm Beaches changed, the face of West Palm
Beach has changed. The Jewish people then were only the merchants
prior to that. The banks and insurance companies (no industry
existed in this area) were primarily owned by the Christian community,
the workers in some of the stores were some of the Christian
people, but the owners and the merchants were primarily the Jewish
The other growth that was created in this area was when Mr.
Perini, who came out of Massechusetts,bought from the City of West
Palm Beach, all the property that was west of the FEC Railroad
which was all swamp land. In order for the City to have sold it
to them, it was with their promise that not only would they pave
the roads,,but that they would designate specific areas for the
black community, for schools, for churches, for shopping, as well
Palm Beach Lakes North, Palm Beach Lakes South,the Mall area,
Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard which lead .into Okeechobee Boulevard -
that's a new Okeechobee Boulevard, that was not the Okeechobee
Boulevard that existed when we first came here which was the Old
Okeechobee Boulevard which still exists which is not very commonly
used anymore because it's a very old street and there are some
industrial buildings in that area. But, Okeechobee Boulevard is
also a very new street, as well as Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard.
All of that area, where the President is, was all swamp land,
undeveloped. That only started about 15 years ago.
So, we're not really an old community as you see today. West Palm
Beach is an old city, and it's very ironic because a lot of the
cities south of us were not as big as West Palm Beach, I'm talking
about Boca Raton, Boynton, Deerfield and Pompano, and Fort
Lauderdale, they were smaller than West Palm Beach, as small
as West Palm Beach is, but, that growth started before West Palm
Beach because of the growth in Miami with new hotels being built
and people coming into the area and what happened was it started
growing north and we were one of the slowest cities, though we
were one of the oldest cities, we were one of the slowest cities
to start growing and building. If you look at these cities today
and compare to the way we are, they are bigger than we are.
They are developed further west of us. I say this with a great
deal of joy because I think that we have learned from their
If you go into Miami with all their apartment buildings, and to
Fort Lauderdale, the congestion is like a concrete jungle.
Fortunately, we don't have a clustering of one after the other of
very high-rises, I'm talking about 20 or 30 story buildings, of
high-rise buildings one on top of the other. So, this community
is still, to me, one of the nicest areas to live in because you've
got a lot of open air and you've got a lot of small residential
I also remember when Lake Park, parts of it was Kelsey City,
which is also a very small community and we used to go to Kelsey
City to buy milk right from the dairy farm. North Palm Beach was
also swamp and wilderness land, none of it was built. You could
drive for hours and not see a building at all, not only from here
but even going to Miami on a two lane highway,
S: With this influx of Jewish people, it must have created some
problems, it certainly changed the whole face of this community.
C: Because this was a very small Jewish community to begin with, and
the majority of the population was Christian people, as growth
began and more Jewish people came into the area, we started
experiencing a lot more anti-Semitism. There was a lot more
resentfulness by the people that lived in the area because they
felt that there was a change in the area.
The Whitehall and the Palm Beach Hotel and the Biltmore were hotels
that accepted Jewish people. At the Breakers, no Jews were ever
allowed. Not only was it common knowledge, but there was a sign,
and if anyone with a Jewish-sounding name were to inquire about a
hotel room, they were told that there were none available, and then
ive minutes later, the same phone call from the same person
using a Christian name when they called, a room was made available
We were all aware of it. In many ways we tried to do something
about it because we realized that with the influx of Jewish
people in the area, the existence of that type of situation in a
major hotel in Palm Beach could only continue in anti-Semitism
that was starting to grow in the area because of more Jewish
people coming into the area, and we kn w that something had to be
done about it.
When I first came into this community, the first thing that I did
was join the Temple. This was something that everybody involved
themselves in, so I always had Temple activities.
At a very similar time, Hadassah was formed, B'nai Brith was
formed, the Men's Group, the B'nai Brith Women's Group, of course,
we were a very small handful of people that started these
organizations. As you know, B'nai Brith has the Anti-Defamation
I feel very fortunate that friends of mine that I was closest to
were involved in B'nai Brith and it involved me and I worked for
the organization all these years until I eventually worked my way
up to being president.
I was President of B'nai Brith Women of Palm Beach County, and at that
time, there was only one B'nai Brith. Today, I'm not even sure
how many chapters there are of Hadassah or of B'nai Brith, but
there are many.
I also am aware of the fact that there are maybe fifty Jewish
organizations in this community where in those days we only had
the Hadassah and the B'nai Brith. We had a little Jewish Federation,
we had wonderful Sam Schutzer who published "Our Voice" newspaper.
The "Our Voice" newspaper was the way that we all knew what was
happening in each other's lives. That if we didn't get to see
each other or talk to each other, there was a column that said,
"Rhoda Cole was entertaining her parents from Brooklyn, New
York", or that somebody was born or some kind of Simcha or what-
ever was happening in the community, was written in the newspaper.
S: What newspaper was this?
C: It was called "Our Voice".
S: It was just a publication?
C: A Jewish publication, and Sam Schutzer, who is now about 92 or 93
years old, God bless him, used to walk from his home on Malverne
all through Clematis Street getting ads from all the Jewish
merchants, up to Northwood Road to where my husband had his store
to get an ad from my husband. This was the way we all stayed in
touch with each other, between the Temple and the newspaper.
Today, that newspaper is now the "Jewish Floridian", but if you
notice that it says on it "originally 'Our Voice' ". This was
also one of the things that kept us close together, but because
of my affiliation in B'nai Brith, I became very involved in the
Anti-Defamation League which eventually was what helped break the
ruling .of the Breakers and that was about 18 years ago.
When you think of this modern society and you think about things
that happened to you 20 or 50 years ago in most areas of the
community, 18 years ago, the Breakers Hotel did not allow Jewish
people as their guests in that hotel.
Today, and I say this in all honesty, they would not exist, or
survive, if it wasn't for the Jewish people because of all the
Jewish conventions and the people that come down, they are the
ones who support this hotel today.
I'll tell you something even more interesting. My son, who was
born Mitchell Hal Cohen, our name was changed when he was about
two years old to Cole and this was the request of my father-in-law.
Even prior to my marriage, his other two sons (my husband is one
of three brothers) had changed their name to Cole. My oldest
brother-in-law was dealing in the Boston area as a salesman, and
the Jewish people in that area were not very acceptable. With the
name Cohen, he worried that he would not be able to be successful
as a travelling salesman in that area, so, he changed his name to
Cole. My other brother-in-law, who originally started to Florida,
who brought us to Florida, moved back to New York two years
afterwards and he changed his name to Cole.
So, my father-in-law, who was a wonderful man, said, "Though I
take great pride in my name being Cohen, and being a Cohen, it
upsets me that two of my sons are Cole, but I want my three sons,
after my death, to at least be able to identify as brothers, and
since they did," he talked my husband into changing his name from
Cohen to Cole.
So, my two first born children, Mitchell and Barbara, who were
born as Cohen, their names were changed to Cole. And, all of
these years, we have been Cole.
But, what I wanted to tell you about my son, about six years ago,
my son changed his name back to Cohen, but not only did he change
his last name back to Cohen he changed his first name to Aaron.
The Breakers Hotel was originally built by Henry Flagler who
himself was very anti-Semitic and this created the whole situation.
My son, Aaron Cohen, recently finished a video-tape of the history
and life of Henry Flagler for the Henry Flagler Museum which had
been sold from being his home to what became the Whitehall Hotel
then was bought by his granddaughter and changed back to the
Henry Flagler Museum. Today, a young man by the name of Aaron
Cohen was hired to do the film presentation of the History of
Henry Flagler. So, I think we have come a long way.
S: We certainly have. You certainly are very, very successful,
you're now a broker?
S: I can't see someone as vibrant as yourself ever retiring, yet, I
just wonder, are there some things that you want to do in the
future that would have nothing to do with real estate?
C: Well, I think one of my greatest commitments has always been to
my Jewish people, to the people of this community, to people
elsewhere. We have always been involved in the Jewish community,
that was really our only survival socially when we first came
here because of our families, but then you also realized the
importance of your involvement. My children also got the same
feelings that they have been brought up with.
Though, because of my involvement in real estate, it has taken me
away from a great deal of organization work. I don't foresee my
ever giving up my profession because I derive a great deal of
gratification from it and the involvement, because I am as active
as I am, if there were anything other that I would do, it would
be to further work toward the survival of our people. The comfort
of our people. There are so many things yet to be done.
I think that it's very important that we all support primarily the
survival of Israel. If that doesn't survive because of what the
general consensus of the world is about survival and I say
general consensus because most countries would like to see us over
and ended and finished, then, what we have worked so hard in, in
this community and the other communities in this country, to
combat anti-Semitism, will come to the forefront again. The
Jews of the United States will survive.
So, if there is any dedication on my part, it would be to help keep
the strength of Israel and our Jewish people in this country,
particularly the Jewish children.
One of the things that I have involved myself in is something that
was done by the Jewish Federation in Miami for our young, Jewish
children of America. What about the other people in this
community of Jewish background and Jewish homes that our parents
gave us and our grandparents. Like I say, I came from a very
orthodox family, and orthodox home. I do not have that same
orthodox home today because it was impossible, not having
restaurants, kosher butchers, as there are today, so you sway away
I sent my child for eight weeks of extensive study in Israel, to
the High School of Israel. I think everyone of the Jewish
children in this country should have that exposure because if
they are not educated as we have been, we will not survive
because they will not be the next generation to support us.
So, my greater contributions are to the High School of Israel and
to the Jewish Federation because they are the ones that can help
us survive and our future generations to survive. If we don't
help these organizations, the temples are not going to survive.
Though I feel dedicated to temples, if you don't fight and
support the Jewish population all over the world, there will be no
need for temples. So, first it's the other organizations, to
educate, to teach, to help the Jewish people all over to survive
and then the need for temples will continue to exist.
That's what I would like to work for.
S: Rhoda, thank you for a most informative and exciting interview.
C: Shalom to you.