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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
JEWISH FEDERATION OF PALM BEACH COUNTY
INTERVIEWEE: Louis Berry
INTERVIEWER: Dr. Haviva Langenauer
DATE: April 12, 1982
PLACE: Palm Beach, Florida
This is Dr. Haviva Langenauer in the home of Louis Berry in Palm Beach on
April 12, 1982.
L: Lou, I want to thank you very much for agreeing to give us this oral history
for the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County. It will be placed in the
historical archive with records of famous Jews who have been part of this
Palm Beach community.
To begin with, will you tell me where you were born?
B: I was born in Liverpool, England.
L: When were you born?
B: As far as I know from the records, October 10, 1902.
L: How many children were there in your family?
L: What did your father do for a living?
B: My father was a cabinet maker.
L: Did you live with any of your grandparents?
B: No. We had six children at home and there wasn't much room for grandparents.
It was a small house and in one of Liverpool's poorer neighborhoods. As a
matter of fact, my father had his workshop on the third floor. When he
worked the dust would fly, and the sawdust would go flying. He worked with
his hands. He made furniture and when the furniture was made he would find
somebody to buy it, and this is how he made his living.
L: What kind of Jewish observance was there in your home?
B: It was a very Orthodox home.
L: Did you go to school for Hebrew studies?
B: I went to a Hebrew school until my Bar Mitzvah, and that was it. But we
had another training. It was a home where when Friday came my father quit
his work in the afternoon, took his bath, dressed up for Shul. My mother
observed the Sabbath very closely. This was a family gathering where, like
a mantle came over my father and everything else. The trials and tribula-
tions of the week were gone, and for 24 hours there was complete rest and
relaxation. We went to Shul every Sabbath morning. The Shul was just across
the street on the third floor of an old building, and there were probably 20
or 25 worshipers there. My father was very observant of the festivals, the
holidays, and kosher home. We were taught very strictly to observe all the
precepts of Judaism as we knew them at that time.
L: Did Liverpool have a large Jewish community?
B: There must have been about 6,000 Jews that I can recall.
L: Did they live in one neighborhood?
B: There was the usual thing. There was the so-called ghetto area and there were
some of the richer Jews, who lived in better homes in the suburbs.
L: I know that you lost your father at an early age.
B: I lost my father when I was 16 years old.
L: And, then certain responsibility fell on your shoulders?
B: Let me say this, there was a real financial problem. I think there was
enough insurance just to pay for the burial, and my mother had to decide to
make a living for the family.
Of course, I was working at that time. I had a job. I was already working
in a wholesale dry goods house. It was a small paying job, delivering
packages. It went as far as sweeping the floor, a very nominal job. My
mother decided that she would have to do something to make a living for the
family, so she decided to take the so-called living room in the front of the
house, (there were no zoning laws at that time). She converted it into what
we called a green-grocery shop, vegetables, groceries and other things. I
remember she borrowed the equivalent of something like $50, and my mother
took me to the market with her. There was a market right downtown where the
farmers would bring in their produce, and we would get up at 4:00 in the
morning and hire a horse and buggy. I would drive the horse and buggy and we
would buy the groceries, drag them back to the house, display them in the so-
called store, and I would then rush up and go to my job.
L: Then, at the age of 16 were you holding down two jobs?
L: When did you decide to come to America?
B: In 1922. My mother had a brother who lived in Detroit, and we were getting
growing reports about the success he had achieved. The prospects didn't look
too good in Liverpool, so the family decided they would send me over too. I
was a pioneer, and maybe with the help of my uncle, I could achieve some
success and bring the family over from England to the United States.
L: Who paid for your ticket?
B: I had saved enough money from my job to buy a ticket. Of course, it wasn't
very much, but it was quite possible I bought it on the installment basis.
L: Did you have much money with you when you came to America?
B: Practically nothing, maybe the equivalent of twenty or twenty-five dollars.
L: You made your way to Detroit.
B: I came into Ellis Island and came to Detroit. Incidentally, I became very
disillusioned. My uncle, who had achieved great success in the United States,
actually was peddling dry goods, sheets, pillow cases, towels, from door to
door. The only thing he could offer me was a similar job, that is work with
him. Well, I already had some sort of a dignified job in Liverpool, I mean I
was wearing a necktie, and going to work every morning. I was already begin-
ning to sell customers who came in, and I was learning very fast.
You can imagine my disillusionment when I went out on a cold December morning
with my uncle to peddle these dry goods. We went way out someplace in the
suburbs. no paved streets at that time. My first experience when I tried to
get into a door was with a dog there, and I was persistent. I was sort of
aggressive, so I was bitten by the dog it didn't take me long to find out that
there was no great future for me in that particular endeavor.
So, having been in the wholesale dry goods business in Liverpool, I decided
that I would go down to Jefferson Avenue in Detroit where wholesale dry goods
houses had establishments. I went from door to door looking for a job. The
best I could get was a job starting at the bottom, loading cases, sweeping
the floor, but as long as I could get in, this is what I did. I started at a
salary of about $10 a week. But, I can still remember that whatever I made,
a certain portion was sent home for my mother and children.
L: Were you able to make more money in America than in Liverpool?
B: Not at the beginning. No. There was no other way. I couldn't go back, so I
stuck to it. After working, (I worked maybe for a year), I was elevated to a
job. I wouldn't say elevated. I can't recall in detail, but I think these
people I worked for already had about six salesmen on the road. This whole-
sale dry goods house used to sell hosiery, underwear, clothing and that sort
of stuff, and they would take big packets of samples and call on stores. They
already had six salesmen, and somehow or other I was able to convince my boss
to give me an opportunity to go out on the road, and that I would bring in
Well, it wasn't easy, because first of all I didn't have a car, couldn't afford
a car. How I did it, I don't know. But for what it was worth, I just went out
there with two big grips, and took the street car and went out. Five out of
six places I called on were already being covered by other salesmen so you
could not touch that territory. It was theirs. But I managed somehow or
other to convince my boss, after doing that for 30 or 40 days, that if he
would advance the money for a car, I could go out and drum up some business
for him. Evidently, I sold him because many years later when they made sort
of a tribute party for me I remember my boss, Isaac Shetzer who was a very
venerable gentleman one of the community leaders. I quote him as saying,
"How Berry was able to convince me to advance money for a car, I don't know to
this day. But, he did such a good sales job that I figured he could be a good
L: Were there other people from Liverpool that you came into contact with in
B: It so happened that a girl who I know through the family, who I later married,
(my first wife) -- her family was in Detroit. It happened that my first wife's
sister was married to my uncle (that's how they came there), and they were
struggling too. This was about the only contact I had, and I eventually
married Betty, my first wife.
L: What kind of a house did you live in when you first came to Detroit?
B: I had rented a room, paid so much a week, and this was my house. I didn't live
in a hotel.
L: And, then after you were married?
B: After we were married, of course, we moved into an apartment.
L: When you first got married in Detroit, what kind of job did you continue with?
B: I had already achieved some degree of success. I never got a salary, I worked
on commission, but I was probably, at that time, making $40 or $50 a week. I
didn't work eight hours a day. It was 12 hours, or 15 hours. I dug up stores
where nobody else could find them, and if they didn't carry our merchandise I
sold them on the idea of carrying our merchandise. This was a salesman's job.
L: How did you make the transition to real estate?
B: Well, that came many years later. At about 1922, before I got married, and
from '24 up until 1939, during that period, I brought the whole family over.
My mother, my two brothers, and my three sisters. This entailed I don't want
to say sacrifice, but it certainly was an effort. I didn't have the money at
one time. I recall I was buying steamship tickets on time. Steamship tickets
cost maybe $100, so I put $25 down and undertook to pay the rest over a period
of a year or two and I kept up the payments. This is how I brought the family
over. I rented an apartment for them. By 1936, I had brought the whole family
But, it was very rough because I hit the depression in '29. Bank closings, if
you can think such a thing can happen. It was a struggle, but we survived. I
always had a little nest egg. I always believed that if you make a dollar, you
spend 704 you save 304. This is the way it was done. I'm not the only one,
this is the story of most of the immigrants when they came over here. I had
one thing in my favor I knew the language and I was pretty good at mathematics.
L: So, you brought your whole family and then in the '40s you got involved in
B: By 1939, I probably had saved about $5,000. Somebody sold me on the idea of
investing money in a coal business. The people that owned it had been in
business for many years. I knew the family, and they were going into bankruptcy.
In order to save them from bankruptcy, if I could invest $5,000, I would own
half the business. I figured that I could still hold my job, and work with
them in the coal business in order to build it. Well, it turned out to be a
bad mistake because they were hopelessly over their heads in debt, and, my
$5,000 didn't help any. It went down the sink pretty fast. But I was a
fighter, I had no other alternative. I couldn't see my life savings go down
the drain, so I came in nights, Saturdays, Sundays and worked with them until
we got into a situation where I can recall the National Recovery Act, the NRA,
was put into effect by Roosevelt. This gave some relief, particularly to the
coal business. This turnaround, this was after 4 or 5 years of sweating it
out, it didn't happen over night. We started selling coal to the real estate
people who at that time owned apartment houses. I didn't like the idea of
having us wait for telephone calls to deliver a ton of coal to a home. I
thought if we could sell 20 tons, or 30 tons'to an apartment owner it would be
a much larger volume and we could make some profit that way.
I was also quickly disillusioned, because I found that the real estate people
in those days who owned these apartment houses didn't pay their bills too fast.
Whatever money they took in was for buying more apartment houses. We were
carrying them. I suddenly got the idea that instead of carrying them with our
money so they should buy more real estate, I myself would do what they were
doing. So, I bought my first apartment house for $500 down for 20 units, and
that was my first giant step into the real estate business.
L: Would you say that you are generally optimistic by nature? To take a business
like that and work at it for 5 years.
B: You would have to be with that,
L: Has that carried through to your other businesses?
L: You look at the bright side of things?
B: Always. My real estate endeavors turned out to be fruitful, not because I was
so smart, but because my timing happened to be right. I recall in 1940, just
after I'd stepped in the real estate field, that World War II had started and
Detroit became what they called then the "Arsenal of Democracy" and I stepped
into a very big deal, way over my head, old money. It was a fair gamble. I
won't go into details, but the reason why I did it was more ego than anything
else. This deal looked like it was going to turn out very bad. But, because
of the war that started at that time, it suddenly became good. It was the
largest apartment house in Detroit, which I got into on a shoestring because
it was doing very badly. It was in receivership, and after four months in that
field, it looked to me like I was going to lose it. But Hitler marched into
Poland in September, of 1939, just about the time that I was at the end of my
rope. This was the turning point that started me in the real estate business.
Big. When that deal turned out, the leverage was tremendous, and that deal
that had been losing money every month, within 90 days after the war started,
began to make some real heavy money. Overnight I became a genius, Just because
a war started, over which I had no control. That was the beginning of my real
L: You tell another story of a much more modest endeavor, of an apartment build-
ing when it was very hard to rent apartments, and turning the lights on and
off. When was that?
B: Those are the olden days.
L: Much before this?
L: Would you tell that story again, and about famous tenant?
B: Well, in the 30's things were so bad. I had two apartment houses at that
time and we would keep the lights burning at'night just to make it look like
they were occupied. When people paid their rent it was all right, but if they
didn't we didn't let them go. We hoped that we would collect it someday,
because if they went, there was no one to replace them.
I recall the time, one winter's morning, that I got a call from a caretaker
of a building that I owned, telling me that Mrs. Cohen was moving. She was
a widow. She hadn't paid her rent for 6 or 8 months. I didn't want to push
her out, not because I was so benevolent, but there were no other tenants
then. So I thought it was peculiar that she would want to move. She was
living without paying any rent! I jumped into my car that morning. (I lived
not very far from the apartment house) and I ran over. She was on the third
floor, I ran up the steps and I see her and she's standing there with all her
belongings, packed up, tied up, roped, boxes and everything.
I said, "Mrs. Cohen, I'm curious. Why are you moving? Didn't we treat you
right. Does the caretaker abuse you, or mistreat you in any way?"
"No, Mr. Berry, you're a very fine gentlemen."
"Then, why are you moving?"
"For my money, I can get mit a shower."
L: That's a wonderful story. Then, of course, the war had a profound effect on
you and your involvement in the United Jewish Appeal. Can you tell me some-
thing about the famous mission that you were on to see the DP Camps?
B: Let me put it this way. How did I get involved in this? I've got to be frank
with you. From 1939 up until 1945, or 1946, there was only one thing that I
wanted to do, make money. I began to get the feeling that making money was
easy. As I said, my timing was right for buying everything in sight. In those
days you could buy real estate for very little money because the insurance
companies which had forclosed on all this real estate during the depression
were anxious to unload. They'd make all sorts of deals. I was buying, buying
on the telephone. I was already probably the biggest operator in our city,
they told me that, at least.
I began to branch out into other cities. I got into office buildings, hotels,
warehouse building, land development. I was all over. One of the large
buildings that I bought was a large building in New York called Fisk Building,
on the corner of Broadway and 57th Streets. This happened to be the head-
quarters of UJA. They occupied office space there.
In 1947 or 1948 UJA went out on their first one-hundred million drive. I think
at that time, they were raising 25 or 30 million dollars a year. It was a very
ambitious project. Nobody thought they could accomplish it. UJA was headed
at that time by a man by the name of Henry Montor, who later became famous as
probably one of the greatest fund raisers in the history of American Jewry. I
still think he was. It was his idea to go out for this sort of money. The
Jews were coming out of the DP camps, there was no place to put them. For the
first time we began to realize the awful impact of the Holocaust. None of us
knew really what was happening.
In order to go out on this hundred million dollar drive, they needed more space
in the building and Henry Montor succeeded in getting Henry Morganthau, Jr. to
head this for the UJA, the first time. It so happened the building was full.
There was not too much space available in New York, and at the time I bought
the building, within the first six months that I owned it, it was already full.
He went to the manager of the building, tried to get more space and the manager
told him that we just didn't have it.
Henry Montor wasn't the sort of a man who would take no for an answer. He
wanted to know who the owner was.
He was told, "The owner is in Detroit".
He said, "What's his name"?
I wasn't the owner entirely of the apartments, but I was making the deals with
"Louis Berry in Detroit. We've got to get somebody who knows Louis Berry".
So he called the Executive Director of our Federation, Isadore Soboloff at
that time and said, "Do you know Louis Berry"?
"Sure, we know him. He's one of the young stars on the horizon and we're
trying to get him involved. As a matter of fact we're trying to get him to
chair the real estate division of our Allied Jewish Campaign."
"Well", Henry Montor said, "Will you do me a favor? I have got to get to
Louis Berry, I'll come to Detroit, or find out when he's coming to New York.
We need space here and it's very, very critical for us."
So, I get a call from Isadore Soboloff telling me this story and I said,
"Well, if he doesn't come to Detroit, I'll be going into New York every other
week, I'll be in New York next week and I'll see him".
He said,"Well, I'll try to tell him that". But that wasn't enough.
The next call I get is "When are you going? What plane?"
To make a long story short, Henry Montor was waiting at the airport for me
and he explained the problem to me. And wanting to do something in a case
like this I certainly couldn't say no. I quickly arranged to have some space
available for him. We could always move tenants around and within a couple
of weeks he had what he wanted. But, it didn't stop with that. Henry Montor
wasn't going to wait for Detroit to get Louis Berry involved with the UJA. He
started to work on me himself. He sensed that there was some potential here.
All of a sudden, I had Henry Montor calling me for lunch and for dinner, and
he's wining and dining me. To make a long story short, I accepted the chair-
manship of the Real Estate Division and I said, well I'll get by. They're
giving me plenty of help. I'm traveling all the time. I'm deeply involved in
my business, I have no time to take care of other people. I must say, I was
selfish. But, having taken the job it was always my nature to be a success
because that was my ego. Well, I'm going to raise more money in the real
estate division'than they have ever raised before, especially with this new
During this process, UJA had decided that they would have a small group of
people go to the DP camps and to Israel. This was February of 1948. I
recall it because I nearly froze to death in Jerusalem. Why I said yes to
this, I guess Henry really did a brain washing on me.
"Lou, you've got to go. You'll be the only one from Detroit." Later they
had somebody else from Detroit, but that's another story.
"You'll be the only one, and not many people are being invited, (there's
only 20 of them). It's going to be a rugged trip."
This was before jets. So I said yes. Little did I know what this was going
to get me into. This was the beginning of my real involvement.
Oh, incidentally, I had gotten involved in some of the secret meetings. This
was before that. When I was in New York, someone would ask me to a meeting
at the McAlpin Hotel and there I got the whole story of the illegal immigra-
tion. At that meeting there were probably people from 20 different communities.
I was there with a friend of mine by the name of Abe Castle from Detroit, a
very great Jew from Detroit. He has passed away now. He got me to go to
that meeting and the upshot was, somebody had come off a boat and told us
what was being done. If we could buy enough boats we could get our Jews out
of the camps and smuggle them in. So we committed ourselves for a boat. It
was strictly illegal. The Federation was against it because it would interfere
with the campaign. It was done very quietly. We were buying the boats at that
time for $75,000. To make a long story short, Abe and I went back to Detroit,
we called up a hundred people ourselves. We got about 75 people to come to a
meeting and collected a $1,000 apiece. So, I was already involved. The trip
to the DP camps came maybe 6 months later.
We succeeded in getting several thousand people out of Europe into Israel.
Some of them were caught and sent to Cyprus but it turned out a success.
L: I interrupted you. You were saying about the DP camps.
B: Twenty-one of us went to the DP camps. To explain the horror we saw there,
the degradation that we saw there. We lived there for about a week. We
lived on practically bread and soup and water. The buildings didn't have a
window that wasn't broken. We slept in our overcoats. But, we were with
these people and we really saw what was going on, what they went through.
I met people that were millionaires in their countries, and they were down
to poverty. Everything had been taken away. We got the feeling though,
(you couldn't help get the feeling) that we just happened to be on the
right side of the street when the hurricane struck. I felt that if my parents
hadn't gone to England, and stayed in Russia, I would have been there instead.
From there we went to Israel. Israel at that time was at war with the Arabs.
The State was not declared officially until May of that year. In the mean-
time the United Nations had already established it, more or less since a vote
had been taken. There was a period of about 6 months before the actual State
was established. We traveled in armored cars, we spent time in the cities,
in the kibbutzim. We really got an in-depth picture of how these Jews were
really struggling and what was ahead of them. I got the feeling that the Lord
had been good to me and it was time that I did something for those who needed
L: Back to the DP camps, do you remember what cities they were in?
B: We were at Auschwitz and Buchenwald and Munich in Germany.
L: They shared their experiences with you?
B: Oh, yes.
L: What language did you speak to them?
B: It's all coming back to me now. It so happened that my father-in-law had a
nephew who was lost in Europe. His whole family had been wiped out, but
the nephew was floating around someplace in the DP camps. Through the JDC I
was able to locate him. He was many miles away from where I was in Buchenwald,
but within 24 hours they brought him to me. I saw this boy and I said,
"We'll get you to America", and within 3 months I had him in Detroit. I gave
him a job, he got married, he has passed away since then. He was part of my
L: So, you've shared the horrors with them? Was that the turning point in your
involvement in Israel?
B: Incidentally, one of the things that I did at the time I was asked to go on
this mission. I had had problems with one of our leading real estate men in
Detroit. A very fine man. Very obstinate. His feeling was that there was
not a chance for the Jews in Israel. It was understandable, they were
surrounded by all these Arabs, limited means, how are they going to establish
a state there? He didn't believe in giving money to Israel, although he was
charitable. He gave away to a lot of charities;when he gave away a dollar,
fifty cents has to go to gentile causes, fifty cents to Jewish causes. Not
Israel. He gave to hospitals, homes for the aged, Jewish Center. I had to
convince him that he's got to give money to UJA, and I had a real battle with
him. He was a good friend of mine. I was then chairman of the real estate
division, I needed his pledge.
A couple of days, or a week before I was scheduled to leave for Europe, I was
having lunch with him, (his name is Joe Holzman), and I said, "Joe, maybe
you're right. Maybe this whole Israel business is throwing money down the
drain. Why don't you and I go and see if we can convince ourselves. I'll
get you to come on this mission. If you go, then I'll go, and maybe after
we've been there we'll decide if you're right". He decided, "You've got a
To make a long story short, Joe Holzman became one of the top leaders in UJA.
He just died a few years ago. One of my very closest friends. Very impetuous
guy, but when he came back he did a job not only for Detroit but nationally.
He became one of the national chairmen, even got me involved in a new business
that he went into in Israel. He got involved in a rock-crushing plant. He
brought over machinery. He raised a million dollars in Detroit just because
someone sold us on the idea that when the Israelis built roads, they were using
picks and shovels to get the rocks to make cement. We got machinery, we sent
over machinery. Today this business built the port of Ashdod. We sold out
since then. A lot of them passed away. This is a long story. We became
partners with Histadruth.
L: Why don't you tell us from the beginning?
B: I had a friend of mine, at the time I became chairman of the campaign. This
was '49 and '50 when I became Chairman of UJA for Detroit. A fellow by the
name of Leon Kay, who was an ardent Zionist got the idea that you can't just
build a country by giving them charity. You've got to help them build industry.
He had been over to Israel and found that they were very, very poor when it
came to building materials. They were still using picks and shovels to get
the rock to make cement. If somebody could come over there and invest the
money to take over some modern machinery, they could then start blasting these
rocks with dynamite and grinding these rocks with machinery and do in one hour
what it takes one week to do now.
Well, I wasn't about to get into something that I don't know anything about.
I said, "Look, it's a fine idea but I'm not a rock-crushing man. None of us
are. You find me somebody who knows something about this business and then
come to me". As chairman I could call a meeting and raise the necessary
money. We needed about 3 or 4 hundred thousand dollars to start.
He says "I don't know anybody". It so happens that we had in our city a man
by the name of Ed Levy, who was in that business in a big way, but he wasn't
a bit interested in Jews or in Israel. He fraternized only with the gentiles.
So, I says, "Leon, if you can get Ed Levy to get interested in this thing,
I'll call a meeting". At that time, it was easy for me. I had quite a follow-
ing in Detroit. I had a lot of friends.
"You go ahead and get Ed Levy, see if he's interested in this. If he is,
we'll get a group of people to put up this money."
I at that time figured he had about one chance in a hundred of getting Ed Levy.
But Leon Kay was indefatiguable. He went down to Miami Beach in the winter
where Ed Levy was, and sat with Ed Levy and convinced Ed Levy that he should
just go to Israel. He used a good approach. Just go to Israel and meet these
people. He gets Ed Levy to go to Israel and Ed Levy meets these people and he
comes back to Detroit and calls me.
"Lou, I'm for this thing. You've got to call a meeting and I'll put in money
and we'll buy the machinery and send it over".
That's how Leon Kay achieved the impossible. I was stuck. I called a meeting
of about 25 people, all leaders in the community, so-called big givers, and we
raised a half a million dollars from that meeting. I went into it, and all
these people went into it and this is how this thing got started. We went
over there, Ed Levy went over there, I went over there, bought a million
dollars worth of machinery and the plans started going. That's the time we
decided we've got our own business, and we let it go. But you can't run a
business that way.
Our manager turned out to be dishonest, and he sold the idea of putting in
more money, borrowing more money from the banks, to everybody that went over
to Israel. One day, we find that we owe the banks almost a million dollars.
We've got 7 or 8 hundred thousand dollars worth of cash in there and it's not
doing well. It just didn't have the management.
That's the time they decided to send Lou Berry and Ed Levy over to Israel
to see if we could get rid of this deal. We owe the banks money. We weren't
making any money and we didn't know how bad it was until we really got there.
We had 20 trucks waiting there. All the tires had been stolen. The plant
wasn't producing, there were no parts. The manager had disappeared, swallowed
Ed and I spent a couple of weeks in Israel going from door to door trying to
salvage things. There just was nobody available. And, Ed, who was strictly
a private enterprise man couldn't think, and wouldn't think of going through
Histadruth because they were labor. They used more cement than anybody there,
but he wouldn't go along. I had a terrible, terrible fight with him and
finally I prevailed and we went to Histadruth and we worked out a deal where
they took over the plant, we became partners with them. We gave them a half
interest in this thing and overnight they turned this thing into a very produc-
tive thing. They were the biggest users. Then the thing really started going.
But, as time went on, it needed more money, a lot of our partners had passed
away, the widows were not too eager to invest money in Israel. I reluctantly
went back and finally worked out a deal where we sold out to Histadruth. They
bought us out and we actually made a profit on this deal which was very un-
usual in those days for investments in Israel by Americans.
L: That's a remarkable story. In the late '50's you were in line for the chair-
manship of UJA, and somehow you turned aside for other interests.
B: What happened was that my wife passed away in 1960, and I suddenly became
aware of the fact that in my great endeavors and visions to make more money
all the time, I hadn't been a great family man. When I say a great family
man, I was on the road most of the time. Knowing my background as you do,
now you can understand. I thought at that time, that I was doing my children
more good by providing them with the means so that they should not have the
tough time that I had.
So, I had gotten really involved in so many things, and that was the time
that I developed a very great friendship with my rabbi, Morris Adler. One
day I get a call from him that he would like to have lunch with me.
"Lou" he says, "You know we're in a building now that we've been in for 25
years, and now the congregation is moving out. You know the old story. We
have to get ready to build a new edifice, or we'll wind up being in the slums.
You're the only one that can do it in our congregation. You have to do it".
I said, "Rabbi, I'm involved in so many things now". I mean in the meantime
it wasn't only UJA. I'd done pretty well with UJA,so I got other calls for
other projects, a hospital in Detroit, a home for the aged. Everybody is
after me, not because I'm such a good fund raiser. I happen to be successful,
so, I suddenly become a star. Before I know it I'm spread out so thin. I'm
on the board of JDC. I'm on the board of Hebrew University. I'm on all these
boards, I'm not going to meetings, but I'm still there, and I always like to
know what's going on and I would be up way until the middle of the night read-
ing minutes of meetings so that I could at least be informed.
My telephone calls, whether it was at home, or on the road traveling, were a
constant pressure. So, it occurred to me, maybe if I take this job and buy
you some land for the synagogue, I can use that as an excuse for not taking
the UJA job. I was not in the best of spirits at that time, and I didn't
quite relish the idea of taking the national chairmanship of UJA which would
have meant being on the road for a whole year. I just felt that it was a
little more than I wanted to do, so I guess to maybe satisfy my own conscience
I said all right to the rabbi.
"I'll go out and buy some land, if I can. I'll call up a few real estate
brokers and they'll scout out something' We knew where we wanted to be and
this in the back of my mind,this sort of offset the fact that I should be
taking the other job for UJA.
Because my wife had jot passed away I said to them "Look, I am in no mood to
take on the UJA". I was going to succeed Morris Bernstein, I think it was at
that time. They accepted it. I said look, I wasn't dropping UJA, I'd still
be around, I'd be one of the national chairmen. When I was traveling they
had a building in New Orleans. They would find out when I was going to be
in New Orleans and organize a fund raising group at that time to meet with
me, and I would talk with them and give them the old spiel. This went on
whether it was Los Angeles, whether is was Boston, whether it was New Orleans,
whether it was Chicago. I had buildings in all these cities, hotels, office
buildings, a lot of things, so, I was happy to do it for them and I had many
many experiences along those lines.
L: So, you worked for Shaarey Zedek to find them land?
B: Well, I finally located a piece of land, and then there came the struggle.
I tied up the land with my own funds because it was exactly what we wanted.
Then came the struggle to convince the congregation. The membership had to
vote on a purchase of land for a building. That was in the by-laws and there
was a hue and cry that this was going to lead us into something way over our
heads financially and that again became a challenge to me. It was just my
ego. Everybody said to me you'll never get the congregation to approve a
piece of land that's going to run into millions of dollars for a new synagogue,
because things were not too good and it meant that the members were going to
have to come up with the money.
Well, I fought that battle successfully. You know when you recall these
things now you wonder in thinking about it. I recall in later years,
"How did I get involved with this stuff"? Good gosh, here I was already a
national figure and I get involved in a local situation with shul members.
I don't have to tell you, you know. I was a target. I was going to lead
the congregation into financial disaster. None of them could see the idea
that we were just a few years away from disaster. My ego, I guess led me to
fight in this thing, and I succeeded in getting them to approve the purchase
of the land. I found the architect to design the new synagogue. That was a
Then before I knew it "Well you bought the land, where are you going to get
the money to build"? Before I knew it, I'm chairman of the development fund
and I'm going out with the rabbi to raise funds, and again, it's another
challenge. They say I can't do it, I'm going to show you I can do it. So,
I did it. Instead of a 2 million dollar synagogue we're going to build an
edifice for 6 million. We got the money. I went to the banks and financed
it. We went through the whole thing until I had the joy of seeing the
mortgage paid off. The mortgage that I had gotten was paid off at the time
when my son was president and he went out to raise the last $600,000 in cash,
which I participated in to pay off the mortgage. That's the story.
L: You also served as president?
B: During this period I served as president twice.
L: You've done so many important things in your life. If someone were to ask
you what accomplishments you're most proud of, could you give an answer?
B: That's not easy. I. could talk about the turning points in my business as
I've related to you that 1939 thing. How there is a tide in the affairs of
man, like Shakespeare said. If not for the war I could pinpoint for you the
conversion of my thinking when I was in the DP camps. I suddenly got the
feeling that making money isn't everything. You've got to know what to do
with it, and what's the right thing to do with it. And there, but for the
grace of God, I could have been. These are all turning points, I suppose.
Greatest achievement, I don't know.
L: A good statement. Recently, you were honored by the Jewish Theological
Seminary and inducted into their Society of Fellows. How did you get involved
with the Seminary?
B: This goes back also to the middle 40's. I had bought a hotel in Washington;
a famous landmark, the Willard Hotel. In buying that, I had just by a hair's
breath beat out a competitor from Chicago whose name was Maxwell Abell.
Maxwell Abell immediately offered me a profit on this deal, because he wanted
it bad. But I was not interested in a profit, so I decided that we would buy
it together. At that time I never had enough money, although they were high
leverage deals, all of these deals took a lot of money and I was taking in
partners, so Maxwell Abell and I became partners.
Maxwell Abell was a tremendous individual. He started from nothing. He went
to night school and became an attorney, became a CPA and then he started
syndicating real estate and he was the top Chicago man in that field. We were
sort of competitors. As we came to know each other, after doing business
together, he told me he was involved in everything that you can think of
involving Jewish matters. He became one of the directors of the Seminary and
was very much interested in seeing the Seminary grow.
He was the chairman of the Chicago division. The Seminary in Detroit had gone
down to practically nothing. A letter would go out occasionally from the
rabbi, everyone would send him $50 and that was the extent of it until Maxwell
Abell imposed upon me one day and said "Look Lou, I would like to come into
Detroit, if you would get a group of a few people together for me to tell
them the Seminary story. Maybe you can make that the beginning of a Detroit
Chapter". I couldn't say no to him.
So, he came in for a meeting and before you know it, I'm chairman of the Detroit
Chapter and I'm raising the sort of money that no one had ever raised before in
L: There are wonderful stories about you. In your fund raising attempts, you tell
a story about a man and his famous necktie that cost him a great deal of money.
Do you want to tell us that? That's just typical of one of your fund raising
B: Well, at one point, after Shaarey Zedek had already built the new building and
I had already been president and my successors were no financial geniuses, and
before I know it Shaarey Zedek is owing the banks a quarter of a million
dollars. The banks always gave them money because they know the membership
there. So, the rabbi comes to me and tells me that we're in financial trouble
again and we have to raise this quarter of a million dollars to pay off the
banks. Knowing that I something to do with the credit that was established
with the bank in earlier years. I felt there was some responsibility on my
part, so, I had to help them raise this money. So, we called a meeting of
our leaders and we're on the way to a quarter of a million dollar fund
raising project to clean up all our debts.
It's not going too well at the beginning because there have been so many calls
on the membership. One day I get a call from the rabbi that says
"There is a Mr. Dolfman who is a new member in our synagogue who has been very
successful in his business who has given $500 to this fund raising drive. We
know he is capable of giving much more if the right approach is made by the
right person and we feel you're the one to do it".
I said "Rabbi, I don't know Mr. Dolfman".
"Don't worry. If you call him, he'll see you."
So, I called Mr. Dolfman and invited him to lunch with the Rabbi and myself.
In the building where my offices are we have a private club called The Reece's
Club to which I invited him to. We made our appointment for the following
week and at 12:30 I go down. I know what he looks like, I go down and I see
that Mr. Dolfman is in a pair of slacks and a sports shirt and no neck tie.
People with no neckties aren't permitted into the Reece's Club. I can't take
him any other place because the Rabbi's not here and he will not be able to
So, I finally imposed upon the maitre d' and got him to loan me a neck tie
for Mr. Dolfman. The Rabbi eventually got there, a little late, and we sat
down for lunch. We went through the usual platitudes and finally I says to
"Henry, if I call you for lunch there must be a reason".
He said, "So what's the reason"? "You know the synagogue is in debt, and
we've got a drive to pay it off. You've been approached, and you were very
nice. You gave them a donation, but we feel that you've got to do better.
After all, Henry, you're just a new member and we've gone through a lot of
trials and tribulations in the past years to give you the synagogue that you
have now for your family."
"Okay, what can I do for you?" I said, "Well, I would like you to give
us $25,000. It may be a little presumptuous on my part, but you're not just
giving it for this particular drive. You're giving to something that you
should have participated in years ago".
To my surprise, "No problem, Lou." He shakes hands with me, "You've got it."
the next day we had a check for $25,000. On his way out he hands me the neck-
tie and says to me, "This is a very expensive necktie. Can I keep it?"
I said, "It's yours."
L: What do they say about you? "When Lou Berry calls, ."
B: When Lou Berry made a call to somebody they didn't say "How are you?" They
said, "How much?"
L: That's wonderful. You've certainly done a great deal of work in Jewish
Philanthropy. Let me ask what brought you to West Palm Beach? How long have
you been coming here?
B: I always had a residence in Florida. In 1950 I built a small apartment house
in Bay Harbor, outside of Miami, which we stopped using after my first wife
passed away. Then I used to come down to Palm Beach every year with a friend
of mine to play golf in November. I suddenly decided I would like to rent an
apartment here for the season to see if Vivian liked it, and if she did we
would spend our winters here.
So, we eventually bought the apartment we live in now. We've been here now
for almost 10 years.
L: Do you participate in the Palm Beach Jewish Community? Are you members of the
B: Well, I'm a member of Temple Beth El. This is ironic, always getting away
for the winters, there was Miami or Bay Harbor or Palm Beach. I started
going because I wanted to take some refuge from the community activities.
But, I find it's like Jonah and the Whale. You can't run away from these
things. They find you. I'm just as much involved, now, in Palm Beach as I
am from up north where I come from in Detroit. Almost.
L: You certainly are an asset to our community and we're proud that you make
Palm Beach, as well as Detroit, your home.
Thank you very much for this interview.
B: You're very welcome.