Interviewee: Rabbi Israel Kaplan
Interviewer: Samuel Proctor
August 23, 1970
FLA PERS 2A
P: We are recording an oral history interview with Rabbi Israel
Kaplan at 4975 San Jose Boulevard, Apartment 216. This is
Sunday, August 23, 1970.
What made you decide to be a rabbi?
K: It was due to my contact, an informal one, with the rabbi in
the community in which I spent my early days as a boy. [He
was] a reform rabbi. I was reared in the Orthodox
tradition, but my parents were not strictly Orthodox. They
carried out the formal things that usually an Orthodox Jew
does, but were not particularly synagogue-minded. I went to
cheder as a boy, the Hebrew school, and I went to public
schools and high school. During my senior year in high
school, as I recall, I got to know Rabbi Nathan Stern, who
was a rabbi of the Reform congregation in Trenton, New
Jersey, where I spent my early years, although [I was] born
in New York City.
P: So it was . .
K: I was brought to Trenton as a child. I do not remember
anything of my early days in New York.
P: Was this rabbi . .
K: Dr. Stern evidently saw something in me that would make me a
rabbi. He saw perhaps that I went to cheder. I was a
normal boy who went to Hebrew school day after day, who was
bar mitzvahed. And he suggested that when I graduated from
high school that I go to the Hebrew Union College in
P: He had this much of an impact on you, then?
K: Yes, and as a result of his influence on me, I left home for
the first time in my life, taking the train the long
distance to Cincinnati.
P: Rabbi, you say you were born in New York. What was your
K: May 2, 1889.
P: So this makes you now . .
K: Eighty-one years old.
P: You are even more to be congratulated on your youth. I had
not figured it being quite that. I placed you about
seventy-two or seventy-three.
What were your parents' names?
K: My father's name was David, and my mother's name was Rachel.
P: What was her maiden name?
P: Were they native New Yorkers or were they immigrants?
K: No, they were both born in Russia, came here as a young man
and woman, and married in New York City. I do not think
they knew each other in the old country.
P: What was your father's business?
K: My father's business was rather unusual. He made by hand
shoes, the tops of shoes, which was quite a common
occupation in those days. [He made] not the soles, but the
leathers, the uppers. They were called uppers.
P: So he was a leathermaker.
K: He made them by hand. He would get orders from shoemakers
to make these handmade shoes. Later on he went into the
leather-binding business; the things that go along that
shoemakers need--all the needs of a shoemaker. Rubber
heels, nails, and all the things that go in, and hides,
hides. Shoemakers would buy their leather by the hide,
instead of a small piece. And that was his business until
almost . his latter years, when business went down.
Even though my oldest brother went in with my father, the
business had changed. People were buying ready-made shoes,
and competition was too keen. So I prevailed upon my father
to make a settlement with the people to whom he owed some
money, and to get out of the business and retire, which he
did. My mother had passed away in her early fifties, I
would say. My father lived with my oldest sister for many
years, Rose Levine .
P: In New York?
K: . who lived in Trenton, and then moved to Atlantic City.
And there he spent his latter years. My father was ninety-
seven years old; [he was a] wonderful old man. [He was]
quiet and sincere; oh, I just loved him. He was never
strict with his children, but the children all loved him,
and he lived to a ripe old age with the care and concern and
love and affection of his children. There were six of us.
P: I was going to ask you about your brothers and sisters.
K: Yes. I had two brothers. One brother passed away a few
years ago; he was older than I. I still have a younger
brother who is living in Washington. My oldest sister,
Rose, of whom I spoke, . .
P: And what was your oldest brother's name?
K: Morris. My oldest sister, Rose, passed away a couple of
years ago. So today I have two sisters a few years younger
than I and a brother younger than I.
P: [What are] your sisters' names, [and] where do they live?
K: The two sisters that I have living, Jean and Essie, live in
P: And your brother . .
K: My brother lives in the Washington area.
P: And what is his name?
K: His name is Herbert.
P: Now what . .
K: He was with the government as an architect until he retired.
P: How old were you when the family moved to Trenton?
K: I must have been, probably, about three years. I do not
P: [You were] very young.
K: Very young. Honestly, I do not remember New York City at
all, as a child.
P: What brought the family to Trenton? Your father's business?
P: And you grew up in Trenton then?
P: And you went to the public schools there?
K: And high school.
P: And high school. You told me earlier that it was this rabbi
in high school, probably, who influenced you toward the
rabbinate. Had you had any other thoughts earlier than that
about what occupation or profession you would get into?
K: No. Strange, I do not remember that I was going to major in
any particular profession. [I] just fell into it.
P: You were the only one in your family that went into the
P: Was there any family opposition to this?
K: No, no. My father never opposed it, even though he was
traditionally minded. We observed Kosher in our home, but,
like most people who observe Kosher, no so strict on the
outside. We observed the holidays. But I was, for some
strange reason, inclined to attend Orthodox services
faithfully. I hardly missed Shabbath. Whether it was habit
or not, I do not know.
P: I was getting ready to ask you what the pulling power of the
K: I do not really know, but I went. I went to services
faithfully. I was bar mitzvahed in the Orthodox synagogue.
We had an old rabbi; I can still see him with the long,
white beard. I went to cheder there in the afternoons after
public school. I was bar mitzvahed in this synagogue, in
the Orthodox synagogue. I hardly missed a service, strange
P: And yet you left the Orthodox synagogue and went into the
K: In a mechanical way. I had no philosophic point of view one
way or the other.
P: If this rabbi had been Conservative or Orthodox, you may
have been persuaded to move into his area.
K: Probably so. I knew nothing abut Reform. I knew nothing.
I went to his services occasionally. It was a shock to me,
in contrast to the Orthodox service. The sermon was mostly
in English as was the decorum that prevailed, and it was all
lacking in the Orthodox. But I fell into it.
P: You had no difficulty in being accepted at the Cincinnati
K: No. Strange to say, I still remember the first day I
entered the seminary. In those days, the Hebrew Union
College was situated in a very modest building in downtown
Cincinnati, West Seventh Street. When I entered the school
building, at the steps I met two young men, Rabbi Elkin
Gorsanger and Rabbi Morris Lazrong. They are the ones who
took charge of me, that took me into the school building and
introduced me to some of the professors. And there was one
professor, Professor Munheimer, who interviewed me
personally. I could read a little Hebrew from the Bible,
knew a little bit about Rashi. I could read, and so he put
me in the third grade instead of the freshman grade. The
course of study in those days was nine years. So I only had
to spend seven years at the seminary, [having been] put into
the third grade.
P: What year was it that you entered the seminary?
K: I entered the seminary in 1907.
P: The Reform movement was still very new, was it not? Only
some fifty-odd years in the United States.
K: Probably so. Isaac M. Wise, the founder of Reform Judaism,
had already died when I went to college, so I never had the
joy of meeting him. Dr. Kaufman Kohler was the president of
the college when I came there; he was a great Jewish
theologian. Dr. Goddard Deutsch, professor of history, was
the temporary president before Kohler took over. All of the
professors were of the old country--Europeans--until Dr.
Julian Morgenstern became the professor of Bible at the
school in my latter years before graduating.
Toward the end of my school years downtown, the college had
erected its new building on the outskirts of the city on
Clifton Avenue, the site it presently has. It has added, I
guess, about a half a dozen buildings since then. It is a
marvelous campus today.
P: When were you graduated, Rabbi?
K: I graduated in June, 1914, and I accepted my first pulpit in
P: This was your first move to the South?
K: Yes. And the reason I went to Natchez was due to the fact
of my contact with one of my professors, another great
illuminary named Professor David Neumark, professor of
Jewish philosophy. He was well-known in his days. [He was]
also a foreigner. He had been in Natchez for the High Holy
P: As a guest rabbi.
K: As a guest rabbi. And when he came back and I was ready to
graduate, he suggested that I accept the pulpit. I went
there in September of 1914.
P: The war had just broken out in Europe.
K: The war had just broken out in Europe.
It was an unusual congregation. Natchez was thriving at
that particular moment, although it had its bad years of
Prohibition, of bank failures, of the young people starting
to move out [and] go to college.
P: Was it is still an agricultural community with cotton as its
K: Yes, it was. They were composed of Alsatian Jews--German
background, but aristocratic type--and a number of American
Jews. I do not recall many Russian Jews there at all in
those days. But it was a flourishing congregation of a
hundred members at least. Today it has dwindled, although
it still has a permanent rabbi. I served that congregation
for two years.
P: What was your salary there?
K: My salary then was $2,000. After being in Natchez for a
couple of months, I married Cora Lowenstein, my sweetheart,
in November of that year.
P: Now, was she a Trenton girl?
K: No, [she was from] Cincinnati.
K: We graduated from the University of Cincinnati together. In
those days, before getting your rabbinical degree, you had
to have your B.A. from some university. Most of the
students came there right out of high school, and very few
had their B.A.s from college. Some of them did. And so we
had to go to two colleges every day.
When I look back upon it, [I realize] those were strenuous
days for the students for several reasons. Not only did we
have to go to the university and arrange our courses
beginning at 8:30 every morning to meet the required fifteen
hours a week, but the distance between the University of
Cincinnati and the Hebrew Union College was at least three
miles. And we were poor boys.
P: I was going to say, I suppose money was a problem, too.
K: We had to walk. We walked three miles from the university
to the college every day.
P: And back.
K: Coming home, we got on a streetcar which cost only five
cents with a transfer. We lived way out in Avondale, Walnut
Hills in Cincinnati. In those days, there were no
dormitories. I never lived in a dormitory.
P: So you lived with a private family?
K: We lived with a private family. One year I lived with a
private family; there were six of us. We had sort of an
attic arrangement--bunks. And we paid thirty dollars a
month for room and board.
P: What was the Lowenstein family background? How did they
happen to be in Cincinnati?
K: Well, her father and mother were both born in this country.
My father-in-law was born in Newark, New Jersey, and my
mother-in-law was born in Illinois. When they came to
Cincinnati, I do not know. But he manufactured cigars; that
was his business. [They were] lovely people. Blessed us.
We had our wedding in their home. Dr. Deutsch, my professor
of history, performed the ceremony, and the college boys put
on a stunt that we shall never forget. They came right
after the wedding ceremony and put on a mock wedding
ceremony. One of the boys--well, most of the boys--became
famous rabbis. I still remember one of them, Benny
Friedman, who today is rabbi emeritus in Syracuse, New York,
wore a high, stove, silk hat. And they performed their mock
ceremony. They teased us, and they threw wrappings of
cigars in our suitcases. When we opened them, our clothes
were in disarray. When we got to Nashville on our way to
our honeymoon in New Orleans, there was a telegram at the
Hermitage Hotel. [It said,] "Stop the eloping couple!"
When we got to New Orleans, unfortunately our honeymoon was
cut short. I got the news that the vice president of the
congregation had passed away. That was my first official
job--a funeral service.
P: So you were married in 1914?
K: That is right. November 17.
P: And you stayed in Natchez for two years? What brought you
to Jacksonville? How did the Jacksonville offer come about?
K: I loved Natchez. The people were marvelous to both of us.
I do not want to go into detail and tell you how wonderful
they were. But I could not adjust myself to a small town.
Natchez was a very small town. We would take a walk, my
wife and I, and before I knew it, we were outside the city
limits. In those days, the streets were not paved--dirt
streets. I could not adjust myself to a small town. I
said, "I must get into a larger community."
So that summer, in June of my second year, I went to the
rabbinical conference which met in a seaside town in [Cape
May,] New Jersey. There I met, among the rabbis, a rabbi by
the name of Samuel Schwartz. I must have expressed to him
my desire for another pulpit--a larger pulpit. He said, "By
the way, I'm leaving Jacksonville, Florida. Would you like
to go there?" I said, "Yes, I'd love to go there."
P: It was just quite accidental [that] you got into this
conversation with Rabbi Schwartz.
K: So he said to me, "I'll arrange for you to come down to
Jacksonville." It was a happy shidduch, if I may use the
word. Rabbi Samuel Schwartz later on during the summer came
down to say goodbye to the congregation, and I came to say
hello. We were on the same platform that same evening, in
the presence of the congregation.
P: How were you employed? With an interview?
K: Just an interview.
P: You came to Jacksonville then . .
K: I came to Jacksonville on an interview. I came down here on
the boat, the Clyde Line, from New York to Jacksonville.
P: Now you were at the conference, and you talked with Rabbi
Schwartz. On the basis of that, he arranged an interview,
and you came to Jacksonville without going back. You had
not gone back to Natchez?
P: I hope you let Mrs. Kaplan know about all of this.
K: She was with me.
P: Oh! [laughter]
K: She did not come to Jacksonville that first time, as I
P: So you came by boat from New York to Jacksonville.
K: [I] came by boat, and the congregation, after my interview
with the board, asked me to stay as their rabbi. I accepted
the pulpit. And I came here officially with my wife on
September 1, 1916.
The old landmarks, many of them have changed. New landmarks
have arisen. We came to the then-called Burbridge Hotel,
which is now the Floridian. We stayed there until we
managed to get an apartment. The congregation was then
located, as you know, on Laura and Ashley Streets.
P: This was its second site.
K: Second site of the Temple.
P: Yes. It had an earlier synagogue, had it not?
K: Yes, nearby, which it sold to the Greek Orthodox Church.
P: And that building, I think, still stands.
K: That building still stands, to my knowledge.
P: Yes. How large was the congregation?
K: Well, to me, it seemed large. It must have had more than
one hundred members. I was exceedingly happy with the
congregation in those days.
P: How much did they pay you?
K: They paid me $2,400 (an increase over the one in Natchez),
out of which I had to pay my rent and everything else. [It
was] a little increase over the one in Natchez.
P: Was that considered a generous salary for rabbis in those
K: It was the going salary for congregations of that size.
P: Where was your first apartment?
K: My first apartment was in Riverside. The people in the
congregation said, "Don't move out there, Rabbi. Nobody
lives out there, and nobody will call on you. You're too
far away." Everybody lived within walking distance of the
Temple at Laura and Ashley Streets.
[The apartment] was at the end of the street car line at
King Street, which today is the property of St. Vincent's
Hospital. It was a duplex. We lived in the upper duplex
overlooking the St. Johns River. We stayed there for ten
years. The people who lived below us were a family that you
know. Their children have become famous in our community.
One is a dentist, and one is a heart specialist.
P: [Is the name] Baker?
K: That is the one I mean, yes. The father was in the
wholesale shoe business. He is still living. The two boys
were young. They lived in the lower apartment, and we lived
upstairs. We lived there for ten years.
Then we bought a home on Challew Avenue in Avondale. [It
was] a two-story brick home in which we lived for twenty-
five years until I became rabbi emeritus. I served the
congregation as an active rabbi, as you probably know, for
During World War I, I served on a voluntary basis without
pay as a chaplain at the then-called Johnston Camp, which is
now the naval air station. The Jewish Welfare Board, then
in charge of Jewish chaplaincy, fitted me out with putters,
the big brown hats they wore in those days, and whenever
convenient, I went out and conducted services among the
Jewish men in the hospitals. It was during an epidemic at
the hospital that I witnessed some real tragedies. There
was a flu epidemic.
P: In 1917 and 1918, was it not?
K: I had to wear a gauze over my mouth as I went around in the
different wards and saw patient after patient, boy after
boy, die. But I carried on conducting services until the
time came for the Jewish Welfare Board--since the number of
Jewish men had increased in numbers--to send a permanent
Jewish chaplain at the Naval Air Station. And so it was in
World War II. I served as a volunteer chaplain until a
permanent chaplain could come.
P: Rabbi, what was Jacksonville like in 1916?
K: To me, it was a big city even though the pace was slow, even
though going to the beaches, for instance, was a hardship.
It meant going by ferry across the river. To cross the
river by ferry, you had to stay single file in your car,
[cars] stretching for block after block, moving up slowly
until you got to the ferry. Everybody was happy. [There
was] no jostling or confusion. We moved foot by foot until
a dozen or more cars got on the ferry and crossed. Then we
went on that rough road, those brick roads, to the beach.
We came back the same way. We had a good time.
There were no large buildings, no skyscrapers in
Jacksonville. Where the Barnett Bank is today, there were
just ordinary stores with shopkeepers.
P: All the remnants of the Great Fire were gone by 1916?
K: Yes. I recognized nothing of that at all when I came here.
I heard a great deal about it. The members of the
congregation, for the most part, lived within walking
distance of the Temple. [They lived on] Monroe Street,
Adams Street, East Adams, West Adams, Boulevard, [and]
P: How large was the Jewish population in Jacksonville?
K: I would say, just guessing, about two thousand.
P: Which made it one of the larger Jewish communities in the
K: It was the largest Jewish community in Florida. Miami was
just a word in those days--just a word. They had one
congregation in Miami in those years, a Conservative
Orthodox congregation. To get to Miami was an exceedingly
difficult thing by automobile. They had no good roads.
There was no Reform congregation when I came to
P: There was no Reform congregation in Miami.
K: In Miami, yes. There was one in Pensacola. Pensacola, I
believe, is the oldest Reform congregation in Florida.
K: We managed to grow slowly in our own community. There was a
very fine spirit between the rabbis of the two congregations
and the members. Rabbi Safir was the so-called rabbi in the
community of the Orthodox group. He was a shochet and a
P: But not an ordained rabbi.
K: No, he was never ordained, but everybody called him "Rabbi."
You probably remember him; [he was] a lovable old man.
Everybody loved him, and we got along famously.
P: What was the makeup of your own congregation? Business
people and professional people?
K: By and large, they were business people. Very few, if any,
were college graduates, but [they] were determined to give
their children every opportunity for a college education. I
recall just two students who graduated from college: Harry
Reinstein, Sr., and his partner, whose name I forget at this
P: That was not Mr. Sable, was it?
K: Yes. They became partners later on and opened law offices
here. The Sables and the Reinsteins were among the pioneers
in the community. The Sables lived across the street from
the Temple, where Krauss' house is.
P: That was their home, I believe, was it not?
K: That was their home. Next to it was the home of J. E.
Cohen, who had a beautiful home, as we consider today, on
the corner opposite our Temple, next to the Sables. The
Reinsteins were modest people. Mr. Reinstein was in the
liquor business, I recall, when he died. Harry, Sr., and
his partner enjoyed a very fine law practice.
P: Many of the substantial stores in Jacksonville at that time
were owned by members of your congregation.
K: Yes, the two largest, as you know, were Furchgotts and
Cohens. I still remember Furchgott, Sr., who had his
department store on Bay and Main Streets. J. E. Cohen had
his store where it is today; [it was] comparatively new
then. He had already put it up before I came here.
P: He had moved from Bay Street?
K: I do not remember where it was before, but that was there.
Everybody said, "Oh, they'll never make a go of it. It's
too far away from the center of business."
P: That was on the site of the old St. James Hotel.
K: That is right. And the Windsor Hotel was across the street.
Hemming Park was still there.
P: Was Mr. Cohen still living when you arrived in the
K: Yes. There were two brothers. There was Morris Cohen and
Jacob E. Cohen. Morris Cohen was not in business here too
long with his brother. He spent most of his time in New
York City. I do not know the business relationship or the
personal relationship of the two brothers. But J. E. Cohen,
in the course of time, took over. He was considered the
richest Jew in the community. His contribution in today's
terms would be considered insignificant.
I remember him telling me once that he realized he was not
paying enough dues to the Temple. The way he realized it
was that one day he walked among the men and women that
worked for him in different counters. He said to them,
"What do you pay to your church?" When he heard how much
they were paying in contrast, he became ashamed of the small
amount that he was paying. So I think he increased his dues
to $300 a year.
P: That was considered, I guess, a very generous offer.
K: The budget was small in those days. [We were] always in the
red, every year. I dreaded the annual meetings. [I did not
want] to listen to the chairman of the budget committee give
the report that we could not make ends meet at a salary of
$2,400 they were paying me.
P: The Levys were still in the . .
K: Ben Levy and his wife moved here from Savannah. And I
remember his first store, too, at Laura and Bay Streets
before he moved into his present quarters. Ben Levy was a
nice fellow, but not generous. [He] had no children. He
was a good Jew; [he was] loyal to the Temple.
P: And [he] paid his dues.
K: Oh, yes. We had no problem with delinquents that I recall.
P: Rabbi, I am thinking now of 1916 and 1917 when you first
came. What was your relationship to the community--not the
Jewish community--but the total Jacksonville community? I
am really asking, were there any "problems" at that time?
K: There were no problems, to my knowledge, between Jew and
non-Jew. I was asked to appear before all sorts of non-
Jewish groups to speak. I entered into the civic life of
the community as well as Mrs. Kaplan. In fact, I must
confess that she was even more active than I in the civic
life of the community, probably because she had more time.
I was president of the state association of the Florida
Tuberculosis Association for several years. I organized,
after a short time, the Union Thanksgiving Day services to
bring about something of the ecumenical spirit among the
downtown churches. [We would] meet together once a year and
have a common American holiday service, which I am happy to
say (in a humble way) I consider one of my greatest
contributions to the city because it is still being carried
on after fifty years. We meet each year, as we did in the
beginning, in a different church. Each year, a different
minister gives the Thanksgiving Day sermon. I am happy to
say, that after I became rabbi emeritus and began serving
other congregations outside the city on an interim basis,
each year some minister during the service would mention the
fact--and it would be printed in their bulletin--that Rabbi
Kaplan started the Union Thanksgiving services. I also
started the Jacksonville Open Forum that became very
popular. In those days, radio and television were more or
P: When did the Open Forum programs begin?
K: I am guessing now. I cannot tell you definitely. But for a
many, many years, I imagine at least fifteen or twenty years
during the winter season . .
P: Was this during the 1920s? I remember them in the 1930s.
K: Probably both in the 1920s and 1930s.
P: I see.
K: . Every winter I would get in touch with the Open Forum
Bureau in Boston. It was an agency for sending speakers
throughout the country on a minimum charge, and these
lecturers would have an itinerary of seven or eight cities
in which to speak in order to cut down the expenses. They
would land in Jacksonville on a Sunday, for instance. On
Monday they would go to Daytona, on Tuesday probably to
Tallahassee . .
P: On the order of a traveling chatauqua.
K: Yes, something of a traveling chatauqua. Well, I started
that. To me, it was most exhilarating to meet these gifted
speakers and have the opportunity of entertaining them
socially. [We would] invite them to our home and get close
to them. I wish I had the programs available [with] the
list of speakers that I brought here. Winter after winter I
singlehandedly raised the funds necessary to pay the
expenses. We had a voluntary offering in which people put
in their dollars and quarters. Then I would go around among
the merchants and tell them, "This is a good thing for the
community, educationally and culturally. Won't you please
help us out and make a contribution?" I would get a few
dollars from some of the merchants in the community so that
we managed to carry on from year to year on that basis. We
had no foundation [and] no surplus--just enough to pay for
the speakers and their expenses.
P: Were you a member of the Jacksonville Ministerial Alliance?
K: No. And the reason for that is very simple. It was
strictly an evangelical organization. I would never be
happy in their midst as they had their meetings because they
talked about arranging services for Good Friday and Easter
Sunday, and those things occupied their thoughts.
Individually, I was pretty close to them, but I was never
asked to join them as a member. They probably realized that
I would not be happy in their midst since their main
business was strictly talking along Christian lines.
P: Were there problems of anti-Semitism in those days that you
were aware of?
K: No. Nothing striking. The only time that I seem to think
of now is when Mr. Sam Melson published an off-beat weekly
or monthly paper here. And he began the . .
P: Jacksonville Chronicle.
K: To attack some of the Jews in the community.
P: This was the Jacksonville Chronicle, I believe, and it was
published during the 1930s.
K: That is right, yes. That was the first overt sign of anti-
Semitism that I recall.
P: Was there any polite-type anti-Semitism? [Was there]
residential exclusion or club exclusion that you were aware
of in earlier years?
K: Well, the same type that exists then I believe exists today.
It does not seem to bother the Jewish people particularly.
I do not think the Jews today, even as of yesterday, could
buy a home in the Ortega, Timuquana area or in Ponte Vedra.
Jews cannot become a member of the Timuquana or San Jose
country clubs even today, as they could not years ago.
P: Or the Yacht Club.
K: Or the Yacht Club, which is the Timuquana. That was one
reason why we have our Beauclerc Club for Jewish people:
because we are not welcome [elsewhere].
P: A Jewish club was an answer to the exclusiveness of the
K: Yes, and the Jews had prospered meanwhile, and they wanted a
social outlet. This was their way of expressing their way
of living at that time.
P: As sort of the image of the Jewish community of
Jacksonville, you were probably the best-known Jew in
Jacksonville, certainly from 1916 on, well into the 1930s.
Were you ever personally the target of any anti-Semitism or
K: No, I was not. I was attacked by a colleague of mine in the
Orthodox synagogue for a short time. [He was] a rabbi by
the name of Benjamin.
P: Rabbi Samuel Benjamin?
K: I think that was his name. [He was] a brilliant fellow and
quite an orator. He was a rabbi for a short time of the
B'nai Israel. Then it was during his term of office that
the center started, I believe. He found nothing else to
talk about but to attack Reform Judaism and me personally
because he hated Reform Judaism.
P: And so he used you, then, as a target for this ill feeling
toward a . .
K: Yes. I recall one time that the board of trustees of my
congregation met in a special meeting and drafted a
resolution denouncing his tactics and defending me of any
charge that he made.
P: Rabbi, it is my feeling that you, probably more than any
other person, helped to get the Hillel program going on the
University of Florida campus. Is that so?
K: I do not know. I cannot give a definite answer, but I will
tell you about my connection with the University of Florida.
I remember going down to Gainesville periodically . .
P: During the 1930s, was it not?
K: . to conduct services. I would say there were no more
than twenty Jewish students on the campus in those days. I
would bring religious services in pamphlet form--which I
secured from the Union of American Hebrew Congregations--and
I would go down there and meet with the boys and conduct a
service. We often met in one of the fraternity houses. The
one outstanding student I remember was Egerhard from
Pensacola who gave me a great deal of moral support.
K: Montrose Egerhard, that is right. [He is] related to Morton
P: [They are] cousins.
K: And he was . .
P: Miss Ruby Diamond of Tallahassee.
K: Miss Ruby Diamond. I knew her in the early days, and I knew
her brother, who was a lawyer there in Tallahassee.
Montrose helped me in getting the boys together, and I
conducted services. There was no Hillel then.
P: You met in a fraternity house.
K: The boys lived in fraternity houses or wherever they could
off and on the campus. The Hillel came to being as a result
of the B'Nai B'Rith getting stronger in this state. By the
way, when I came to Jacksonville, the Jacksonville B'Nai
B'Rith lodge had lost its charter. There was no B'Nai
B'Rith functioning when I came here. I became a B'Nai
B'Rith when I was in Natchez, and I was amazed to find no
lodge here. I was told that due to lack of interest they
could not carry on. They belonged then to Region Number
Seven, of which New Orleans was the headquarters. New
Orleans, Pensacola, and Jacksonville.
P: Actually, a B'Nai B'Rith charter had been issued for
Jacksonville in the 1870s.
K: Well, they lost the charter. So I was able to get them to
start anew, and we became members of District Number Five,
and we got a new charter. I was one of the early presidents
of the local lodge, and I have been a member ever since. A
few years ago, as you might recall, the local lodge honored
me with a dinner celebrating my fiftieth year as a member of
P: This would probably make you one of the oldest members in
the United States, would it not?
K: Oh, no.
P: In terms of service?
K: No. B'Nai B'Rith, I think, is over a hundred years.
P: Well, I was just thinking [that] in terms of service, there
probably are not many who could claim more than fifty years
K: Yes, and who are living today.
P: Yes. B'Nai B'Rith was organized in the 1840s, so it is a
very old organization.
K: Yes. I remember meeting some of the early presidents who
would come down to Jacksonville on the way to St. Augustine,
which was the last place they could go by train. I remember
some of them meeting in Jacksonville for special meetings of
the national board. They would meet at the Seminole Hotel.
One of them I remember: Cohen of Cincinnati. President
Cohen, whom I knew personally as a student in Cincinnati,
later became president of the international B'Nai B'Rith.
We entertained with a dinner. I remember the faux pas I
made when I introduced him. [It was a] faux pas to him, but
not to me. I said, "To think of it, Mr. Cohen, serving all
these lodges and doing the tremendous work he's doing. He's
giving his time without any compensation." And he got up
and said, "Don't say 'without any compensation.' I get a
great deal of satisfaction and joy, and I don't need any
P: That was his compensation.
P: Rabbi, let's talk about the Reform movement [and] its
development in the state of Florida.
P: You said that Jacksonville and Pensacola were the two oldest
Jewish Reform congregations.
P: Now let's talk about the spread of Reformism throughout the
rest of the state.
K: It did not spread very rapidly except when Miami had its
P: This was the early 1920s.
K: Yes. After (and during) the boom period, many of our
people--from the North especially--flocked to Miami and have
been going there in large numbers ever since. The rabbi of
the first Reform congregation in Miami whose name I happen
to recall right now was Rabbi Joseph Jason. They put up a
tabernacle as a sanctuary--a frail structure--during those
boom days. Then the developers needed the land upon which
the sanctuary was built. They bought the sanctuary and the
land around it from the congregation at a big profit to the
congregation. They built their present site, Temple Israel,
in Miami. Rabbi Jason did not stay there very long. The
next rabbi, if I am not mistaken, was my namesake, Jacob
P: By the way, he gave his papers to the University. We have
his scrapbooks and papers.
K: You have the scrapbooks. Well, I loved Jacob Kaplan as a
P: I knew Rabbi Kaplan briefly. I met him just before his
K: Well, besides having the same name, we loved each other. I
knew him when he was rabbi of a Conservative congregation in
Cincinnati. Many of the boys, instead of going to a Reform
Temple in Cincinnati, loved to hear Jacob Kaplan preach, and
we went to his congregation. As a matter of fact, though,
there was not much difference between the Conservative and
the Reform congregations in Cincinnati in those days except
wearing of the hats.
So I knew Jacob Kaplan and his wife Adele very well. When
the new Temple was dedicated at its present site, I was
asked to come down and share in the service. The main
speakers I recall were Dr. Enello of Temple Emmanuel in New
York, who was then president of the Conference of American
Rabbis, and Dr. Julian Morgenstern, who was president of the
Hebrew Union College.
P: These were the two real leaders in American Reform Judaism,
were they not?
K: They were among the early rabbis.
P: And they were important on the American Jewish scene at that
K: Yes. And I participated. I think some Saturday morning I
spoke to the congregation (or to the children, I have
forgotten which) but I still remember that service. Of
course, during the years, Miami has grown from a handful of
Jews with one congregation . Today, I daresay the
population of Dade County [and] Broward . .
[BREAK IN TAPE]
The first one that I knew was Rabbi [David L.] Zielonka.
P: He is on our list to be interviewed.
K: And if I recall rightly, I installed him as a rabbi.
P: David Zielonka?
K: I went down and installed him. He is just retiring.
P: I saw him in May. He looks fine.
K: David is a very fine fellow. That congregation has been
growing steadily side by side with Jacksonville. As far as
Orlando and Daytona are concerned--from the Reform angle, I
do not know anything about the Orthodox or Conservative--I
helped to organize the Reform congregations in both those
cities to the extent that every other week I drove down to
Daytona and Orlando to conduct services for a full year.
One Friday I conducted services in a hall or in the hotel
rooms [in Orlando], and in Daytona, we met in a church. We
met first of all in the radio studio in Daytona that was
owned by a Jew in name only, Davidson. He had rented a
studio, and we would have services inside the studio. I
went down there every other week for a whole year.
P: You were the traveling rabbi in those days.
K: Yes. And if you want me to continue my story . .
P: I do.
K: After serving the congregation [for] thirty years,
immediately following the end of World War II, the members
had prospered. I had been with them [for] twenty-eight or
thirty years. Speaking frankly, the young generation was
coming up, and they thought they would like to have a fresh
voice in the pulpit, which I can understand and appreciate.
Some of the women felt improvements and changes were in
order, especially in the religious school. And being semi-
prosperous, they thought the congregation could stand an
assistant rabbi, so they approached me on that subject.
Naturally, I did not welcome it too enthusiastically, but I
gradually reconciled myself to it. One or two men came down
here applying for that position, but they did not please me,
and I did not recommend them to the board.
But at the close of the war, the present rabbi of the
congregation had just come out of the chaplaincy. He was
still in uniform. Before being a chaplain, he was assistant
rabbi to Rabbi Collish in Richmond, Virginia, for ten years.
What I am saying is off the record. Naturally, he hoped to
succeed Rabbi Collish, who was up in years, as senior rabbi
of the congregation. But the congregation in Richmond
evidently had other ideas and did not elect him. They
elected instead a man named Rabbi Ariel Goldberg, who has
just announced his retirement as rabbi emeritus. So our
congregation got in touch with a placement committee--or the
organization that stood for the placement committee--to get
an assistant rabbi. And Rabbi Lefkowitz was one of the men
who came down here. He said he would come only on the
condition that he would not be an assistant rabbi but an
associate, since he had already served ten years as an
assistant. I did not want to quibble over words; assistant
or associate, his duties would be the same--take charge of
religious school and alternate with me in the preaching
schedule. Two years went by, and again, off the record, I
would say they were not very happy years for me. [There was
a] clash of personalities, as is with most rabbis.
P: You had become set in your ways.
K: We were in the same study. I was in one corner and he was
in the other. It was very unpleasant. The telephone would
ring, [and we would both think,] "Who's it for?" I was
miserable. So I came to the conclusion, "Well, I have
served the congregation thirty years. It's long enough to
be in one congregation. I'll ask the board to make me
emeritus." They had probably never heard the word emeritus.
[They] did not know what it meant. They said, "Now you are
asking for it." Joe Glickstein said, "You are asking for
it. We are not asking you. You can stay on at work so far
as we are concerned. You are asking us." I still remember
him pointing his finger at me. "Yes," I said, "I am asking
for it. I think it's in the best interests of the
congregation." They were starting on the new program of the
present sanctuary in Riverside.
So at formal services at Temple, I became rabbi emeritus. I
can still remember the minister who was present at that time
as one of the speakers. He was the minister of the
Presbyterian church downtown next to the library. He is
still living in Keystone Heights. I cannot think of his
name right now.
So I became rabbi emeritus. Well, what was I going to do as
rabbi emeritus? It means I am relieved of all
responsibilities. As far as the congregation is concerned,
I did not have to be in the community at all. [I] still
have the title. They paid me a little pension; it did not
amount to very much. It was not even a pension.
I forgot to mention [that] for twenty years I was a member
of the board of public libraries. So when I made the
decision that I had to be active and conduct services
somewhere, in the thirty-first year I put a box of prayer
books in the trunk of my car and made arrangements to be a
missionary rabbi, so to speak. I went to the beaches one
Friday a month in the home of a Mr. Roberts and I. M.
Lieberman. There were a number of people living at the
P: Now you went on your own?
K: I went on my own without a penny salary. I went to Palatka
once a month. We met in the Masonic Hall there. I went to
Lake City once a month and to Live Oak. For weeks I would
make the visit to these communities. I would conduct
services with the prayer books in the trunk of my car. If I
have the time, I would like to tell you about the
experiences in Lake City because they are historic. The
first service I held in Lake City was the first service ever
held in that small community by a rabbi for the
congregation. They arranged to meet in the Presbyterian
P: There could not have been more than just a handful of Jewish
K: There were probably about fifteen, no more. The people from
Live Oak joined. Just as when I met in Live Oak the people
in Lake City went over to Live Oak.
P: Of course there probably were a few veterans at the
K: There were a few doctors. There were no patients, but a few
doctors came then. Well, to arrange for this first Jewish
service in Lake City, they arranged to have a service at
this Presbyterian church. It so happened that it was Purim
and also Good Friday. Purim and Good Friday coincided. It
was on a Friday when I went there. For refreshments they
served humintashen baked, I was told later, by a Catholic
baker. The service was broadcast over the radio for the
first time. At the close of the service, the minister who
had [presided over] Good Friday services joined us in the
social hour. Someone wrote up an article describing that
occasion as "brotherhood in action."
P: Which it certainly was.
K: It was a remarkable thing--meeting in a Christian church,
the refreshments prepared by a Catholic, the Jews having for
the first time their service, and it being broadcast.
P: How long did you follow this missionary trail?
K: I did it for a whole year. The second year I became a
P: Sort of like the flying nun.
K: I flew from here to Wilmington, North Carolina, for a whole
year, every other week. They had no rabbi; their rabbi had
died. I was anxious to get them a permanent rabbi. Toward
the end of that year they finally selected a rabbi who is
still there. The second year, I flew from Jacksonville to
Gadsden, Alabama, every other week. Sometimes I would take
my wife with me, and we would go in the car just for the joy
of it. The third year I flew from Jacksonville to Albany,
Georgia. Once in a while we would take our car. Those
three years I was a flying rabbi.
P: On alternate weekends.
K: Alternate weeks. They would like to have me come every
other week, but I did not want to accept that sort of
responsibility--being active every week.
P: In the meantime, of course . .
K: Then began my most exciting years as rabbi emeritus. I
accepted assignments for the High Holy Days in several
congregations. If you want to list them, I went to
Danville, Virginia, one year for the High Holy Days. I went
to one town in Alabama near Birmingham. The head of the Ku
Klux Klan lives there. I cannot think of it at this moment.
P: It might be Tuscaloosa.
K: Tuscaloosa, that is it. [I] went there for the holidays.
They had no rabbi. There was a combination of Hillel and
their rabbi serving. And he left Hillel. So they had no
rabbi. Then I went to east Texas--Longview. They met with
this neighboring Jewish community. For the first time I saw
oil wells right in the heart of the city. In the business
center, [there were] oil wells in the backyard. Those are
my holiday experiences.
P: Then I began receiving calls. One day, Dr. Nelson Glick,
president of the college, called me and said, "I have in my
office the representative of the Oklahoma City
congregation." Their rabbi, Rabbi Levenson, who was a
chaplain, was called back into the reserves. He had been a
reserve chaplain. And they were without a rabbi. [They
wanted to know] if I would come and stay with them until the
rabbi returned. So I went. My wife and I went there, and I
served the congregation for fourteen months. The rabbi had
just bought a home, and I rented the home from him. We
lived in this new home for fourteen months when he returned.
P: That must have been a pleasant assignment.
K: That was a most delightful experience. They were lovely
people. [They were] most hospitable [and] appreciative that
I had given my service to help them along, and they seemed
to enjoy my presence there. At this time, we met many
friends. My wife still carries on a correspondence with
them. I remember when I got back to Jacksonville a few
weeks later, I would get long distance telephone calls from
some of the members that just wanted to talk to me. [That]
made me feel good. Then I began accepting other pulpit
P: In the meantime, you had not returned to the Temple here at
K: I came back to Jacksonville.
P: But I mean you had returned to Jacksonville, but not in any
kind of a formal relationship with the Jewish Temple there?
K: [It was] the same sort of relationship that I had before. I
felt perfectly at home; [I] felt part of the Temple. I was
still receiving a stipend of some sort from them, you see.
I still kept my home. Let me see some of the congregations
where I went. I went to Vicksburg, Mississippi. I was
there for, I guess, a year. The people begged me to stay
on. I said, "No, I'm just going to stay for a year. You
get a rabbi." I went to Meridian, Mississippi, for a year.
P: You were coming back now to where you first got started,
K: Yes. [I was] an active rabbi. I took over all the duties.
Vicksburg, Meridian. Then I went to Harrisonburg, Virginia.
You never heard of Harrisonburg? [It is] in the Shenandoah
Valley. [It is] a beautiful place. [It is] about ninety
miles from Washington. It just so happened our children
(our daughter and her children at the time) were living
right outside of Washington. My wife and I would get in our
car during the week on Sunday or Monday, and we would spend
three or four days with our children nearly every week. We
did not think anything of riding over the mountains to get
to them. And you know, I stayed there four years until one
day my children said that they were moving. They were going
to Chicago. I said, "If that's the case, I'm not going to
stay in Harrisonburg any longer." To the dismay of the
congregation when I whispered in the ear of the president
that I was going to leave them at the dinner they gave me,
it was quite a blow to them. It was probably the third year
that I had been with them that we expressed a desire, I
recall, my wife and I, that we have never been to Europe.
We would like to go. So they said, "Go with our blessing."
So I planned to go in June. They said, "No. Go in May.
Don't wait. Make your arrangements in May. We'll be
satisfied." So they gave us a movie camera and so many
other gifts to go to Europe. Take movies? I had never had
a camera in my hand. We were gone four months, and we
covered thirteen countries during that period. It was a
wonderful time. For me to tell them later on that I was
resigning and going back to Jacksonville was quite a blow.
Then I went to Lubbock, Texas, for five or six months.
P: All of this, Rabbi, is an indication of the rapidly growing
number of Jews and Jewish communities in the South.
K: They had Reform rabbis there before who had left.
P: But I mean this is really a development of the post-World
War I period for the most part, wouldn't you say?
K: Yes, Lubbock is a comparatively new community. It is a new
city, but they had a period of rabbis over a period of
years. Lubbock, Texas; can I think of any others? Oh, yes!
The most exciting of all was when I went to Curagao,
Netherlands, West Indies, and stayed there for seven or
eight months. That was the most exciting of all for many,
many reasons. It was a foreign country [and] a beautiful
island. The people were different from the people in the
United States, being Jews of Sephardic origin. The
congregation I was serving was a Reform congregation, an
offspring of the oldest congregation in the western
That building--not the original building, but the building
that is there today--is a gorgeous building to behold. It
was patterned after the synagogue in Amsterdam, Holland.
[There are] gorgeous chandeliers with candles in them, which
were only used on Yom Kippur and when they had a wedding.
[It was a] candle chandelier. They had an organ that was
pumped by hand. They had sand on the floor, which is a
tradition in many of the old Sephardic congregations,
symbolic of the old tabernacle in the wilderness of the
desert. As some rationalists like to explain, (taken from
the words of Abraham), "Thy seeds shall multiply as the
sands of the sea." The Virgin Islands was the next stepping
stop of the Jews who fled from Brazil (which was then under
Dutch control). When the Portuguese had captured Brazil
from the Dutch, the Jews living in Brazil, fearing the
Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition, began to leave. They
began island hopping, and the first island they reached was
Curagao. There you will find a cemetery containing
tombstones revealing the births and deaths of these early
Jews who fled from Brazil. The tombstones are really
monuments and contain inscriptions in Portuguese, Spanish,
Dutch, and Hebrew, as well as the image of an angel or a
P: Didn't Rabbi David DeSola Poole record some of these?
K: No, he did not. But a rabbi named Emmanuel . .
P: Oh, yes.
K: .. ._of the Jews of Curagao. He spent a whole
P: That is really what I was thinking about--that.
K: He spent a whole year there. Tombstones, see, Matsebas.
Moses Michael, 1740. What were some of the old ones? I
understand the sister of Baruch Spinoza is buried there.
There are five thousand people buried in the historic
cemetery there. Look, these are all the tombstones.
P: I have seen this book. We have this in the library, so I
have checked that. Rabbi, when you were on your European
trip, did you visit Israel?
K: No. I am ashamed to admit that I have never been to Israel.
My wife and I had planned to go to Israel. Indeed, the
congregation here gave me a substantial sum of money several
years ago on one of my anniversaries or birthdays (I have
forgotten which) to take a trip to Israel. But things were
brewing. War between the Jews and Arabs was getting closer
and closer. I dreaded to go. Life was just too hazardous.
I kept putting it off and putting it off. I thought, "Wait
until things quiet down and then we'll go." Alas, I doubt
we shall ever go, even if conditions quiet down--which I
hope they will--because I have trouble walking now.
P: Rabbi, what has been your attitude toward Israel? Toward
the Zionist movement?
K: Well, frankly, I echoed the same sentiment that the majority
of Reform rabbis echoed in the early days.
P: In the 1920s.
K: As a student of a college, we were non-Zionists. That was
part of the philosophy of Isaac M. Wise. Washington is our
capital, not Jerusalem. The mission of Israel is for the
Jews to be everywhere and preach peace and justice and
goodwill. They no longer need a particular land to spread
our mission. While I was never an anti-Zionist, I never
went out of my way to attack those Jews who wanted to settle
there. I was a non-Zionist.
P: You were never a member of the American Council for Jews?
K: No, never. I never actively attacked those Jews who wanted
to go there for a haven of refuge. I thought it was
wonderful. But I never could see it from the point of view
of nationalism. Hitler is what made practically every Jew
in the world--except the American Council of Jews--more and
more sympathetic toward establishment of a state in Israel.
So in the years gone by, why, I am just as much a lover of
Zion, of Palestine, of Israel as any fellow Jew.
P: Hitler changed many people's points of view.
K: Oh, yes. As a haven of refuge especially. What country
would take the Jews? We had a quota, that country had a
quota. Only a certain number of Jews could enter. Israel
said any Jew who says he is a Jew is welcome.
P: Rabbi, one of the things I have not asked you about is the
role that you played with the Jewish prisoners at Raiford.
K: That is right. Well, there are probably so many things I
cannot think of . .
P: That is why I want to prompt your memory.
K: Yes. The part I played was a most rewarding one. Of my own
free will--not backed by any organization or group--I used
to go at least once a month. When I would go, I would take
my wife and sometimes a member or two of the congregation
with me. In those days, things were rather free and easy at
Raiford. There were not the restrictions or the discipline
that exists now, particularly regarding visitors getting in
and going out. When I went down there, I conducted
services. I had personal interviews with the men. They
came into my study one by one. They poured out their hearts
to me. I would write letters for them to their dear ones
wherever they were. I would try to ease their burden by
appealing to the superintendent of the prison. When Pesach
time would come, I would bring a group of the women of the
Jewish Shelter and Aid Society (which later sponsored a home
for the aged here) who became interested in doing some masim
tovin, good deeds. Once a year at Pesach, they would
arrange the food, and I would put it in my car, and we would
have a spread. The superintendent of the prison gave us a
special room where we could go, and I went there at least
once a month for many, many years--until I left the
community. Without any material compensation, I would go
down there, interview the men, conduct services for them,
[and] write letters for them. If I were to save some of the
letters--I do not know whether I have any or not; I really
should--that I received from them and their relatives asking
me for favors, the letters would pile up very high. I would
bring prayer books with me in the trunk of my car. When I
got there, they would welcome me. One man would be at the
prison gates to carry the prayer books to the place where we
would have our service. Some of the men were lifers. One
man, a deaf and dumb man, who [had] lived in Gainesville,
was in the prison awaiting his death sentence.
P: I know who you are talking about.
K: You know who I am talking about? I had a great deal of
trouble with that fellow. But I did a lot for him. He is
still there. [He is] always asking favors. He has a
mishpach in Jacksonville, by the way. For awhile they would
come down with me. They would bring special food for him.
He was always asking for something. He was that type.
"Bring me this. Bring me that." The others we brought
kosher sandwiches and kosher pickles after services, and we
had a wonderful time. There was no trouble in doing that.
That is what they enjoyed probably more than the religious
service itself--the companionship and sociability.
I shall never forget one Seder service that I held. One of
the men had served many, many years there for committing
robbery in Miami. He robbed a famous actress, I believe, of
her jewels. He served his time, and I think he went back to
Miami. With Pesach coming, he sent me twenty dollars.
"Distribute this among the boys," he said. I changed it
into one-dollar bills, and as I left the Seder service, I
handed each of them a dollar bill. I shall never forget
that fellow. I had some very interesting experiences while
rendering this type of service for many, many years.
When I decided to leave the community and serve other
congregations, I asked the Jewish Welfare Board, Larry
Rackower, to take over this type of service and make it part
of the Jewish Welfare Service. And Larry Rackower carried
on from that time on. The restrictions are now of such a
nature [that] we cannot carry any food to the boys. The
other Christian boys were too envious. Seeing that we gave
them such fine food and they did not get any, they
complained, and the prison authorities did away with it. In
many ways they bore down on the services. I used to visit
the men who were put in separate cells for misdemeanors of
some sort and try to comfort them. I feel a sense of reward
in helping these men who could not turn to any other source
for help. Looking back, I feel that I did some good.
I had a whole lot of trouble with them. For the most part,
the men, with one exception, were not in there for crimes of
brutality. They were there for forgery, trying to make
money in an unethical way, bankruptcy proceedings in an
unethical manner, and things of that sort. These men served
their time. When they got out, they used to come up to
Jacksonville to see me. I have lovely letters from many of
them. I feel that I rendered a great service to the men on
my own accord. Nobody suggested I do it. Now it is part of
the service that Larry Rackower renders. Once in awhile I
have gone with him since I have been back.
P: Rabbi, you mentioned your daughter a little bit ago. Would
you give me some information about your children? Is she
your only child?
K: Yes, our daughter is named Louise.
P: She is married, of course?
K: I had the great joy of performing the marriage ceremony in
Jacksonville. She married a boy from New Britain,
Connecticut. She met him when they were students at
Louisiana State [University] in Baton Rouge. They were
married here at the Women's Club, and they have two
children, a boy and a girl.
P: What is his name?
K: Merwin Shurberg. He was with the government for many years,
and now he is with a private concern in Columbia, South
Carolina. But he has had different sorts of jobs in
government in Washington.
P: You have two grandchildren?
K: I am exceedingly proud of my granddaughter. Her husband is
an electrical engineer who received his Ph.D. a couple of
years ago from the University of Pennsylvania and has worked
for Comstat in Washington. For the second time, he has been
asked to deliver a series of lectures at the University of
California. [We are] going out next week for two weeks.
Our granddaughter received her Ph.D. in educational
psychology three or four months ago at Temple University in
Philadelphia. She is working for HEW now in Washington.
And I have a grandson who is studying medicine. He is now
entering his third year at the University of South Carolina
at Charleston. [They are] both wonderful grandchildren.
P: Rabbi, one of your civic functions here in Jacksonville was
with the public library. What was your responsibility?
K: Twenty years I was a trustee.
P: What were your responsibilities there?
K: Well, the library trustees are appointed by the council
every three years, I believe. I was appointed six or seven
P: Was this a policy-making responsibility?
K: It was to work with the library policy--about improving the
library [and] seeing that we got the necessary funds from
the city council. It had nothing to do with politics at
all. We just worked to improve the library. Wherever there
was a branch library needed, we would work on that facility.
At the Willow Branch Library in Jacksonville, there is a
placard stating the names of the directors; my name is among
them. We started a free branch library in the Negro
neighborhood, and my name is on the placard there. [It was]
the first Negro branch library.
P: Rabbi, do you have an honorary degree or doctorates?
K: I have an honorary D.E. degree from Hebrew Union College. I
do not know what that degree is there, but I received that
about seven or eight years ago.
P: What do you see as the future of American Judaism?
K: Well, of course, that is a big question.
P: That is a very large question.
K: It is a very large question. You can become optimistic and
pessimistic . .
P: At the same time.
K: At the same time. You can become optimistic in that the
foundations are here. If we build strongly on those
foundations, American Judaism will continue and persist and
perhaps flourish. We have our theological seminaries.
Unlike Christian seminaries, I do not think we are losing
students. The Christian seminaries are. In my pessimistic
moments, [I see that] despite the fact that we have more
congregations throughout the country, the pews are empty
like in churches. That gives me a feeling of sadness.
Religion does not mean as much today, in my estimation, to
the Jews of America as it did when I first came here. I can
only say that older generation were Europeans who built
Jacksonville Jewry. Very few were college graduates, [and]
very few were American-born. But they revered the position
and office of a rabbi. Rabbi meant something to them. I
was highly regarded and respected by Jew and non-Jew. I do
not think that feeling exists today. I am really concerned
about the young generation and their attachment to Judaism.
P: I was going to ask you about the younger generation's
K: I do not think they have the same attachment--the same
love--of Judaism as they did fifty years ago. [Today there
are] more mixed marriages, which were a rarity in my day.
That is the disheartening thing to me.
P: Oh, yes.
K: It was a rare thing for an Orthodox to marry a Reform in my
day. That was somewhat frowned upon.
P: And to marry outside the faith . .
K: To marry outside the faith! For heaven's sake! That person
was lost to Judaism completely. Today it is a common thing.
There is hardly a family in Jacksonville that cannot trace a
mixed marriage today. And I say, [it is] at the expense of
the preservation of Judaism.
P: You feel that this will perhaps doom American Judaism in
two, three, or four generations?
K: Unless it gets a shot in the arm from somewhere. Whether
Israel will provide it, I do not know. The picture is not a
glowing one. Of course, I never filled the pews even in my
days, but it is emptier now even though the congregation has
P: And we have bigger synagogues.
K: Bigger synagogues, more members.
P: More resplendence.
K: Larger budgets. They do not come. In recent weeks--if I
have time to tell you--
P: You have plenty of time.
K: Do we still have time?
P: You have plenty of time. Take whatever you need.
K: It is almost four o'clock.
P: I know. We have been talking a long time, but keep talking,
Rabbi. It is going just the way I want it.
K: During the summer, when Rabbi Lefkowitz is away, I take over
on a voluntary basis. The board does not ask me to. The
president does not say, "Will you substitute for the rabbi?"
I do it of my own free will. I do not get paid a penny
extra for it. But I do it. I bury and marry and bless
children. I preach every Friday night which Rabbi Lefkowitz
does not do during the summer. Last Friday happened to be
my last Friday night. I preached every Friday night, and I
think the people enjoy it. They like to hear a word instead
of merely the prayer service, a repetitious service week
after week which lasts fifteen minutes. People travel four
or five miles, and in fifteen minutes, the service is over.
So I feel conscious-stricken to give them a talk. This
coming Friday Rabbi Lefkowitz will take over, and he will
have a prayer service until the holidays.
During the past few weeks I have had these delightful
experiences where they call on the rabbi even though they
are not members of the congregation. If I were hidebound in
my feeling as a rabbi of the Temple, I would say, "No. Join
the Temple if you want my services." A father comes to you
and says, "I wish you would bless my baby; I am having a few
friends." He makes no apology that he does not belong to
the Temple, but he wants me to come out and bless the
children. [I say,] "I am sure I would be happy to."
And this is the story. The wife is a non-Jewess; [she]
never converted. She has six children of her own. The
husband had been married before and has two children of his
own. [There are] eight children between them. The mother
said, "I want another baby." They were living in Miami and
Lake Wales. In Lake Wales, the story is, a couple were
getting a divorce and the wife turned her baby over to this
woman. She kept that baby for six months and grew attached
to that baby. Then the real mother said, "I want my baby
back." So they recently moved to Jacksonville and she wants
a baby. So they go to Miami and adopt a baby there. [He
is] their ninth child, a boy. I go out there and bless that
baby. Interesting, is it not?
P: Very much so.
P: [There is] one thing we have not touched on, Rabbi, and I
want to do that even though the time is late. We have said
nothing at all about what you have done (or not done for
that matter) over the years as far as the black population
of this city is concerned.
K: Well, briefly stated, it was never a problem until recent
years. We had a colored janitor in our Temple down on
Laurel and Ashley Street, and I loved him. When he died,
the family said, "Come to our church and deliver the
eulogy." I went to that church and delivered the eulogy for
this poor janitor whom I liked.
Eartha White. She had the mission. She loves me. I used
to visit her at her mission together with a Mr. Dick
P: Oh, yes, I knew him.
K: He was on the board of trustees of the library with me.
P: I knew Dick for many years.
K: He and I were on the board of trustees of the library. He
championed the cause of the Negroes. Once or twice we went
together at a Negro gathering--I remember Eartha White's--to
show that we cared for them. I think I have spoken once or
twice in a Negro church at their invitation. I remember [I
spoke] once on Laura Street, that Negro church on that
corner there near First Street.
P: You hear so much today about Negro anti-Semitism. I wonder
if you would comment on that.
K: Well, the only comment I can make is that I am conscious
that it exists, but I do not know whether it exists in
Jacksonville. I read about it, and I am fearful of it
because I am still a member of B'Nai B'Rith and still attend
many of their meetings. I requested the chairman of the
program committee to invite a Negro or Negroes to one of our
dinners to talk freely about the Negroes and Jews of
Jacksonville. Is there any friction? If so, let us hear
about it so we might correct it. One evening we had two
Negroes at our B'Nai B'Rith dinner. One of them is a
preacher at one of the churches here, and one of them is a
social worker. I do not recall any of them ever saying
anything about the Jews of Jacksonville in a derogatory
manner. We may have a few Jews who own Negro property which
could be the only source of friction because they fail to
keep it in good shape. The Jewish shopkeepers have all
moved out of Broad Street from the Negro neighborhood.
There are very few, if any, still there. So I think the
contact between the Negroes and Jews is . .
K: [It is] not noticeable at all. Being far from the scene of
activities today, I would say offhand that I do not think
there is any problem in Jacksonville. There might be a
problem in Gainesville [at] the university. I still keep
telling my B'Nai B'Rith brethren to be alert and to become
involved with the Negroes. They are looking for a thing to
do. This is what they should do.
P: Rabbi, in closing, are you very much alarmed about the youth
rebellion, the problems as you see them here in Gainesville
with drugs and this kind of thing?
K: I am scared about the drug problem more than anything else.
That scares me to death because it strikes me as something
new on the scene. I never heard or dreamt of it in years
gone by--when I used to go to the University of Florida
years ago. I never heard of that problem with drugs. All
of a sudden it has sprung up. Our Jewish boys and girls are
not immune. They imitate just as fast and quickly as anyone
else. They do what their neighbor does. I spoke on the
theme Friday night of Jews as hunters, foreign to our
spirit. Whoever knows of a Jew as a hunter?
K: He is hunted, but not a hunter. He does not kill for sport.
But those things are happening. The moment we live in this
free society, we do as other people do. We intermarry, we
use drugs . .
P: We take on all the bad aspects of the society that surrounds
K: Yes, absolutely,.and that is my chief concern. My only
consolation is that I am eighty-one years of age. God
spares me a few more years, and my story will be over.
P: Have you done any writing?
K: No. I must admit that I am terribly lazy. I read but I do
not write. I prepare my sermons carefully, and I do not
read a single word from the pulpit. My congregation says I
have a photographic memory, and they are amazed that I talk
right to them without looking down at a single note. But I
have things right in my mind that I want to say. I am not
one of those who has written things, and it is regrettable,
P: Yes, because you have a wonderful story to tell.
K: Yes. I have given lectures on my experiences in Curagao,
which to me have meant so much because it was so
P: Of course, we are getting part of your story today.
K: Yes. But I never sat down to write. I have tried to do one
thing. I have had many funerals during these fifty-odd
years. The old generation has died out, people whom I knew
and loved and I buried here in Jacksonville. Usually I
conclude my eulogies with reading a poem appropriate to the
occasion if I possibly can get hold of one. I have
collected those poems.
Rabbi Kaplan's Speech
His heart is established. He shall not be afraid until he came
upon his adversaries. He hath scattered abroad; He hath given
the needy his righteousness and given for us. His home shall be
exalted in honor. The wicked shall see and be The
wicked shall gnash with his teeth and melt away. The desire of
the wicked shall perish.
Fellow Hadada, if this congregation were served by only one rabbi
and no other, it would be sufficient. [laughter] If
this congregation were served by one rabbi and one rabbi
emeritus, that would be sufficient. But this
congregation is served not by just one rabbi, not by just one
rabbi and one rabbi emeritus, but by one rabbi and two rabbis
emeritus. That is why no other congregation in the world can
match our [laughter]
BREAK IN TAPE
. . And responded at once. "I will look after that," he said.
He immediately appointed my good friend, Bob Edwards, as chairman
for this auspicious occasion. Bob and his family--his brother
Norman, his mother and his late father--are among my oldest
friends to whom I feel so deeply for the many, many things they
have done for me. Just the other day, Albert's wife, going
through some of the papers of her beloved husband, came across
this tribute to my dear wife Cora. She mailed it to her. It was
but one instance of many of Albert Edwards' generosity, kindness,
and thoughtfulness. This was written October 4, 1966. "A
Tribute to Cora L. Kaplan," by Albert Edwards, on the occasion of
her fiftieth year of devoted service to our Temple and
sisterhood. "Our undying gratitude goes out to Cora Kaplan for
her fifty years of loyal and dedicated service to the Temple
Ahala Chesed and the Temple sisterhood. Her wisdom, judgment,
and counsel have ever been offered willingly and cheerfully. Her
warmth and charm continue to be an inspiration on this golden
BREAK IN TAPE
. . On this fourth day of October, 1966. We will miss you,
Albert. You were one of my old and close friends. I wish God
had spared you to at least be with us on this happy occasion. I
want to thank my colleagues also. Rabbi Lefkowitz sent me a
beautiful letter from his retreat in Virginia. I appreciate it
deeply because of the cordial spirit expressed in our
relationship during these past years. I am sorry that he and
Dorothy were not here to share in this evening with me. But
above all, I want to express my warm thanks to our present
spiritual leader, Rabbi Greenstein, for those lovely remarks that
he just made on my behalf. I wish I were worthy of them. Like
Jacob of old after being away from home for twenty years and
being with his uncle Laven and Mary, his two daughters, Rachel
and Leah, and begat twelve sons and much cattle and a great deal
of material things, ready to meet his estranged brother after all
these years, he offered a prayer to God. He said, [in Hebrew].
I am unworthy of all the kindness and truth that Thou bestoweth
Our Psalms like to say, "Three score years and ten is the average
life of a human being." Or even by reason, four score years.
What shall I say? Adding five more to those four score years.
Our rabbis say, [Hebrew]. Eighty years means strength. Of
course, they did not mean physical strength. What they had in
mind when they said "eighty years of strength" was spiritual
strength that comes to one who dedicates his life unto his fellow
man. Perhaps, perhaps. I may someday be an octogenarian.
Reaching the age of ninety with God's will, I trust that I shall
continue to serve my fellow man and to keep the ideals of what a
rabbi should be ever before me.
Just the other day, I read a wonderful tribute paid to Dr.
Stephen S. Wise by his colleague and successor, Rabbi Edward
Klein on Stephen Wise's memorial, born one hundred years ago.
What he had to say about the rabbinate I trust that I may in some
measure approach. What of the meaning of his ministry? Rabbi
Klein raises the question. Ministry it was, for Wise was first
and foremost a rabbi. "I have need," he wrote, "of a shrine
before which men bow their heads and lift their hearts in a sense
of consciousness of a holy presence.
He knew the power of prayer. None who heard him recite the
Twenty-third Psalm could ever doubt that God was his shepherd.
He was a rabbi in the great tradition of the teachers of our
faith, who by precept and example sought to bring God into the
lives of people--to light upon the dark places of the soul. As a
student of Jewish history, Stephen Wise knew that faith is no
mere escape. We Jews could not escape life's grim realities even
if we chose to. We have been the target of the swings and perils
for two thousand years. But we faced tragedy with courage and
fortitude by virtue of the faith that moved us. Would that I had
some of that spirit of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise.
Sometimes people come up to me and say, "What was the motive in
your becoming a rabbi? How did you happen to enter the ministry
and become the spiritual leader of a congregation?" Of course,
they add the quip, "You know, being a rabbi isn't a business for
a fine Jewish lad." Well, I led a normal, average life as a boy.
I was reared by Orthodox parents. Wonderful parents. Naturally,
as I grew of age, I went to cheder, I learned Hebrew, I prepared
and chanted my Torah for bar mitzvah, and said my speech as all
bar mitzvah boys do. When the time came for me to graduate from
high school, I happened to meet the rabbi of the Reform
congregation in my hometown. He was a bachelor. He was a
wonderful man. Quite frequently he would call me up, and we
would go walking in the woods. One day he said to me, "Why don't
you become a rabbi? Why don't you go to Cincinnati to the Hebrew
Union College? It is a wonderful place, and it is a marvelous
career--one that you will never forget." That is how I became a
I put in my application both at the college and at the University
of Cincinnati. Before one can graduate and be ordained as a
rabbi, one must have a B.A. degree. So here is my routine:
every morning at 8:30, as I arranged my schedule, I attended the
University of Cincinnati, about eight to ten miles away from
where the college was situated downtown amid the shabby district.
Here I went day after day, year after year, finding a boarding
house, finding students to spend my evenings preparing
my lessons. In the course of time, as I entered the college, I
found that I was able to meet some wonderful professors. One of
them came up to me, old Professor Honheimer. I cannot forget
him. He said to me, "Come in my classroom." I walked in. He
opened a prayer book and said, "Here. Read." I read very
closely since I knew Hebrew, going to cheder for many years,
being bar mitzvahed. Then he opened the Bible, and said, "Here.
Read and translate." After a short duration, he said to me, "I'm
going to recommend to the committee that you be put in the B
class, which means that instead of spending nine years (which was
the regular routine for a college student) you will only have to
spend seven." I had eight wonderful classmates, who, during the
course of years, had prestigious congregations. They were
brilliant young fellows. Alas, only one is living today and
occupying a pulpit. The other two I received wonderful letters
from the other day living in Palm Beach and in Miami who
regretted their inability to be here.
At the end of each year I received a request from the president
of the college, Dr. Kaufman Kohler, to come into his room. He
had something to say to me. In those days--this is sixty-two
years ago--there were few Reform congregations in America. There
were many springing up that wanted a rabbi but could not afford
one. But surely from the student body, they ought to get someone
for the holidays. So the president of the college said, "Will
you go to Mansfield, Ohio, for the holidays?" I had been in
college just one year. What did I know about a congregation and
conducting its services? I went to Mansfield the first year. I
went to Saginaw the second year. They liked me so well, they
said, "Come back next year." Bob Zeitler was here, and his
brother Alfred, and his sister Jean Lipman. They were all in
Saginaw I remember Bob I had dinner at
their home. There was one in high school then. I have always
reminded Bob for many, many years how gracious Bob was to me.
Then I went to Grand Rapids, Michigan, the following year, to
Zanesville, Ohio, to Statesville, North Carolina. Then the years
went by before I knew it. One summer I went to New York and took
a summer course at Columbia and got enough credits to graduate
from the University of Cincinnati in three and a half years.
I was very happy with that fact because the last year you have to
write a thesis before you are ordained. Dr. professor
of Talmud, came to me and said, "I have a subject for you. It is
called the laying on of your hands. There is plenty of
material on that subject taken from the Bible, particularly the
story of Jacob on his deathbed blessing his sons, Aaron the high
priest offering the priestly benediction, and being ordained by
any rabbi. The laying on of the hands." But that was only part
of my work, for the president then called me into his office and
said, "I have a call from Evansville, Indiana. Their rabbi has
been with us for many years," the president said. "Now he wants
a sabbatical. He wants to go to Europe and to Jerusalem for a
whole year. (There was no state of Israel in those days.) "We
can't let him go until we get a replacement." So the president
said to me, "Will you go?" That was quite a challenge--to go
every weekend for a whole year to a large congregation with a
large religion school. But I accepted the challenge. I went by
train, changed in Terre Haute and go to Evansville. There I was
met by two lovely old people who said, "You're going to stay with
us, Dr. and Mrs. Gravkin, during your stay in Evansville."
I went to Evansville with a heavy heart. The reason was, as you
might suspect, romance was beginning in my life. [laughter] I
left my sweetheart in Cincinnati. And, oh, how anxious I was on
Sunday evening to have her meet me at the station. If she was
not there, I immediately took a streetcar to her home in
As I was about to graduate, another professor came to me, Dr.
Normach, head of the philosophy department, who tried to teach me
something about and the strong man. He said,
"You know, last year, I went to Natchez, Mississippi, for the
High Holy Days. It is a wonderful congregation, and I wish you
would accept it as a permanent pulpit." If Dr. Normach
recommends it, who is going to challenge it? I said, "All
right." The salary was a very handsome one--$2,000. I went to
Natchez on third of September in the year 1914.
The two years that I was there were my paradise years. On
November 17 of that first year, I went back to Cincinnati, and
Dr. Gunhard Deutsch, professor of history, shalom,
performed the marriage ceremony in Cora's home. We had a small
wedding, and we spent our honeymoon in New Orleans. I was only
there a couple of days before I got a message from Natchez. The
vice president of the congregation had just died. "Please come
back and perform the funeral services." But those two paradise
years were so wonderful. I shall never, never forget them.
It was a large congregation in those days. Most of the merchants
were in the wholesale grocery business. They found a two-story
for me, furnished, thirty dollars a month. They found a servant
for me, Patsy, who would greet us at the door when we came in.
Every night practically, as I recall, we were invited out. They
seemed to take us into their hearts as their children. I loved
each and every one of them.
At the close of the second year, I went to the Conference of
American Rabbis, which was held at Cape May, New Jersey. There I
met one of my old friends of college days, Rabbi Samuel Schwartz,
whose name will be familiar to some of you older members of the
congregation here tonight. Samuel Schwartz was a rabbi here in
Jacksonville for four years. He had just accepted a pulpit in
Montreal, Canada, a much larger congregation. He said, "I would
like for you to accept this pulpit here in Jacksonville. I can
see it is a growing community, but I wanted to go to Montreal,
which is a much larger congregation. He said, "Could we meet in
the vestry of the Temple" on a certain day, and I will be there.
I arrived in Jacksonville and met the congregation in the vestry
of the Temple together with Rabbi Samuel Schwartz. He gave his
farewell talk, and I was called upon to say hello to the
congregation, pledging them all that I had, to serve them in the
spirit of Sam Schwartz and Dr. Stephen Wise, and all those great
spiritual leaders of the day. Then I remained in Jacksonville.
I did not have to preach any sermon after finding out. I did not
meet with the governing board who asked me all sorts of
questions. [laughter] They listened to Sam Schwartz, and they
said, "Fine. We believe in you." So began my ministry to the
congregation. It was a wonderful congregation in those days, as
it is today. They had a fine religious school, and my wife
taught for thirty years in that religious school, as all the
other teachers--men and women--who gave their services freely.
They were not paid in those days. The sisterhood at the end of
each year gave each one of the teachers an insignificant gift,
just as a reminder, just as a thank you for serving the
congregation and the children.
How they loved Cora. This is my tribute as a husband to my wife.
She taught public school for two years in Cincinnati. She had
the ability of telling stories to her children. As they would
tell me, Sunday after Sunday when we had our assembly period, you
could hear a pin drop when Mrs. Kaplan was telling a story.
Later on, she organized the sisterhood as I did in Natchez for
the National Federation Sisterhood. Mrs. Simon Bennington, the
wife of the president, served for ten years my father
was the president of a congregation. After being with the
congregation each year, I began not only to preach on Fridays and
Saturday, and look after the religious school, but to engage in
outside activities. First with my own two communities. There
was only the Orthodox synagogue in those days. The synagogue had
a women's organization and a men's organization taking care of
the needy. Our ladies had their charity organization, and they
were helping the same poor people who came from the North on
their way to Miami to get lodging and food--three times from the
three organizations. I said to myself, "That won't do. We have
to be united." So in the course of time I brought down a social
worker from the north, and we organized a United Jewish Chapter.
I am happy to see here this evening the president, executive
secretary of the Family and Children's Services, which is now the
name of the United Jewish Chapter, an organization that spends
close to $50,000 a year, mind you, for getting most of
its money from the community chest.
Then, a few years later, Rabbi Morris was here, serving the We
talked the situation
. . even today, although all you here who help United Jewish
Charity and Israel and UJ, in those days, thank
goodness, we did not have to contribute to those organizations.
Then we turn again to my for those organizations.
First of all, let me tell you about the radio program. I had two
radio programs in those days before the advent of television. At
twelve o'clock on Sundays I would go over to the television
office, and I would usually stress those items that could help
promote brotherhood between Jew and non-Jew. I would come
the radio program week after week. So it happened, and
this is the reason I am telling the story. I received a phone
message from a young lady. She said, "I and my sister just lost
our mother. She was an old woman, but she never missed listening
to your radio programs on Sunday. She made a request that when
she died to call on Rabbi Kaplan to conduct the funeral service."
I could not say no. She was a non-Jewess. I went into her home
to conduct the service. There was not a single Jew there except
a rabbi. Later on, the two girls moved to a small town in
Alabama. You know, years have gone by, but not a year goes by
unless we receive a telegram on Rosh Hashanah from these two
sisters wishing us a happy new year.
When Fuller Warren was governor of Florida, he asked me to serve
on the children's commission, which meant that I would have to go
to Tallahassee, visit all the schoolchildren home, and make
reports. I had to resign because, as you will hear in a few
moments, I became a wandering rabbi. I became a flying rabbi.
[laughter] For three years, I flew every other week from
Bloomington, North Carolina, Gadsden, Alabama, Albany, Georgia.
Wherever I went, I had a problem. They would want to keep me
there. I said, "My home is here in Jacksonville. You go ahead
and get a permanent rabbi." I went to Oklahoma City. I received
a call from Cincinnati from Nelson the president of the
college. He said, "I have with me the president of the Oklahoma
City congregation, and he tells me that their rabbi, whom they
have had for many years, just completed a chaplaincy, and
foolishly, he signed up for the extra year after your
chaplaincy--the reserve chaplaincy. They called him. Do you
know where they are sending him? To some little place out in
Wyoming. There are no Jews there, but he has to go to serve as a
chaplain. You must send us a rabbi. You must send us someone."
"I understand you are retired now," Dr. said.
fill that position. My wife and I drove to Oklahoma City, where
we stayed for fourteen months. There I had a wonderful
congregation, a very large congregation. Well-united. While I
was there, I introduced a Union Thanksgiving Service, the same as
our in Jacksonville. I think it is fifty-seven years
that we have had the interdemoninational Union Thanksgiving
Service of six or seven congregations without interruption. One
year I got a letter when I was in Harrisonburg, Virginia, the
longest stay of any community, where I stayed for four years. I
received a letter from Rabbi Lefkowitz saying that one of the
Christian ministers--I think it was Memorial Church--
would like to know whether I had a copy of the program of all of
the fifty-odd years. Fortunately, I had saved them, and I sent
them to Rabbi Lefkowitz. They are today somewhere among the six
or seven churches. They still meet--each year a different
church, each year a different minister preaching, each year with
a larger and larger attendance, which makes me feel good.
Then I organized the Jacksonville Open Forum. In those days,
people came from the North. Then they stopped in Jacksonville.
The only other place they could go was St. Augustine. Man, it
was barely a swamp! So in Jacksonville. of
bringing new lectures to Jacksonville on Sunday so the people--
the visitors especially--could hear that. I made a connection
with the Boston Bureau of Lectures. They set up seven cities in
Florida. Each day in a different community. They came to
Jacksonville on Sunday--some of the most outstanding speakers in
the world came here from China, India, from England. Great
speakers of the Chatauqua community. This company
rabbi. Would you believe it? Rabbi Maurice Eisengrad,
shalom, was one of our speakers. He was then rabbi at
Temple in Toronto, Canada. "Would you go hear him speak?" I
asked myself. He was doing propaganda for Canada. Canada,
realize, is eloquence at the They sent him all over
the state of Florida to talk for Canada.
We had Rabbi Israel and Dr. Voss. I do not know if he
is here in the audience or not. He is one of our open-forum
speakers. So, for a number of years, until I left the city and
the serving of the congregations, we met in the auditorium of the
George Washington Hotel. who ran the hotel, was a dear
friend of mine. When I asked him if he would let me use his
large auditorium (I had no money to pay him; it was a
offering proposition--no charge, no tickets), he said, "Sure."
We filled that auditorium. The city librarian, Joe _
would help me whenever I was out of the city. Even after I left,
I asked him to take over, but they gave up in a short time. They
did not have the staff of a rabbi. But they were wonderful days.
I can think of many more things.
The National Conference of Christians and Jews. You do not hear
much of them today, but many years ago, Reverend Edward Clinchy,
the Christian minister, and Rabbi Morris a classmate of
mine, and a Catholic priest toured the whole country. They would
speak before civic clubs--Rotary, Civitan, Kiwanis Club, and
sometimes in some of the high schools--on the theme of
brotherhood. They came here one day, and I arranged a luncheon
for them. I must confess that I never saw a larger crowd of men
gathered together in one of the hotels to listen to these three
speakers holding hands standing up as they spoke on brotherhood.
In the course of time, they appealed to me to form a chapter here
in Jacksonville, and I did. I became the president of the new
local Conference of Jews and Christians. I served in that
capacity until again I started to wander about and serve other
congregations. Going to Pittsburgh, Meridian, Mississippi.
Meridian, Mississippi. When I went there I found a widow who was
conducting the service for two years. Her husband was rabbi of
the congregation--William Ackerman. We hear about this
who is a woman rabbi today--the first ordained rabbi. She may be
the first ordained rabbi, but Mrs. Ackerman for two years--at the
request of the congregation--served as their rabbi. At the end
of two years they said she had enough, so they sent for me, and I
served them for a year. Then I went to Harrisonburg, Virginia.
There I was only ninety miles from Washington. Harrisonburg is
distinctive in many ways only because it gave me the opportunity
to see my children that were living outside of Washington from
time to time.
Harrisonburg was unique in many ways. I cannot forget its
uniqueness. Whenever I walked out on the pulpit for my study
the whole congregation rose out of respect for their
rabbi. The mayor of the city was the president of my
congregation. He told members of this council, "I will never
call a meeting on Friday night. My place will be on the pulpit
with the rabbi." Lawrence Rolin was a unique character. Not a
college graduate, but one who had a good heart, a sense of
honesty, integrity, and morality about him. He stayed there for
four years until my son-in-law informed me that, "I'm going to
accept a position outside of Washington. Now I'm leaving
Washington." I said, "Well, you really should stay in
Harrisonburg." [laughter] I tended my resignation and came back
to Jacksonville. But the most unique, and this will be my last
(I have forgotten ) [laughter]
I went to Curagao, Netherlands, West Indies. Those of you who
know Jewish history--and I have lectured you on the subject many
times--will recall that Curagao is the oldest Jewish congregation
in the western hemisphere. The congregation is the oldest.
Tourists who come to visit Curagao, the first thing they are
shown is the remarkable, magnificent Temple with sand on the
walls. with a magnificent effect that was
used only on marriages and funerals. That was not
That was an Orthodox congregation that had a and an
Orthodox rabbi. But the congregation I served were the children
and grandchildren of the founders of this unusual congregation.
They had grown large enough to have their own rabbi, their own
congregation and synagogue. That was the congregation I served
right on the doorsteps of the sea. Yom Kippur there in
the waters of the Caribbean It was so Reform it did
not have a in the synagogue. The other ceremonial
objects . they did not have a shofar. Here was Rosh
Hashanah coming along. I said, "Where is the shofar?" I cannot
blow the shofar. That is something the professors learned as
they worked. Never taught me. "We're going to blow the shofar."
They said, "We've never had it blown," and the Temple was one
hundred years old. But they never had a they never had
blown the shofar for Rosh Hashanah. I said, "In the United
States, we have the We blow the shofar and keep many
ceremonies that perhaps you do not keep today but we feel are
important. So they said, "Well, if you can get ahold of somebody
to blow the shofar . I brought mine with me. I called up
the Orthodox rabbi. I said, "Can you get me someone to blow the
shofar?" He said, "Yes. I think I can find a young boy." I was
happy with that fact. The next day, he called me to tell me,
"I'm sorry. The boy's mother, who still dislikes the Reform
Temple, wouldn't give permission to her son." There I was. We
had a colored man. Curagao was composed of colored people. They
do not speak English, they do not speak Dutch, they do not speak
any foreign language but their own native language, called
The Jewish children growing up speak the same
language. They do not know what it means. The organist was a
colored man. I said, "Look at the dates. Rosh
Hashanah. Yom Kippur. The year has gone by. We have holiday
music. We probably have some music about blowing the shofar. I
will say to the congregation, and you play the organ.
[laughter] That is how Talk about service. I stayed
there for a whole year, and my wife still corresponds with a
number of people there, as she does many other places.
As the sunset years of my life draw to a close, I pray to God
that before I pass on, all of us shall live in a world of peace.
Israel will have peace, and I shall continue to call you, my dear
friends, brothers and sisters who have been so wonderful to me
throughout the years. God bless you.