This Oral History is copyrighted by the Interviewee
and Samuel Proctor Oral History Program on
behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of
Copyright, 2005, University of Florida.
All rights, reserved.
This oral history may be used for research,
instruction, and private study under the provisions
of Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of United States
Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section
107) which allows limited use of copyrighted
materials under certain conditions.
Fair use limits the amount of materials that may be
For all other permissions and requests, contacat the
SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
GAINESVILLE HIGH SCHOOL
SUBJECT: MR. IRVIN ROBBINS (R)
I: Mr. Irvin Robbins of 933 N.W. 36th Terrace. The time is 8 p.m.
Sunday, May 30, 1971.
Mr. Robbins when you first knew...when you first...well, where
were you born?
R: Here in Goinesville.
I: Uh, were there many Jewish families living in Gainesville at
the time you were born?
R: Well, maybe for those days it was a lot of Jewish families, but
for the present standard, no.
I: About how many?
R: Ten to twelve.
I: Did you have a Jewish synagogue?
I: Can you remember when the first one was built ?
R: Yes, I remember.
I: Do you know the date?
R: Around 1924.
I: And where was it?
R: At the present location, that is, we've just disposed of.
R: The street I don't rmemeber; I don't know the name of the street.
I: And when was the second one built, the new one?
R: Never has been another one.
I: Well, the one where you
R: That's not a, that's not a synagogue; that's an educational center.
I: Well we have all our services there.'
R: Yea. You can have services at home. But uh, that's eight, nine
ten years ago, approximately.
I: Was there much prejudice shown towards you or your family for
being Jewish in your early years?
R: It was there. It just uh, I don't know if it's what you...
I: Were there signs, like burning crosses, or...
R: No, I don't think so. Not in Gainesville.
R: Not to my knowledge. Had the Ku Klux Klan there.
I: Did, y'know, did the Ku Klux Klan come talk to you and threaten.
R: No. We used to pray.
I: Um, your...I understand your name used to Rabinowitz.
R: That's right.
I: Could you tell me why you changed it to Robbins?
R: Well, I guess it goes back to my uncle who lived in New York who
changed his name to Robbins. My oldest brother had a orchestra, instead
of saying R Rabinowitz, he shortened it to Robbins. So we, all the
oys followed suit.
I: But it wasn't because of prejudice towards you for being Jewish?
R: Prejudice toward me, embarrassed at the fact, embarrassed at the fact
that my name was Jewish? No. No.
I: ...No, no, that...
R: Everybody, everybody, all my friends were always Jewish. It was
I: How did they, being Jewish affect your business when you first
opened it up, or...
R: My business, here? My present business? No.
I: Not at all.
R: Well I don't put a sign in front of my store that I'm a Jew.
I: No, but you know how...
R: No. No.
I: Well, did you have a store, a business any other town, city...?
R: Starke, I had a business there for 17 years.
I: Was there any prejudice down in Starke towards being Jewish?
R: I think there was less there than here.
I: Less? Uh, did you have services every Friday and Saturday night
that you wentto, or, not before the Temple was built? Did you meet
at someone's house?
R: I can't exactly recall where they met, but I know on the higher
holidays we met at the Masonic Temple downtown, but I can't recall where
they had higher holidays services. Evidently...excuse me, Friday night
services. On higher holiday, I remember the Masonic Temple.
I: Until they purchased the...
R: Until we...yea.
I: Temple and they moved you in there.
R: Til we moved in the old synagogue back to 1924, '25.
I: Did you build the synagogue?
I: was it built?
R: It was built by the ten, twelve families; raised enough money
and took a mortgage.
I: How'd you raise the money to pay for this?
R: Oh (the) building fund, the Sisterhood raised money, you know,
like they had parties, they'd, it would cost...you'd pay to go to the
parties...they'd have poker games...they'd cut the pot...everybody...
everything went to the building fund.
R: Everything went to the synagogue, yea.
I: But, you all, at the time, at the time the synagogue was built,
about approximately how many Jewish families were living in Gainesville then?
R: Ten or twelve.
R: Yea. 1925; yea very few.
I: When, when did you, y'know, first start seeing Jewish families moving
More...more of them.
R: Well, I'd say that was after the war. I'd say that was after the war.
I: Was there a reason they moved here, or...
R: Well, the university.
I: When the synagogue was built, did you go to services every Friday
and Saturday night?
R: Didn't have any Saturday night services.
I: I mean Friday night and Saturday?
R: No, no I didn't go. We didn't have...never did have Saturday services.
I: Never Sat...You didn't...When did you start having Saturday services?
R: Do we still...we have 'em now?
I: When did you start having them?
R: Never had 'em.
I: Yes...you have...you don't? Oh.
R: Over at the educational center? No, we don't have services.
does. We don't.
I: Did you...when did you have your first Rabbi?
Or, did you ever have a Rabbi?
R: When did we have our first...a couple years ago, I believe it was.
What's the one from Daytona? That's the first one we ever had.
I: And it's the last one too.
R: First and last one, yes. Never had a Rabbi. We used to bring in
a Rabbi for the high holidays, when I was a kid..
I: Okay, usually during sermons, the Rabbi, the Rabbi gives the sermons...
how is the synagogue give sermons...who gives them, if you don't have a
R: Who gives them now?
I: Uh hmm.
R: You mean to day?
I: In this...
R: Well, they have guest speakers, have the uh, have uh, university
p rofessors, and uh...I mean when they have them...I don't believe they have
'em...every now and then, they tell me Jack Z gives a little short
I: And, do you have a canter or not?
R: Yes. We have a canter.
I: How long have you had a canter?
R: ? Ten years. Oh, yes, yes, I think most of the time
we've had a canter, that's right. Go back as far as Mr. Grossman.
I: Okay, is it, was it...in, when you were growing up was it easy
to get kosher food in Gainesville?
R: No, it's not easy to get kosher food today in Gainesville. Never
had a delicatessen; maybe from a grocery store you could get a few kosher
foods. Most everybody always went to Jacksonville for meats and all.
I: And, and they always have...there was no...
R: No kosher foods.
I: Um, when most boys hit, are near the age of 13 they had a bar mitzvah;
1d you have one?
R: Yea, I had one, tok...a token bar mitzvah, let's put it...I was
called up to the and I was...I followed the Rabbi, but my
other were bar mitzvahed; my mother taught them; taught them
their hatora and all, and they were...they actually had their bar mitzvah.
I: Now when um, you say they had their bar mitzvah; did anyone else
have them where they studied the ?
R: What do you mean by anyone else?
I: Any other kids in any other Jewish families in Gainesville, or was
it just you and your brothers?
R: No, I'm quite sure. Sure they, the other, other boys. My cousins,
I had three cousins here; they were bar mitzvahed; I'm quite sure they were.
Although I can't recall it.
I: And, who teaches the children now? The hatora, or who...?
R: Well, we have (n't counted that. That's not the) interest, but who, who
taught in then. This is all taught in the house by individuals or they would,
they would hire some very learned Jewish kid who was going to school that knew
these things; these families would hire him to teach their children the
hatora, prepare them for bar mitzvah, but it wasn't a thorough...we had no
Sunday school, or the Sunday school we had was negligible, we had no
Hebrew school or anything. In fact, the kids of my generation really don't
have an educated Jewish background, because, we had, we had no Sunday school
or Hebrew school or anything like this.
I: Well when's the first time they had a Hebrew and a Sunday school?
R: After the war I guess.
I: After the war when the families started moving in?
I: Um, living in a town such as Gainesville where there weren't many
Jewish people, did it tend to bring you closer to your religion because
the Jewish religion is more a way of life than it is a religion.
R: Not particularly.
I: No? it's not...
R: We were very close...I had a lot of...many, many Christian friends
here in town. We were good friends.
I: But did you tend to..are you...nowadays, not many families like
candles every Saturday night and ; did you tend
to do that every week.
R: My mother, my mother did.
I: And stick to traditions...
R: Oh yes, yes, my house was very strong in Judaism, and I'll give you
examples. On the high holidays come, you take Passover, I would never break
Passover; I and I went in the drugstore and got a
glass of water; instead of asking for a cup of water, I got a glass; I went
back to the store and washed my mouth out. And now, the children, they
don't/never keep it; many of them I should say. With a, with a better...
uh, what I want to say...with better education of Judaism than we had, but
I, I guess the tradition was so strong in the homes that they, that...
even your Daddy, your Daddy was a very strict...kept a very strict...
I: Um, when we were talking about keeping a kitchen kosher...what
did your mother do to make sure that the kitchen was kosher, did she use, uh,
R: I don't recall my mother keeping kosher...I don't recall her keeping
I: She didn't use two sets of dishes...?
R: I don't recall that, to be truthful.
I: She didn't...not at all?
BR: I don't think so. My aunt did...I had an aunt in town that was,
kept kosher, but I don't think, I don't think my mother did.
yea, but I don't recall it, and I don't know of any of
the families that actually kept kosher in those days, of the Jewish families
that were here.
I: Um, when it was Passover time, did your mother boil the plates.
R: Yes sir! The plates? No, she had plates, but she boiled
I: The silverware, and the
R: Yes sir.
I: How long did she boil it for?
R: Oh, I don't know about the time, I don't know, but I tell you...
I: A couple days, or?
R: I don't...I can't...well, it was probably a couple days; no, it was
more than a couple of hours, it just uh, it was done in the strictest way,
I promise you.
I: And we don't do that nowadays, why did, why was, what was the
reason for boiling the pots and silverware? Do you remember?
R: To make them pasavik.
R: What organizations were there, let's see.
I: Were there any organizations that you weren't allowed into?
I: ...because you were Jewish?
R: Let's see, there were, there were two men in the Kiwanis, but I...
two Jewish people, two Jewish men in the Kiwanis Club, but I don't know,
they were very strict about it after that; I don't think they took in Jews
for many many years; and I don't even know if they take them in now.
I: Were there any other...?
R: very tough to get into, but that's been broken.
Uh, the Elks was difficult to get into but that's been broken, and uh,
that's all I know of.
I: I want to thank you very much Mr. Robbins for giving me your
time to interview you. Thank you.
END OF INTERVIEW.