Interview with Nat Shorstein November 29 1976

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Interview with Nat Shorstein November 29 1976
Shorstein, Nat ( Interviewee )
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Duval County Oral History Collection ( local )
Spatial Coverage:
Duval County (Fla.) -- History.


This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

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Source Institution:
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
Holding Location:
This interview is part of the 'Duval County' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
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Resource Identifier:
DUV 011 Nat Shorstein 11-29-1976 ( SPOHP IDENTIFIER )


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SS: Today is November 29, 1976, and I am interviewing Mr. Nat
Shorstein, formerly of Jacksonville, now living in Tampa,
Florida. Uncle Nat, let's go back as far as you can remember
and tell us, or tell me first about when you can remember your
folks coming to Jacksonville.

NS: We came to Jacksonville in June of 1914. Believe me when I
tell you we had a very small Jewish community at the time, but
with it all we had a beautiful YMHA. We had a nice synagogue,
and those of us who were here were very, very much Jewish-
minded. We had a marvelous "Y."

SS: Was the "Y" already here?

NS: It was. We had the best basketball floor in the community and
we had a wonderful group of young men and young women my age,
my contemporaries.

SS: About how old were you then?

NS: I was eighteen years of age. Now we had, as I said, a
marvelous "Y." We started a YMHA basketball team, and in the
city there was a basketball league. If I recall, in the
league was the Duval High School, the Catholic Club, I think
it was, one of the service organizations--I just do not
remember which, and the YMCA. All of our games were played
at the YMCA. However, whenever our YMHA played over there,
we used to attract the largest crowds. And if I remember
correctly, on that team, Harry Sacks, of blessed memory, was
jump center, Abe Cooper, of blessed memory, and I were the
forwards, and Willie Rosenbloom, another one who has gone, and
Sidney Hertzenberg were the guards. We used to rate pretty
high in that league. We came out every year either the first
or the second. We were never down at the bottom. And along
with that, I think we were the first Jewish team to bring a
team from another Jewish community here. In about 1919, I
believe it was, we brought the Savannah Jewish Alliance down
here and we put them up at Finkelstein's Hotel, I remember,
on Adam Street, and we beat them that night at the "Y."
However, they invited us back to Savannah, and we went up
there, and we beat them there as well. As I said, we had a
wonderful young group. There were so many of us that we
finally organized a social club, and I believe this was the
first Jewish social club in the state. We called it the
"Jolly Four O." There were twenty boys and twenty girls. I
am sure I was the first president of it [laughter]. Kate
Bandremer, I remember, was the first secretary. We had
wonderful times. We used to go out on boat rides. We used
to go out on hayrides, and surprisingly, of all our gang,
everyone married within the faith.

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SS: Uncle Nat, what brought the Shorstein family to Jacksonville?
Why did you all come down?

NS: Well, my father originally was in the butter and egg business.
My father was one of the first egg candlers that came over
from the other side. You know we came originally from England
to Montreal, and from Montreal we went to Philadelphia and
then he was with Swift and Company. They came down to Florida
to see if he could find a source for fresh eggs. Because in
Philadelphia, or all the northern cities, the only eggs you
can get in the wintertime are storage eggs, eggs they have
put away in the summer, put in storage in the summertime, and
bring them out in the wintertime. So he originally came down
here to find a source of fresh eggs that you could ship to the
north which we finally did. I followed him and then we set
up--we moved. I will never forget our first home was at 756
West Duval, right up the street from the "Y" and right up the
street from the synagogue. And then the family came down
about August, I believe, and we were all set.

SS: What year was this?

NS: August, 1914. Of course, I played basketball for the school
I was going to, and went over to the YMHA two or three nights
afterwards. Of course, I was taken in with the gang because
they saw I liked to play pretty well. But, as I said before,
we had no trouble meeting a lot of fine people. However,
subsequently, my uncle and aunt, the Marx's, followed us two
years later. They came down, and that was the only mishpocha
we had. I hardly know what to say about it. Much was going
on, that was going on then, as I told you before, Syl, we
really had a very, very fine community. However, this YMHA,
we were in, the synagogue took a mortgage on itself in order
to build the YMHA, and during World War I we had Camp Joseph
E. Johnston out here where the Naval Air Station is now. That
was a quartermaster camp.

SS: Tell me about it. Were you in service at the time?

NS: No, I was not in the service, but I was supposed to get my
physical on the day the armistice was signed. And we had a
lot of Jewish boys here during World War I, and we would
always billet them out for the holidays and weekends. We saw
to it that they had home hospitality. As a matter of fact,
in the synagogue, I would always get up during the holidays
and ask the boys, see that the boys were billeted out, either
for Passover or for the High Holy Days. And this was a ritual
with us. No--everybody saw that the boys from the camp were
well taken care of, and believe me, there were a lot of the
boys who married local girls. My sister Sue married Tobe who
was out at the camp. There were a lot of the girls married

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boys from the camp here. So at the time, Harry Tobias, the
songwriter who subsequently married a Jacksonville girl, Rose
Diamond, of blessed memory, gave us an idea of how to pay off
the mortgage of the "Y." And we did. I believe I was
president of the "Y" at the time. They used to make me
president as soon as anything started. If I opened my mouth,
they stuck me with the job as president. So he gave us an
idea that we should set up booths, and have music, free
dancing, set up booths with a roulette wheel, you know, with
the wheels. We gave away groceries and things like that.
Well anyway, and we also had Neil Finkelstein, of blessed
memory, who had Neil's Pawnshop, gave us a diamond ring to
auction off to the girl who sells the most tickets. I think
they were ten cents a ticket, and Charlie Davis, I will never
forget, on the last day bought enough tickets so his sister-
in-law could win that. Well anyway, to make a long story
short, we started that auctioning off the goods in the "Y."
We started it on Sunday, and we went from Sunday to Thursday
every night. We started again on Sunday to Thursday, and we
started on the following Sunday. We made enough money to pay
off the mortgage for which we are deeply indebted to Harry
Tobias for giving us that idea. We paid that off, and, of
course, you know, I left here.

SS: Do you have any idea how much it was at the time?

NS: I think we owed about either 6[000] or 7,000 dollars. Of
course, that was a lot of money in those days. That was a
tremendous amount of money [chuckles]. But mind, you know,
on that diamond ring we made $1,100. I still remember that
we made $1,100.00 just off that diamond ring. And I left
here. When I came back, I started back where I left off with
the synagogue. Of course, the old "Y" was--most of the people
had moved away. I came back and I organized the men's club
at the Jewish Center.

SS: When was that?

NS: In the early '30s. And we had a wonderful Center.

SS: When did the synagogue leave B'nai Israel and come over to the

NS: I was away at the time. That's when I went back to
Philadelphia, got married, and I could not stand the cold
weather and came back here. I was married about 1929 or 1930.
However, when I came back, the new synagogue was at Third and
Silver and, of course, I got back into the swing of the old--
met some of the old people--my former, all of my old friends.
As I said, we have always had a very, very fine, close-knit
Jewish community here. We reorganized the B'nai B'rith, and

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then just before World War II, when the Nazis became so big,
we had, without a doubt I think, one of the most scurrilous
newspapers in the United States here, the most violent and
anti-Jewish, anti-Semitic newspaper called The Tribune. But
he used to hawk his papers on Fridays, and believe me, when
I tell you I used to walk across the street and I was just
ashamed of what was going on. Now Sam Nelson was one of the
associate editors or one of the writers for the, at that time,
the Jacksonville Journal. And Harold Cohen was the city
editor. And of course, Sam Nelson was a drunkard--so they
say--and, because he fired him, Sam Nelson saw an opportunity
to get back at the Jews through Harold Cohen. And William W.
Paley backed him with his newspaper. What we had done then
was, then we organized, we had a very fine anti-defamations
committee here with B'nai B'rith. B'nai B'rith had a
resurgence here, and during the time when I was state
president this all happened.

SS: What were you state president of? The anti-defamation league?

NS: I was state chairman of the anti-defamation league, and I was
subsequently state president of the B'nai B'rith.

SS: What year was this, Uncle Nat, do you remember?

NS: I was state president here in maybe 1939 to 1940.

SS: Right before the war then?

NS: Yes, just before the war. Now with Sam Nelson, he kept
libeling Harold Cohen. Just before that we organized a Jewish
community council. And that was done because of the fact that
people used to come in here, you know, and always keep
begging, and we had a meeting one night and....

SS: The snowbirds used to come down who did not know....

NS: Yes. They would come down. You know, they used to get fifty
per cent of the take, and if I recall now, Harold Cohen and
Dave Laserus, Dave Harris, I think Harold Cohen, oh, I said
Harold Cohen, I think Philip Selber, and I, we had a meeting
of some sort one night, and we discussed this. Harold Cohen
said, "Look, why don't we organize our own collection agency
and send these people the money." We would send them more
than they were getting, but of course, these collectors get
fifty per cent of the take, and we would not have to have them
come into my office at the newspaper with these long ,
you know. And say, I want a donation." Or when I was with
Levy's, they would come up while I was waiting on maybe the
governor of the state. The man would come over there, "Well,
Mr. Shorstein, you are the president of B'nai B'rith." It was

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very embarrassing. This was the commencement of the Jewish
Community Council. Then we organized our own collection
agency, and Harold Cohen and I went out. We started
collecting. The first year, as amateurs now, we, I think we
collected either $40,000 or $45,000 dollars. I do not recall.

SS: Oh. Now was this for UJA?

NS: Well, we had UJA. All of the Jewish agencies were in there.

SS: Then, of course, as I said, I was president of the B'nai
B'rith at the time. And the man who was the ADL head who was
brought down here to run the ADL office in Miami was a very
close personal friend of mine. I knew he wanted to get out
of that work and we brought him here. That was Bill Boxerman.
Bill was a professional in the field and he really taught us
how to collect.

However, before the community really became conscious of what
was going on, we brought down for a meeting here Dick
Goodstadt, who at that time was national director of the anti-
defamation league of B'nai B'rith, and Dick Goodstadt spoke,
I believe it was at the George Washington Hotel. Then we had,
every Jew of the community who could come in there was there.
A good many of your great, good workers of today, your big
givers of today, Philip Coleman, I will never forget. And
Lester, Lester I used to play bridge with a good bit. I had
a hard time getting Philip to come there, but, however, he
decided to come. When Goodstadt started to speak, he never
used a note. He was without a doubt one of the finest
speakers, Jewish speakers in the country. When he was
through, there was not a dry eye among those people. I will
never forget what Philip Coleman told me. He said, "You have
really made a Jew out of me." Since then, of course, a lot
of those people that were there opened their hearts and their
purses to Jewish causes. That is what really started this
community, and at one time when we started, Jacksonville gave
more money for United Jewish Charities--this is what we called
it--than Atlanta. In that we also had what we called, now let
me see if I recall, a local organization, well, to work
together with the anti-defamation committee of the local, but
we left some money here for this committee to work.

Now I am going back to Harold Cohen and Sam Nelson. Well, on
our committee we had two of the finest Jewish lawyers here at
the time. The reason why I went on to the Community Council
is because of the fact that some of the money and some of the
men that worked with the public relations committee of the
Community Council, and I could not think of public relations
before, like Harry Reinstein, Joe Glickstein. We had the
finest Jewish minds in the community on that. And Sam Nelson,

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they realized that as long--that the man who prints the paper
was just as liable as Sam Nelson for libeling him. So we kept
chasing him. We found out he was getting his paper printed
in Jacksonville. Then he moved to Lake City. We finally got
him up in Georgia. He finally got as far as North Carolina.
We were always in touch, and Alex Brest was implicated in this
as well. We finally got him up to North Carolina, and we
called, I was in contact with Dick Goodstadt at that time, the
head of the ADL all the time. And he gave us an idea. We
finally got Nelson in a compromising position and got him to
sell out his paper and that was the end of that.

SS: Talking about anti-Semitism, had there ever been any other
incidents that you, you know, have personally been involved

NS: So far as I know, not to a great extent. Of course, you
remember, after the picture, "The Birth of a Nation" was here,
Jacksonville was a top [Ku] Klux [Klan] city. We would see
white robes walking down Forsyth Street, but frankly, I had
never experienced any anti-Semitism. After I came back, after
all I was in the clothing department at Levy's and
Rosenbloom's and had some of the finest people in this
community who would buy from me. They all knew I was Jewish,
but that did not stop them. But I would say even during the
time we had the basketball league, and this is one incident
I will never forget, we were playing the YMCA one night at the
YMCA, and Walter Lynch, who subsequently became editor--sports
editor of the Jacksonville Journal, who played for the YMCA,
somebody kept hollering, shouting something, I do not know
what it was, and Walter Lynch run up and said, "Give me that
ball. Give me that ball." I was dribbling up the court and
made the basket. And he took the ball. He walked back and
he slapped somebody with the ball right in the face. I said,
"Walter, what was wrong?" And he said, "Didn't you hear him?"
I said, "No." "He said, 'Stop that Jew. Stop that Jew.'"
Walter Lynch said, "We don't permit that here," and he threw
him out. And Dr. Haskell who was a physician, was at that
time athletic director of the YMCA. Oh, a very fine person.
And he walked over and said, "Don't ever let me see you in
here again. We don't condone that type of language in here.
We don't want people like you in here." That is the only time
I had ever heard it in the forty years that I have been here.
Never had I heard it.

But as I said before, Jacksonville has always been a very,
very fine community. I would love to come back here to see
you and your husband and sister and all the very fine people
that I have known here all during the years, and this has been
a fine community. We had a Jewish councilman when I came
here. That was Rudy Grunthwall, if I recall. I know we had

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a Jewish mayor. When I came here, of course, South
Jacksonville was a little bit different than Jacksonville, and
South Jacksonville had a justice of the peace, I believe his
name was Greenberg, but he was justice of the peace in South
Jacksonville at the time. Now, is there anything else you
want to know?

SS: Did you go to school here, did you attend school or were you
sent to school?

NS: No, I graduated at a school in Philadelphia, and I did not go
to school here. However, when I left here and went back to
Philadelphia--when I got married, I went to the University of
Pennsylvania in the evenings--I was on the campus then, and
went there in the evenings. Then that sleet and slush and
cold was too much for me. I decided to come back here, and
I have never regretted it. But I have enjoyed Jacksonville,
and I will never forget when I came here Jet Bowden was the
mayor. He was a great guy. We had, in those days, Duncan U.
Fletcher was one of our United States senators, and Duncan U.
Fletcher was a real power in the Senate. And I do not know
whether you know this or not, but, you know, the first Jew
ever to sit in the Senate...

SS: In the U.S. Senate?

NS: the United States Senate was from Florida. David L.

SS: Right.

NS: You know, of course, the city is not big that is named after
him. When we came here, the Safer family were--Rabbi Safer
was the shochet. He was the rabbi, and he had a marvelous
voice. He was the cantor, and he also had a butcher shop over
on Adam Street where everybody bought their meats. He was
really a very, very, very nice person. The whole Safer family
were. We had the little synagogue, of course, at the corner
of Jefferson and Duval. All of our weddings in those days we
used to have at the synagogue, and we would go across the
street to the "Y" where we had the receptions. Now when I
came here, Rabbi Kaplan was the rabbi of the Ahavath Chesed,
I believe it is, if I still remember the name. And Rabbi
Kaplan would always come to our synagogue for the second day
of Passover and the second day of Rosh Hashanah and invariably
we would give him an aliyah. He was always very, very
thankful for it. Now, as I said, this was the Safer family,
the Witten family. We had so many of the older families here
that were--. I remember the Hirsches. Dave Davis, the man
I was with, and Neil Finkelstein, two very fine
philanthropists, had an organization called Neil and Dave's.

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When a newcomer would come to town, they would loan people
money--that is called a humilis --$100. They would pay
them back two-and-a-half dollars a week. That is all it would
ever cost them. This is the way the community got along.
There was the Moskowitz's later who became Mosses. [Chuckles]
When newcomers came in we always made them feel at home. We
never made them feel like they were newcomers. Does that make

SS: You welcomed them. Yes.

NS: We always had [a] welcome hand for them. We made them feel
like this was the place for them to live, you know. It paid
off, because our Jewish community--the whole city, but the
Jewish community especially--really grew by leaps and bounds
to what it is today. It is a tremendous community. When I
come back here, and I have been only away from here for
twenty-three years, and I can hardly recognize the place from
time to time. I went out to the club the other day, and I saw
people I have not seen in years...when I see Ben Stein or Dr.

I used to arrange all of the processionals in the synagogue.
And when my sister Sue got married, I will never forget this,
I did something probably that was a little bit different.
Down the aisles I put hoops across the aisle, from one bench
to another, and then covered them with flowers going down.
And everybody wanted the same thing. Well of course, I was
not going to duplicate what I did for my sister, but how many
I have done, oh my God, Philip Selber's, you name it,
everybody who got married at the synagogue. And when I was
with Rosenbloom's or with Levy's, even for the churches.

SS: Uncle Nat, you will have to tell us about what time, you know,
what year...?

NS: This was done from about 19--I was probably doing this in
about 1925, or even before that. And then until I left here,
I was doing most of the....

SS: When did you leave?

NS: I left here in 1953, you know it will be--December 27--it
would be exactly twenty-three years. And even now, my niece,
who is getting married, whenever they get married, they say,
"Uncle Nat, you did my grandmother's, you did my mother's, I'd
appreciate it if you'd come over and do my wedding

SS: I think Mrs. Riser took over where you left.

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NS: Tillie Riser, evidently she did.

SS: Yes. Yes.

NS: Well, I know Tillie very well, and I knew Major very well.
They were both two very, very fine people. So Tillie has
taken over. No, I did not know that, did not know who took
over. I knew somebody had to do it.

But I enjoyed it, and all it ever cost them was a smile. I
think I got more trinkets from [laughter] what the grooms used
to give me, what happened I really do not know. My sister Sue
was the first one to get married. She married, as I told you,
Tobe, who was in the service here. They stayed here for a
while--no, she moved up to Opp, Alabama. And when she came
back, she came back here to have her first child. And Dr.
Aronovitz in those days was the big doctor here, and Dr.
Herman Harris, of blessed memory, who was, without a doubt,
one of the finest heart specialists in this part of the
country. And then my brother, Hymie, of blessed memory, your
father-in-law, and Syl, one of the things that strikes me that
I did not insert before was when we organized the men's club,
we really had a wonderful men's club at the synagogue. Our
cook at that time, a fellow by the name of Cohen, who
subsequently moved down to Tampa where I see him, he had a
restaurant out on Main Street, and he was our cook. And he
used to cook corned beefs, and make fried fish and things like
that, like you have never tasted before in your life. And one
of the fellows that was--Julius Levin--I believe it is Julius
Levin, at that time was out at the market. And he used to
get--he was in the hamper business--and he used to collect
pickles and tomatoes and pickle them. And we would have those
at our meetings, but we had some wonderful speakers at the
Center. And the club went along wonderfully well for many,
many years, because I think the cooking, the cook, was the,
I think that was the idea. The fellows used to come because
they wanted to know what Cohen was going to have for them this
time. Well, they would always come back for two or three
helpings. There was no such thing as going through the line
once. And that was really why, and incidentally, Rabbi
Sanders Tofield, when we organized the men's club he was not
the rabbi here at the time, but he was our first speaker. And
then when we were looking around for a rabbi, he was the man
that came here. And believe me when I tell you, darling, he
was without doubt one of the most wonderful persons God ever
put life into. And when my wife was so badly ill, she was a
vegetable for so many months, if it was not for Rabbi Tofield,
of blessed memory, I would have gone off my mind.

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