JACKSONVILLE

JACKSONVILLE, city in northeast Florida, general population in 2005 about 800,000; Jewish population, about 13,000. Since the founding of Jacksonville in 1822, Jews have played a prominent role in the development of Florida's largest city (in land area). Jews came to Jacksonville as merchants before the Civil War and suffered the same fate as others at the hands of Union troops. Jews have served their city by defending it,   holding public offices, building the economy, and contributing to the cultural arts, education and philanthropies. From the period following the Civil War until the mid-1930s, Jacksonville was the center of Florida Jewish life. Attracted by the business opportunities offered by the port, Jews migrated here via the St. Johns River and the railroad. Tourism, a lumber industry, and military bases acted as magnets to draw new residents. The head of Florida's longest continuing documented Jewish family is Philip Dzialynski, who arrived from Prussia by 1850. He sent for his father and eight brothers and sisters. In 1857 George Dzialynski was the first known Jewish boy born in Florida, son of Philip and his wife, Ida. In that same brutal year of 1857 for Jacksonville, a yellow fever epidemic killed six members of the Dzialynski family. A Hebrew cemetery, the first in the state of Florida, was established that year. In 1867 Jacob and Morris Cohen came from Ireland and established the Cohen Bros. Department Store, the most prominent in town for more than 100 years, and Austrian-born Herman, Max, and Leopold Furchgott opened Furchgott's. The Hebrew Benevolent Society was formed in 1874 and B'nai B'rith in 1877. By 1880 there were 130 Jews, well integrated into the life of the city. The earliest known public figure is Civil War veteran Morris Dzialynski, who was the first president of Congregation Ahavath Chesed at the same time he served as mayor (1882); he was also a judge. Ahavath Chesed was the second congregation in Florida. Rabbi Israel L. Kaplan was the religious leader from 1916 to 1946 and was succeeded by Sidney Lefkowitz (through 1973), who had conducted the first Jewish service on German soil following the years of Nazi persecution. In 1901 40 Orthodox families established B'nai Israel. Reverend Benjamin Safer was hired as the community's first shoḥet. Many Jews who immigrated to the U.S. in the late 19th century from Pushalotes, Lithuania, settled in Jacksonville. In 1901 a devastating fire swept through 146 blocks of Jacksonville and architect Roy Benjamin figured prominently in the rebuilding of the city. Benjamin also designed many theaters throughout Florida. This fire destroyed Ahavath Chesed. Less than a year later it was the first house of worship to be rebuilt. The congregation formed a Boy Scout Troop in 1915 and continues without interruption as the second oldest troop in Jacksonville. Henrietta Szold came to start Hadassah in 1914. The YMHA formed in 1917. Families from surrounding small communities moved to Jacksonville where they could maintain Jewish traditions and participate in Jewish life. With increasing river traffic and World War I shipyard demands, the population grew. Benjamin Setzer came from Pushalotes in 1918 and opened his first Setzer's grocery store, which later became Food Fair. By 1961, Benjamin had started another chain, Pic N Save super drug stores. Louis Mendelson moved to Jacksonville from Live Oak and founded, in 1912, Mendelson Printing. With Morris Gelehrter, in 1924, he started The Florida Jewish News, which became The Southern Jewish Weekly in 1938, with Isadore Moscovitz as the editor for more than fifty years. Julius Hirschberg, with brother-in-law, Jacob R. Cohen, conducted the first statewide Palestine campaign just prior to World War I that raised $10,000. Morton left a generous art collection to the Cummer Museum. In 1926 B'nai Israel began to introduce Conservative Judaism practices and the Jacksonville Jewish Center was founded. In the 1940s there were 3,095 Jews, and a Naval Air Station was built in Jacksonville, which brought tens of thousands of new faces to the city. Many of them were Jewish, married Jacksonville Jews and started families and businesses. William Katz graduated from the U.S. Air Force Officer Training School as a lieutenant in 1942. He received many medals for World War II service, after which he immigrated to Israel and later became chief pilot for El Al Airlines. Admiral Ellis Zacharias was born in Jacksonville in 1890. Following his graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy, he became chief of Naval Intelligence in World War II and assisted in breaking the Japanese code, which led to the eventual defeat of the Japanese navy. More Jewish institutions were organized to strengthen Jewish identity and meet increasing needs: Jewish Cultural League, Jewish Community Council, Esquire Club, Council of Jewish Women, Beauclerc Country Club (1953–1984), and River Garden Hebrew Home for the Aged (1945), which is one of the outstanding institutions of its kind in the country. In 1988, the $8 million Jewish Community Alliance (JCA) opened on land that was formerly the Beauclerc Country Club. Immigrant Morris Wolfson came in 1914, started a scrap business, and left a legacy of philanthropy to many institutions of health, education, and religion in the city through his children. In 1978 Florida had its first Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes) horse race winner, Affirmed, owned by Morris' son Louis E. and Patrice Wolfson. Samuel "Bud" Shorstein served Governor Bob Graham as chief of staff. When Graham was elected Florida's U.S. senator in 1987, Bud accompanied him to Washington, again as his chief of staff. Ray Ehrlich became chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court in 1988. In 1994 the National Football League awarded its 30th franchise to Jacksonville. The Jaguars, co-owned by Lawrence Dubow, began play in 1995, and Jacksonville hosted Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005. In addition to the Jewish Federation, Jacksonville Jews also have a newspaper, seven congregations, a day school through 8th grade, a joint community Hebrew High evening program, and a full array of organizations that support a robust Jewish life. New growth is moving toward the beach areas. (Marcia Jo Zerivitz (2nd ed.)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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