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Lost Jacksonville: Downtown's Jewish Enclave

Forced to live in tight communities in Europe, early Jewish immigrants established a similar tight knit community in LaVilla between the 1880s and 1920s.

Published July 28, 2009 in History      29 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


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Coming to America

Quote
Most early Jewish settlers came from Germany and later from Eastern Europe.  They landed in the north - Canada, New York, Baltimore - and trickled southward looking for a warm climate, business potential and religious freedom.

Most of them were peddlers who came with nothing more than packs on their backs.

As they turned their packs into businesses and saved a little money, they sent for their families.

Source: The First 100 Years: Jewish Community Celebrates Its Centennial - by Susan Cruzan, Times-Union 1/31/82




The History of LaVilla's Orthodox District


The location of LaVilla's lost Orthodox enclave highlighted in blue.

The pogroms of the 1880s and 1890s in Russia and Poland brought the first wave of Eastern European Jews to America.  Harry Goldman peddled his way to Jacksonville shortly after the yellow fever epidemic of 1888.  He was from a small town in Lithuania called Pushalot, and he wrote home telling others about Jacksonville.

Singly and in families, the Pushaloters came, among them Gabriel and Sarah Finklestein and their nine children.  In Pushalot, they were denied formal education and were treated as second class citizens.  Gabriel was a peddler and a tailor; Sarah stayed home with her large family and opened her doors to any and all who came.  Their home on West Adams Street became a mecca and a social center for the young Orthodox Jews who sought companionship.  When a Pushaloter became established, he contributed nickels and dimes into a pushka, so that others might be sent the $10 steerage fare.


The B'Nai Isreal Synagogue, located on the corner of Duval & Jefferson, can be seen in the center of this historic aerial

LaVilla, the section of town where the Finklesteins lived, became the central area for the Orthodox community.  Merchants, tailors, shoe repair shops, stores and markets sprang up on Broad Street.  In 1901, they formed the nucleus for an Orthodox congregation, B'Nai Isreal.  This is the group that, in 1905, invited a young "schachot", to Jacksonville to open a kosher market.  His name was Benjamin Safer, and he served as the religious leader of B'Nai Isreal until a rabbi was engaged in 1919.





The original Orthodox congregation was B'nai Isreal (Sons of Isreal) shown above.  They were chartered in 1905 and in 1909, dedicated their Synagogue at Duval & Jefferson.  This structure was replaced by Springfield's, Jacksonville Jewish Center, in 1927.  It was demolished in 1975.


Did You Know?: Eiselstein, Finkelstein, Glickstein, Greenburg, Haimowitz, Herskovitz, Hirsch, Kantrowitz, Liebmann, Moscovitz, Rosner, Rosenberg are samples surnames of residents in LaVilla's tight ethnic enclave?

Source: 1920 Jacksonville City Directory - Jacksonville Public Library Special Collections Department


Leaving LaVilla

In 1927, the original Orthodox congregation relocated to Springfield.  The new Jacksonville Jewish Center (currently identified as the former Job Corps Building) was constructed overlooking Springfield Park at 3rd and Silver Streets.  

By 1928, LaVilla's Jewish population began to relocate to Avondale and Springfield.  The final nail in the coffin was the relocation of the Young Men's Hebrew Association to Springfield in 1932.  Soon this area would become a part of what became known as the Harlem of the South.




Today, the Young Men's Hebrew Association Building (Maceo Elks Lodge), is the oldest building still standing in Jacksonville of significance to the Jacksonville Jewish community.  Completed in 1914, it along with the B'Nai Israel Synagogue, was the epicenter of LaVilla's Jewish community.  The Y.M.H.A. relocated to Springfield in 1932.  In 1945, the structure was sold to the Maceo Elks Lodge, which still occupies the building today.




Today's Scene

After years of continued demolition in the area, not much physically remains of one of Jacksonville's early ethnic districts.  Outside of Broad Street, only three houses and the Y.M.H.A. buildings remain.  Located on the same half block, all appear to be in need of significant repair.




725 West Monroe is the last of what was a row of impressive residential structures along Monroe Street.











Fire Station No. 4 replaced a nearby fire station in 1944.



 
Downtown's skyline can be seen behind what was once the location of the Schumann Printing Company.



Broad Street



A century ago, it was the home to a flourishing commercial district catering to the nearby self sustaining Jewish community.




This aerial captures the commercial building density along Broad Street (lower half of image above) in the early 20th century.  Today, Broad Street is dominated by a few older structures, foundations of their neighbors, swift moving traffic, courthouse construction and soon, bus rapid transit.



E.C. Newsom's Furniture shop (above) on the corner of Adams & Broad is now a vacant lot (below).  In 1920, this building housed a dry goods store owned and operated by David and Jos Moscovitz.  David Moscovitz lived next door to 725 West Monroe at 715 W. Monroe Street.  The Moscovitz house and others along that block have since been demolished.





Located behind Worman's, this decaying foundation is all that remains of the Julius Greenstein residence.




The vacant overgrown lots above were once home to residences owned by Abraham Cohen, Morris Herskovitz and Morris Moscovitz.  Mr. Moscovitz, along with Leonard Moscovitz operated M&L's Ladies Furnishings at 220 Broad Street (below) in 1920.



This (above) is all that is left of the Moscovitz family's M&L's Ladies Furnishings at 220 Broad Street.  The parking lot in the background is constructed on top of the foundation of Julius Moskovitz's grocery store at 310 Broad.




Constructed in 1910, the Pilton Building is one of the last remaining historic structures along Broad.  Across the street from the courthouse site and owned by the LaVilla Development Group (along with half of the block), it may soon join the ranks of the demolished.






 
What was once a block of retail stores serving the nearby community, now serves as parking for Worman's Bakery & Deli.  Originally known as the New Star Bakery in 1923, Worman's "Kosher-style" bakery and deli has operated at this site since 1938-39.  However, the building has stood on the corner of Adams and Jefferson since 1909.








This wall indicates where the stairwell of an adjacent building was located.







The block of buildings that once housed the Gold Eagle Grocery Company, Fowler Produce Company and Dollar Supply Company no longer exists.  It will soon be the new home of the Duval County Courthouse complex.




Today, Jacksonville is not known for having ethnic enclaves.  However, when it comes to our history, there is more than meets the eye. As Jacksonville continues to grow and recreate itself, residents and city leaders should work hard to preserve the things that make our region unique.

Article by Ennis Davis







29 Comments

downtownparks

July 28, 2009, 07:29:51 AM
Nice work Ennis. It really is remarkable the amount of history Jacksonville has lost. Every time I see one of these I love the city a little less....

Lucasjj

July 28, 2009, 07:57:26 AM
"They were chartered in 1905 and in 1909, dedicated their Synagogue at Duval & Jefferson.  This structure was replaced by Springfield's, Jacksonville Jewish Center, in 1927.  It was demolished in 1975."

Is this saything that the Synagogue in that photo on the left was built in 1909 and then replaced in 1927? That seems like a very short life span for such a structure.

thelakelander

July 28, 2009, 08:07:10 AM
Yes, the Synagogue was built in 1909 and replaced by the Jacksonville Jewish Center in 1927.  However, the building lasted until the 1970s.

Nice work Ennis. It really is remarkable the amount of history Jacksonville has lost. Every time I see one of these I love the city a little less....

Thanks, DTP.  Stay tuned, there's more coming down the pipeline.  The more and more we dig, the more impressive our history becomes.  Why we don't rally around, preserve, support and market it, is lost on me. 

fsujax

July 28, 2009, 08:08:38 AM
Wormans is a great place to meet and eat! wish the article would have said more about Wormans and their history in Jacksonville.

Lucasjj

July 28, 2009, 08:38:53 AM
Yes, the Synagogue was built in 1909 and replaced by the Jacksonville Jewish Center in 1927.  However, the building lasted until the 1970s.

Thanks. That is what I was trying to understand, whether the use of building was changed in 1927 or a different building was put there all together. Do you have any pictures or descriptions of the condition of the building when it was leveled. From the look of the place it seems like it could have lasted longer than 70 years. I am just curious whether is was run down and it was decided the "best" thing to do was tear it down, or if it was leveled for some future promised idea that never came to light.

thelakelander

July 28, 2009, 08:49:36 AM
At this point I don't know, but I can find out.  My guess is that it may have been aged but still structurally sound.  In the later half of the 20th century this community got demolition happy.  Especially in LaVilla.

Jason

July 28, 2009, 09:35:19 AM
Fantastic article once again.  I learn something new every day from this site.

stjr

July 28, 2009, 10:43:47 AM
Ennis, I believe there is a lot more to this story.  Morris A. Dzialynski was Jacksonville's first and only Jewish mayor in the late 1800's.  The first Jewish cemetery was established here in 1857.  Per below, this history of the oldest synagogue in Jax, Congregation Ahavath Chesed, now on San Jose just north of Baymeadows, shows activity to at least 1867.  For those unfamiliar, there are 3 primary "branches" of American Jewry: Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox.  All are represented in Jax.  The oldest synagogues are Ahavath Chesed which is Reform, and The Jewish Center which is Conservative.





Above and below from:  http://www.thetemplejacksonville.org/aboutus/history/

Quote
In 1867 the “Israelites of Jacksonville” met to form a Jewish congregation.  Even though they failed to seek a charter, they set a pattern of worship that has continued to this day.

The first Jacksonville City Directory, published in 1870, lists 23 recognizable Jewish names, and by 1880 there were 130 Jews living in Jacksonville.

Congregation Ahavath Chesed was formally chartered in 1882, with Rabbi Marx Moses officiating at the dedication of the synagogue on September 8th of that year.

The architectural style of the Orthodox synagogue reflected the European origins of the membership, most of who came from Prussiaand Germany.  It remained Orthodox until the mid 1890’s when the congregation adopted the Reform Movement. 

Tragedy struck in 1901: the great fire of Jacksonvilledestroyed all of the downtown area, including our beloved synagogue.  It was rebuilt in the same style, but soon became too small for our growing congregation, and plans were drawn for a new house of worship.

  In 1910 the move to Laura and Ashley Streets was made with Rabbi Pizer Jacobs delivering the dedication address.   We had several rabbis until Rabbi Israel Kaplan came in 1916.  He was responsible for the formation of the Interfaith Thanksgiving Services first held in 1917 with 3 other religious congregations participating.  We now have over 30 houses of worship taking part.     

  We continued to grow and in 1927, we purchased a beautiful residence in Riverside..  It is a Henry Klutho design and was built in 1907.

The Temple purchased this building in 1927 and served as our religious community center and all activities formerly held in the Laura and Ashley street Vestry rooms moved to Riverside.  Sisterhood, Brother, Hunior Congregation, TempleMen's Club, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts met there.

It served us well until 1940 when a fire destroyed this beautiful building. All records of the Congregation, including boy scouts, brotherhood, sisterhood and TIR were also destroyed.

On the retirement of Rabbi Kaplan in 1946, Rabbi Sidney M. Lefkowitz became our spiritual leader.  Plans to build a new house of worship on the grounds of the Temple Home became a reality.  The location was ideal and in 1950 we dedicated a new temple for our Congregation.  In the mid 1960’s, enough land was purchased on San Jose Boulevard to build a large synagogue with room for growth. 

 In 1979 we dedicated our new facility.  In 1986, we added our current Chapel and more classrooms, and most recently, we completely remodeled the building to house a new Education Wing, a state-of-the-art kitchen, a larger Library and the Archives Display room and storage. 

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congregation_Ahavath_Chesed_(Jacksonville,_Florida) :

Quote
Although Jews were already living in Florida in the late 1700s, Jacksonville probably was the first Jewish community organized in Florida. The Jacksonville Hebrew Cemetery was established in 1857. It is the oldest Jewish communal institution in Florida of which a record has been found.[1]

In 1867 the “Israelites of Jacksonville” formed a congregation.[2] For a number of years an organization called the Hebrew Benevolent Society also existed. [3] Congregation Ahavath Chesed was organized in 1880.[4] This congregation, led by Jacksonville's Jewish Mayor, Morris A. Dzialynski, received a legal charter in 1882.[3] The congregation hired Rabbi Marx Moses, and dedicated, on Sept. 8, 1882, a synagogue building.[2]

tufsu1

July 28, 2009, 10:48:16 AM
nice post stjr....I was about to do that....you beat me to it

Lunican

July 28, 2009, 10:48:34 AM
Great article. It's hard to believe how many buildings have been flattened for no real purpose.

heights unknown

July 28, 2009, 10:55:50 AM
Wow; Jacksonville's Jewish heritage is immense.  And remember, after leaving LaVilla, which was taken over by African Americans, the Jews dispersed throughout Jacksonville (those that remained in Jax), and who knows, there maybe whites and/or blacks who intermarried with some of those Jews who have a mixed Jewish DNA in with their natural ethnicity.

I remember when we lived in LaVilla, at the age of 11 I had a girlfriend who was Jewish, everyone knew her parents were Jews.  They ran a confectionary/bar on Davis Street a block or two from our house.  Ah memories.

So, all of you whites of scottish, german, irish and other white ethnic descent in Jacksonville, and African Americans who married some Jewish girls, you are all mixed up like planters dry roasted nuts with Jewish blood.

Heights Unknown

stjr

July 28, 2009, 11:06:22 AM
One more Wikepedia tidbit:   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oldest_synagogues_in_the_United_States#Florida :

Quote
Ahavath Chesed in Jacksonville, and Temple Beth-El in Pensacola each has claims to being the oldest Jewish congregation in Florida. The Jacksonville congregation was meeting for prayer by 1867, but appears to have incorporated later than Pensacola which dedicated its first building in 1876, well before Jacksonville's 1882 building.

copperfiend

July 28, 2009, 11:30:59 AM
Great article. It's hard to believe how many buildings have been flattened for no real purpose.

It is painful.

lindab

July 28, 2009, 11:49:09 AM
Great article. It's hard to believe how many buildings have been flattened for no real purpose.

It is painful.

Yes, Painful is the right word. We should do something about it. How about a Day of Remembrance in Hemming Plaza in front of City Hall with photos of what was and is now lost or destroyed? I'm willing to help out.

TheProfessor

July 28, 2009, 12:18:53 PM
I would say Mandarin has a Jewish ethnic enclave presently.

reednavy

July 28, 2009, 01:01:46 PM
Yes we do, along with a growing Russian and Eastern European population. Hell, 3 houses up the street is a couple from Croatia. I like it, they're very nice people.

thelakelander

July 28, 2009, 01:04:09 PM
Ennis, I believe there is a lot more to this story.  Morris A. Dzialynski was Jacksonville's first and only Jewish mayor in the late 1800's.  The first Jewish cemetery was established here in 1857.  Per below, this history of the oldest synagogue in Jax, Congregation Ahavath Chesed, now on San Jose just north of Baymeadows, shows activity to at least 1867.  For those unfamiliar, there are 3 primary "branches" of American Jewry: Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox.  All are represented in Jax.  The oldest synagogues are Ahavath Chesed which is Reform, and The Jewish Center which is Conservative.

Thanks, great additions, as always.  I did not dig too much into the overall local Jewish community's history because my focus was strictly showing a historical local example of an ethnic urban enclave. Do you know of any other examples (past or present) of tight knit ethnic communities in our region today?

stjr

July 28, 2009, 02:41:18 PM
Do you know of any other examples (past or present) of tight knit ethnic communities in our region today?

Growing up here in Jax, I don't recall having met anyone I would call an identifiable "ethnic" based on their lifestyle, culture, or language other than "whites" (only two types, Southerners or Northerners!), African Americans, Jews, and Arabs (mostly Syria, Palestine, Jordan, and Lebanon).

Today, it appears we also have substantial "enclaves" from at least the Phillipines, Korea, China, Mexico, various other Hispanic countries, the Caribbean, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Croatia, Serbia, Greece, Somalia, South Africa.    It's clear, that like the rest of the world, we are no longer isolated and are becoming part of the "global community".  Most of these groups appear to have religious, cultural, and/or social organizations in town that could probably offer you insights into their presences in the City of Jax. (The Irish seem ever present but I don't know if they have an organization other than maybe a "Notre Dame" fan club or local Irish pub  :D  )

downtownparks

July 28, 2009, 04:10:33 PM
Wormans is a great place to meet and eat! wish the article would have said more about Wormans and their history in Jacksonville.

Actually, FSU, interesting thing about Wormans, it originally opened up on 8th St in Springfield, in that cool two story building  (with the 'H' name, Im drawing a blank) at Market and 8th.

GatorShane

July 28, 2009, 04:21:47 PM
Surely the Pilton Bldg could be saved. What a cool structure. Perfect for a coffee shop or small Cheers type bar. Business would be pretty good being that close to the new courthouse.r

Charles Hunter

July 28, 2009, 11:04:33 PM
I remember coming downtown with my Dad (in the 1960s) to shop a Finkelstein's - wonderful place for a kid, full of interesting stuff  - luggage, furniture, and I don't know what all, and my Dad liked the prices.

stjr

July 29, 2009, 12:07:13 AM
I remember coming downtown with my Dad (in the 1960s) to shop a Finkelstein's - wonderful place for a kid, full of interesting stuff  - luggage, furniture, and I don't know what all, and my Dad liked the prices.

There used to be at least two "catalog showrooms" in Jax: Finkelsteins and Standard Sales.  They had catalogs and/or the items on display and you picked your items out and got a ticket to hand to the order takers.  Then they pulled the merchandise from the warehouse in the back and brought them out on a conveyor belt to the pick up area where they would call your number to give you the msds. and you paid. Most merchandise was things for the home:  knickknacks, small appliances and gadgets, electronics, china, crystal, silverware, jewelry, folding furniture, toys, gift items, household goods, luggage, lawn and garden, etc.  This retailing concept was really the forerunner to the club stores of Costco, Sams, and BJ's.  Biggest difference is the stores today are much larger in size and merchandise selection (notably the addition of food and clothing) and customers pull most of the stuff themselves from the "warehouse" shelves.

One of stores used to be on Bay Street near the Terminal as I recall.  Standard Sales eventually moved to the suburbs and had two stores, one on University Blvd. at what is now Memorial Plaza next to the hospital and one in Orange Park. Finkelsteins moved to Beach Blvd. and their building is now the Fraternal Order Of Police as I recall.

Wacca Pilatka

July 29, 2009, 08:46:30 AM


Actually, FSU, interesting thing about Wormans, it originally opened up on 8th St in Springfield, in that cool two story building  (with the 'H' name, Im drawing a blank) at Market and 8th.

The Halsema building?

sheclown

August 04, 2009, 09:27:39 PM
LaVilla was really something --

Ocklawaha

August 04, 2009, 10:31:27 PM
LaVilla was really something --

sheclown, you cannot imagine in your wildest dreams just how diverse and cool LaVilla was. Wandering around there between 1965 and 75, one could find just about anything in LaVilla.
From Missions to Bordellos, Freight cars to catalogs and maybe the worlds coolest Pawn Shop strip.
As Joni Mitchell said, we don't know what we have till it's gone... Why didn't I take more photos?
LaVilla had more grit like the great Cities of the World then any other Jacksonville locale and we blew it away.


OCKLAWAHA

downtownparks

August 04, 2009, 10:41:44 PM


Actually, FSU, interesting thing about Wormans, it originally opened up on 8th St in Springfield, in that cool two story building  (with the 'H' name, Im drawing a blank) at Market and 8th.

The Halsema building?

Yes, thanks!

sandyshoes

October 13, 2009, 06:03:15 PM
Very nice pics and info...when I began working in the late 1970s, I recall passing by a very old building in Riverside (I know, duh - : ) but there was a sign outside that said it had been a synagogue.  I remember it being 2 or possibly even 3 stories and there were fire escapes /stairs outside.  Can't find anything - anyone have a clue?  I believe it was in the vicinity of King Street.  I'm a Jax native (born OP, raised here) I'm not Jewish, but I looooove their traditions, the shofar, the music, Yiddish, Friday night Shabbat...just not enough to give up my Christian beliefs.  Christians and and Jews do share a LOT of the same beliefs, though we call them by different names.  Anyway, I'm all about OLD Jacksonville.  Wish we could travel through time, sometimes...

stjr

October 13, 2009, 06:15:02 PM
Very nice pics and info...when I began working in the late 1970s, I recall passing by a very old building in Riverside (I know, duh - : ) but there was a sign outside that said it had been a synagogue.  I remember it being 2 or possibly even 3 stories and there were fire escapes /stairs outside.  Can't find anything - anyone have a clue?  I believe it was in the vicinity of King Street.

Congregation Ahavath Chesed, "The Temple", mentioned previously in this thread, was in Riverside, but at St. Johns and Mallory, not King Street.  Their building, built in 1950 per below, is now condos.  If you look carefully, I think you can still see a Star of David in a round window viewable from the St. Johns Avenue side.

Quote
We continued to grow and in 1927, we purchased a beautiful residence in Riverside..  It is a Henry Klutho design and was built in 1907.

The Temple purchased this building in 1927 and served as our religious community center and all activities formerly held in the Laura and Ashley street Vestry rooms moved to Riverside.  Sisterhood, Brother, Hunior Congregation, TempleMen's Club, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts met there.

It served us well until 1940 when a fire destroyed this beautiful building. All records of the Congregation, including boy scouts, brotherhood, sisterhood and TIR were also destroyed.

On the retirement of Rabbi Kaplan in 1946, Rabbi Sidney M. Lefkowitz became our spiritual leader.  Plans to build a new house of worship on the grounds of the Temple Home became a reality.  The location was ideal and in 1950 we dedicated a new temple for our Congregation.

stephendare

June 24, 2010, 10:21:32 AM
Quote


Today, Jacksonville is not known for having ethnic enclaves.  However, when it comes to our history, there is more than meets the eye. As Jacksonville continues to grow and recreate itself, residents and city leaders should work hard to preserve the things that make our region unique.

Article by Ennis Davis

typical understatement, Ennis.

That they haven't, should have been a crime.

That is wasn't is cause for reflection.
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