TALLAHASSEE, Florida's capital city, about 160 miles west of Jacksonville in north Florida. The earliest record of a Jew in Tallahassee is 1837 when Raphael Jacob Moses had a store. By 1860 Tallahassee had 15 Jews, according to the American Israelite. Three were merchants, two were harness makers, and two were bookkeepers. After the Civil War (1865), Robert Williams and his wife Helena Dzialynski of Jacksonville moved to Tallahassee from nearby Jasper. Williams bought a store, and started three cotton plantations. A traditional Jew, Robert Williams provided the Torah and was civically active as well. The couple had five daughters and all of them found Jewish spouses. In 1877 when Rachelle Williams married Jacob Raphael Cohen of Orlando, a rabbi was brought from Charleston, South Carolina, and Jews from throughout the south attended. Henrietta married Tallahassee merchant Julius Diamond and their daughter Ruby Diamond was born in 1886. She graduated from Florida State College for Women (now FSU) in 1905 with a B.A. in chemistry. Miss Ruby was a legend in her lifetime, Florida's "Miss Daisy." Another daughter, Mena, was the first Miss Florida in 1885.
William Levy, who arrived in 1872, operated a store. In his memory, his wife Sarah gave the property for Temple Israel's first building (1937). Jacob Burkeim and his wife came in 1873 and two years later Jacob started a Sunday school. In March 1878, a Purim Ball was held when there were nine Jewish families and nine single men in town. Alfred Wahnish of Morocco and his wife Carrie came to Tallahassee in the 1880s. He began a 3,600-acre tobacco plantation; today there is a Wahnish Way (street) that designates the site. One of the Wahnishes six children was Sam, president of the American Legion and the Elks, who was elected mayor of Tallahassee in 1939. By the 1890s two lots were designated for Jewish burial in the Old City Cemetery and the Hebrew Benevolent Society was founded (1896). Peddler Sam Mendelson of Romania settled in Tallahassee with his wife Jennie and four children around 1910 because "it was a larger town than Miami." Sam was the founding president of Temple Israel in 1937. Jews living in outlying towns such as Quincy, Live Oak, Monticello, and Perry were mostly involved in dry goods stores or growing tobacco and were closely tied to the Jews living in Tallahassee. The Fleets and Mendelsons are examples of Live Oak Jewish families from 1903 who had some members settle in Tallahassee in later years. In the early 1920s Hyman Myers was a fur and hide trader who also sold pecans and scrap metal. Rose Printing, established in 1932 by Sam and Fannye Rosenberg, is one of the largest specialty printers and book manufacturers in the southeast. Albert Block who married Evelyn Rosenberg, the founders' daughter, was one of the fathers of the state's Minimum Foundation Program guaranteeing a basic level of education for every Florida school child and helped develop the state's community college system.
David Sholtz of Daytona Beach was inaugurated in Tallahassee as Florida's 26th governor on January 3, 1933. He had served in the legislature in 1917 and to date is the only Jew to have served as governor of Florida.
In the early days religious services were held in the Masonic Temple.
Temple Israel was founded in 1937 when Tallahassee's population was 16,000 with fewer than 30 Jewish families. Rabbi Max Eichorn was engaged for Temple Israel and for the 100 female students on the campus of FSCW. In 1939, there was a front-page story in the local paper, "The Grand Lodge of Florida Masons yesterday laid the cornerstone of the first Jewish place of worship to be built here."
B'nai B'rith Lodge 1043 was founded in 1938. The first Jewish cemetery in Tallahassee was established in 1942. During the WW II period, Tallahassee Jewry hosted Jewish soldiers from military bases in the area.
After World War II, Tallahassee grew quickly. Drawn by state government, universities, and the military, the Jewish population also expanded. Shopping in downtown Tallahassee in the 1950s, you could find many "Mom and Pop" Jewish businesses – Turners, Fleets, Mendelsons. and Gilbergs. Groundbreaking for Temple Israel's religious school building was in 1955. Albert B. Block donated the site and Rabbi Stanley Garfein served the congregation for 30 years beginning in the late 1960s. In the 1950s and 1960s Jews were involved in the Civil Rights movement and in anti-discrimination legislation. Gene Berkowitz served as mayor twice (1968 and 1972) and was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the Civic Center. Many Jews throughout Florida have been elected to state government, moved to Tallahassee, and become active in the Jewish community. Richard Stone was secretary of state from 1972 to 1974. He and his wife, Marlene, strongly supported and encouraged Jewish community life. Florida State University also brought many Jews to the community; for a quarter century Richard L. *Rubenstein, the post-Holocaust theologian who authored the controversial work After Auschwitz, made Tallahassee his home.
The Jewish population has grown with Jewish faculty at Florida State University and state government. In 2005 Tallahassee, a city of 151,000, had a Jewish population of approximately 4,400. It supports three congregations: Temple Israel
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.