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New book explores Jewish history of area

New book explores Jewish history of area

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Former and current residents of St. Francois County compiled a book called, “The Lead Belt Jewish Oral History Project.” The book is at local libraries and available for purchase through Life History Services.

A book has been written about the Jewish history of the area with histories given by former and current residents such as Flat River native Dr. Bernard DeHovitz, and Sam Fox, a Desloge native, who went on to become a U.S. Ambassador for Belgium.

The 175-page book is “The Lead Belt Jewish Oral History Project” as told to Anita Hecht of Life History Services in collaboration with the Missouri Lead Belt Jewish Historical Society.

The book is available at local libraries and can be purchased through www.lifehistoryservices.com or by calling 888-871-5495.

The book project started with Bernard DeHovitz.

“When I first spoke to Bernard DeHovitz about recording the oral histories of the Jewish community of the Lead Belt, I was struck by his vivid recollections and fondness of a world gone by,” Hecht wrote in the book. “Fueled by sincere enthusiasm and respect for his history, Bernard managed to inspire a small group of remaining inhabitants of this era to share their tales.”

In 2011, Hecht conducted interviews with nine narrators that remain from the Jewish community including Fox.

There’s also stories by Shirley Goodman Shear, Harvey Alan Harris, Robert Sylvan Kahn, Barbara Goodman Krupkin, Ilion Louis Miller, Marcia Nudelman Jacobs, Jerome Robert Nuell, Louis S. Sachs, Susan Ruth Sherman Tessler, Robert Engel Tucker and Vida Prince for the Harry Tucker family.

DeHovitz family history

DeHovitz said when St. Joseph Lead Company opened a mine, stores were needed to serve the miners and a number of Jewish families filled that need. Most of these Jewish people came from St. Louis. Many were of a Polish background, he said.

His uncle was I.W. Miller who went into real estate in Desloge. His father, Jack, opened the Good Luck store in 1917 with his cousin, Saunders Goodman, which sold men and women’s ready-to-wear.

Saunders went off to World War I and when he came back, he opened his own store where he worked until he died and then his wife, Dorothy, took over.

Sam Miller had a store called Sam Miller’s Ready-to-Wear. Louis Miller had a grocery store. Meyer Nudelman had a grocery store, as well. Jake Goodman opened a store in Leadwood. Aaron Goodman opened a store in Bonne Terre.

Jack DeHovitz lived on West Main Street in Flat River at the bottom of what is called Blue Goose Hill. He operated his store until he died in the late 1940s. Then Bernard’s brother, Melvin came back from World War II and ran the store with their mother until it closed in 1982. It was the last Jewish store in the area.

Bernard talks about how the Temple Beth-El opened in 1925 across the street from his house in Flat River. Student rabbis would come for services on the “high holidays” mostly Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. During the year, Aaron and Jake Goodman and Bernard’s grandmother helped run the services on Friday nights. They sold the building in the 1950s or 1960s.

He talks about the Depression and the effect on business, as well as the Ku Klux Klan. He said the KKK just kind of was there and in parades. The chief lived up from their house.

Bernard joined the Navy in World War II. He had enough college credits to go to medical school in New Orleans. He finished his training and interned at Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. Owing the Navy two years, he worked in the early 50s at the Marine Hospital in Oceanside, Calif. and then at Seabee Base in Ventura.

He is now 89 and lives in San Francisco.

Fox family history

Sam Fox’s father came to the United States from the Ukraine. His father changed his name from Michal Fuks to Max Fox. He ended up in Desloge. Seven years later, he was able to save up enough money to send for his wife and daughter.

Max Fox was in and out of many business ventures. He started buying and selling animal hides and furs. His most successful business was dealing in scrap metal which he bought from the lead mines and often shipped to steel mills. His father was one of the founding members of the temple in Flat River.

As a boy, Sam raised and sold chickens. In high school, he learned how to build barns and run water and electricity to the barns they built. He worked numerous jobs in high school and college.

He said that growing up in Desloge, he did not experience any significant anti-Semitism and his classmates voted him president of their 1947 senior class.

His sister, Esther Fox, became a electrologist. His brother, Irwin, designed and built a plant making powdered iron.

After graduating Washington University in 1951, Sam joined the Naval Reserves and got married to Marilyn Widman.

Sam, now 84, served as the ambassador to the Kingdom of Belgium from 2007 to 2009. He is the founder and CEO of the Harbour Group, a multi-billion dollar, privately owned investment company.

“I have lived the American Dream; Consider this - in one generation from Ellis Island to becoming an Ambassador for the President of the greatest country this world has ever known,” he said. “One might say it’s a miracle, yet in one form or another, this dream is replicated every day in America over and over again. America is truly the land of opportunity and beacon of freedom my parents had hoped to find.

Teresa Ressel is the assistant managing editor for the Daily Journal and can be reached at (573) 518-3613 or tressel@dailyjournalonline.com

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