Tales from the Archives
Growing Up Jewish In Boca Raton
Florence Brown with granddaughter Gloria, ca. 1936-37

Florence and Harry Brown (the family’s original name was Boguslavsky) arrived in 1931 from St. Louis. They operated one of the few eateries in town with help from their sons George and Herb. “Brown’s Sundries,” a drug store and soda fountain, was located on Federal Highway just south of Palmetto Park Road, where “Flanigan’s” currently stands. In 1936, after Harry’s death in 1935, Harry’s sister Nettie and husband Max Hutkin moved to Boca Raton to support Florence and start a new life. The Browns and Hutkins were Boca Raton’s first Jewish pioneers. The following is an excerpt from a manuscript by Gloria Brown Keats, Florence and Harry’s granddaughter.

My grandparents, Harry and Florence Brown and son Herb were the first Jews in Boca Raton.

 It was their second time adapting to life completely different from what they had known. Both had come to the U.S. from a small town in Russia. My grandmother had sisters in the U.S., but came herself at the age of 18, and never saw her mother again. My grandfather’s parents were living in Florida also when we arrived. I’m sure people of the town were not certain of what Jews might be, but I never heard of negative experiences. It was a time of open anti-Semitism. It was common to see signs in front of businesses, including motels on A1A going into Delray Beach that said “Restricted.” I read those signs from the school bus going to school each day. There was no way to practice their faith, or observe dietary laws, had they chosen to do so. They worked seven days a week. Holidays were observed with the family, but someone always had to rush back to work. Joyce and I begged each year to have a Christmas tree, but it was never permitted. We were sometimes able to help decorate another family’s tree, first going with them to cut it down.

In 1967, Boca Raton’s small number of Jewish residents met to form what is today Temple Beth El, one of the largest reform congregations in the southeastern U.S. (Today Jewish residents make up one third of the local population.) On June 26, 1967 the Boca Raton Hebrew Congregation held its first Sabbath Service at Marymount College at 8:15 P.M. Rabbi Robert Frazin, southeast region director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Miami, conducted the service. 

To be continued…

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