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Oral History Interview with Dr. Bernard Albert Kahn

Bernie Kahn with his playmates in front of the veranda at 424 East Central. Bernie’s brother, Bob Kahn, is pictured at the top and below him pictured from left to right are Jesse Wittenstein (Joe Wittenstein’s son), Michael Tobias (Aunt Florence’s son), David Wittenstein (Uncle Neil Wittenstein’s son), Bernie Kahn, Nancy Wittenstein (Jesse’s younger sister), Debbie Wittenstein, Barbara Kahn (Bernie Kahn’s sister), and Rebecca Tobias (Bernie Kahn’s cousin).

Oral History Interview with Dr. Bernard A. Kahn

I’m Bernard Albert Kahn and I was born in Orlando at Orange Memorial Hospital. I spent my teenage years in Orlando and College Park. I lived at 41 North Tampa Avenue as a youngster and at the age of 13 moved to Knollwood Circle, 1325 Knollwood Circle in College Park.

LISTEN  Part I  (18:31)

 

What was it like growing up there? 

It was so much fun! On Tampa Avenue I lived between two lakes and in the shadows of Tinker Field so we could fish in the morning, fish in the afternoon, ride our bikes all over as well as enjoy spring training, the highlight of our days.

Were your parents from College Park?

My father was actually born in Germany, Ludwigshafen, Germany, which is a community across the river from Frankfurt, and he came to Orlando by way of the Army Air Force. He was living in Baltimore and enlisted when Pearl Harbor occurred and was initially stationed in Miami and was transferred to Orlando. He was fluent in German and he worked in counter espionage. He was placed within cells of captured German submarines and he would find out through conversations what their missions were. So he came to Orlando and at a USO party he met my mother.

My mother was born in Orlando, she was delivered by a Dr. Phillips…

My mother was born in Orlando, she was delivered by a Dr. Phillips, Dr. P. Phillips, who was a best friend of my grandfather’s. My mother went to school at a two room schoolhouse. And so, she graduated or matriculated from elementary school by skipping two grades because she learned what the other students were learning. She went to Orlando Junior High which is now Howard, and then she went to Orlando Senior High which used to be on the shores of Lake Eola.

Orange Memorial Hospital’s First Nutritionist

And she attended school at the Florida State University and studied nutrition and was involved with a residency in nutrition in Philadelphia. And then [she] returned to Orlando and was working at Orange Memorial Hospital as their first nutritionist, which certified the Orange Memorial Hospital to be able to accept veterans and GI’s from the WWII conflicts. She met my father at a USO party and they married and they lived initially in an apartment on Palmer Avenue and then they moved to the 41 North Tampa Avenue address.   

What did your father do in Orlando for a living?

My father was an artist and he applied his art initially in decorations, decorations for windows for Sears Roebuck in downtown Orlando. And then he became very close with a jeweler in downtown Orlando and that was Ferrell’s Jewelry. And he started applying his artwork to jewelry design. And then he purchased a jewelry store from Mr. Segal and Mr. Segal’s jewelry store then became Wolf’s Jewelry. It was initially on Church Street and then it moved to Pine Street. And there he had years of success with his jewelry store and became very proficient with the engraving industry and trophies. And [he] worked to engrave numerous items relative to the production at the Martin Marietta plant. He engraved some of their devices that are somewhere out in space.

Walt Disney World’s Fine Jeweler

But also with his talents he met up with the Walt Disney Company, and from that, in 1969 Disney proposed, the Walt Disney Company proposed, that he work for them and so he became Walt Disney World’s fine jeweler. And so, he worked initially in downtown Orlando at the Metcalf Building, at that time at Pine and Orange Avenue. And then, when Disney World opened in 1971, his main office was in Kingdom Jewels in the Contemporary Hotel. He had a jewelry store also in the Hawaiian Village and then later in downtown Disney. And then eventually had two more stores, one was on their ship, the Queen Elizabeth, and another was in Anaheim. And so, he worked for Disney until his retirement. 

He was a kind and creative gentleman that the Disney Corporation appreciated…

He traveled the world with Disney. He represented Disney in their negotiations in the Orient and in France. He was a kind and creative gentleman that the Disney Corporation appreciated. He would be on their teams. He was often traveling, representing Disney at jewelry trade shows. Anything that came through Disney that was precious stones and precious metals passed through his eye. He would do the design for converting what was a Daffy Duck into a wearable item. He was a talented fella.

Did you get to visit him at work sometimes?

He had, as a Disney employee, the pass that could take us anywhere. And so, when I was in college and had some free time, I could always enjoy an afternoon or evening out at Disney. He had to accompany us, myself and my friends, to inside the gate, but once we were in that gate we enjoyed the entertainment that Disney provided.

Did you know your grandparents?

Certainly. My grandparents that lived in Washington, D.C. as well as my grandparents here. My grandmother and grandfather came to Greater Orlando in the nineteens, early nineteens. The exact date I don’t know. But when they came to Orlando, Orlando was a trade center and agriculture center. It was a crossroads in Central Florida. And they were able to homestead. They were able to put a post to the ground and say, “It’s mine.” And so, when they did so they were told the best place to go was that away, west Orlando. And we now know it today as west College Park.

Dr. Kahn’s grandfather, Morris Wittenstein.

Establishing College Park Dairies

My grandfather and his father established a farm and it was a dairy farm and it became also an orange grove that went from the western shores of Lake Silver to the Orange Blossom Trail from just north of Princeton to the shores of Lake Fairview. And his brother-in-law, my grandparents brother-in-law, Ben Shader, had a farm on the other side of the Orange Blossom Trail just to the north, which is where today WKMG television station is. And there’s still a road that used to transect his property. 

 

The Shader Family. Esther [Shader] Wittenstein is pictured top right with her brothers and sisters. 
Shader Road and Wittenstein Road

That is still called to this day Shader Road. I was told that in College Park, Maury Road, which runs from Edgewater and curves around between lakes to Silver Star Road, used to be called Wittenstein Road. And their farmhouse was on what is now Silver Star Road at a location that is a very small school that’s operated by the Orange County Public School System. And that’s on the south side of Silver Star Road between Rio Grande and the Orange Blossom Trail.

The Guesthouse, 424 East Central

My grandfather had an accident in which he lost his leg eventually and so that caused him not to be the dairy farmer that he was. And so, he purchased a home in downtown Orlando on Central, 424 E. Central, and that home was called The Guesthouse. It was a very large home and there were rooms that were rentable by the week or month and often times for the season. And people would come to the guesthouse. Some rooms had their own restrooms, some had restrooms down the hall. Almost all of the guests used the kitchen. And they all enjoyed the veranda looking out across to Lake Eola.

Did you visit there sometimes?

Always. It was my essential home away from home. When I was age three I got my first bicycle, and so, I knew where that house was and I could ride my bike across town to get there. I knew merchants along the way that I would say hello to and that way my mother and father could keep up with my progress as I pedaled. I’m sure they weren’t called with regularity. I’m sure that back in those days, anybody could get most anywhere and if you needed help all you had to do was flag somebody down. But, I would either ride my bike or I’d walk there. My aunt, my mother’s older sister, my Aunt Florence, we called her Faygal, lived at that same house. And my cousins, Michael and Rebecca, were always my go-to play people. 

 

Bernie Kahn with his playmates in front of the veranda at 424 East Central. Bernie’s brother, Bob Kahn, is pictured at the top and below him pictured from left to right are: Jesse Wittenstein (Joe Wittenstein’s son), Michael Tobias (Aunt Florence’s son), David Wittenstein (Uncle Neil Wittenstein’s son), Bernie Kahn, Nancy Wittenstein (Jesse’s younger sister), Debbie Wittenstein, Barbara Kahn (Bernie Kahn’s sister), and Rebecca Tobias (Bernie Kahn’s cousin).  

It sounds idyllic.

It was truly another time.

What kind of things would you do together?

Well, besides horsing around, we would play football, we would play catch. We would do activities around Lake Eola. There was a public park at Lake Eola that also had playground equipment. It was very simple to get to. Hillcrest Elementary as well as the high schools there and the junior high school, and so there was play equipment to enjoy. And then for the most part we rode bikes around. We’d check out the scenery.    

LISTEN  Part II  (19:21)

 

Do you know how your ancestors first came to the United States?

Well, my father’s father was a highly educated man. He had multiple PhD.’s. And was also an adviser to the German government. He was a lawyer, he was an historian, and he was an economist. And so, he was a college professor and he could see that war was coming. He could see the influence of Hitler. And so, in 1935, he was able to escape himself. Because he had been jailed and through his escape he found himself to go to Argentina. I know that he escaped to Czechoslovakia and then went to Argentina.

Economist for the University of Miami

And in Argentina, he established residence and sent for my father and his two brothers, my grandmother, and other cousins of my father. He had them get on a boat and they sailed from Hamburg. And I’m told he was able to get them off the boat, it was a merchant vessel. He had them get off the boat in Baltimore. Then in Baltimore, my father established as a teenager, he was 14 then, a residence with his father, my grandfather, and his mother and other cousins. And my grandfather went to work for the United States government immediately. Eventually he worked for the Department of the Interior. And he retired as a playwright and economist for the University of Miami. But my father went through school, high school, was enrolled in medical illustration as an artist when he enlisted in the Army Air Force.

Peter Wittenstein

My grandfather on my mother’s side, as a child his father, Peter Wittenstein, was a successful farmer. And he met up with a group that was attempting to formulate a Jewish homeland in South America. And so, they crossed Europe, the family got on a boat, went to South America and started farming. And, I’ve heard different rumors relative to people knowing stories that they were either exposed to drought or that they purposely did not find success in their farming abilities. I’ve heard stories from my grandfather that a child was stolen and it was recovered by a jaguar that had protected the child. So he distinctly remembered his times. And I believe that this was in Argentina.

Sanford

So with their lack of being able to generate crops, they moved on to come to the United States. And I was led to believe that they came through Philadelphia. My grandmother, his wife, came from a very similar close area in Russia. But she came through Ellis Island. But both families met in Pittsburgh and they happened to have apartments across the hall from each other. And so, the families became very friendly, and they moved where they could get out of the cold dust, they could get out of the steel mills, and get back to farming. They were both farming families. One was from Minsk the other was from Pinsk in the Ukraine. And they longed to farm again. And so they heard about Central Florida. They took the boat to Sanford. They got off the boat and got on the railroad track… and from there they got into the farming, dairy farming industry, and formulated College Park Dairies.

Dr. Kahn’s grandmother, Esther Wittenstein, pictured far right, with her two sisters.

Dr. Kahn’s grandparents, Morris and Esther Wittenstein, founded Wittenstein Dairy in College Park.

Would you spend special days, holidays with your relatives?

I would tell you, “Yes”. I laugh because holidays in our family are most every day. But, in respect to the calendar, for sure. And the holidays were always a time for a great meal and enjoyable company. My grandfather and grandmother were surrounded by their children. And so, even though many of my cousins have moved far and wide, my aunts and uncles lived here in town.

What kind of holidays would you celebrate together?

We were Jewish and it’s hard for people to appreciate, but the most regular holiday was every Saturday. Friday night and every Saturday. But, in addition there are the major holidays and they are that of Passover, Shavuos, and Rosh Hashanah to Sukkot which is essentially a month. And so, we would spend those times together. We would celebrate Chanukah and Purim. So there’s numerous holidays. They all seem to surround themselves by food. My grandmother and her kitchen was just a wonder because you could enter onto their veranda and understand what’s cooking. At the same time, my mouth is watering right now as I remember it. Because it was just luscious. I have no doubt this is why my mother became a nutritionist and my mother’s cooking was renowned.

Were there certain foods or a certain meal that your grandmother made that you particularly remember?

Well, every Friday afternoon she baked Challah. Challah’s woven and everything ties together with something woven. And so, it’s a ceremonial bread for every Friday night and Saturday. The biggest meal preparation for all practical purposes was Passover and we would have what is called a Seder. It would run two nights in which the food ceremoniously reflects elements of the Jews and their story of leaving Egypt and their passage from slavery. 

Chanunkah

The other most significant meal that I recall was at Chanunkah. At Chanunkah it was very common, and still to this day, to eat fried foods, and potato pancakes were the delight. And so, potato pancakes, sour cream, and apple sauce was the typical menu. But we’d also have little tiny donuts, sufganiyot is what they’re called. It’s fried bread and also a sweet meal.

The Kitchen at The Guesthouse

The interesting thing about The Guest House was the living room and the dining room were large, but the kitchen was central to the house. And the kitchen essentially, even though there wasn’t a wall or a line, there was the meat side and the milk side. The meat refrigerator was actually an ice box and every morning at the front of the veranda was delivered a block of ice. And so, that was how meats were maintained in a fresh environment by an ice box that had a dripping pan that had to be relieved with regularity. And it was a remarkable thing for me as a child to wake up to finding a block of ice at the front door. But that was delivered regularly.

Speaking about some of the religious traditions, did you go to synagogue in Orlando growing up?

Yes, as a youngster there were two synagogues, one Reformed Temple, and one of the synagogues was Ohev Shalom. And Ohev Shalom was founded by my grandfather’s family. One of the Shader’s, my grandmother’s brother, brought the First Torah, the Hebrew Bible in scroll form, to Central Florida and that was housed within that synagogue. So, their second location was designed by George Miller. And George Miller was the husband of one of my grandmother’s sisters [Sarah Miller] and he was an architect. So I know there are historical records of Congregation Ohev Shalom.

Ohev Shalom and Temple Israel

My cousin, Ralph Mitten, who was the president of Ohev Shalom when there was a major decision of congregants to form another congregation. There was a division of the house and they formed Temple Israel. And Temple Israel at that time was located on Cathcart on the other side of Lake Eola, the north side of Lake Eola. And, I believe then already there was a Reform Temple Congregation Liberal Judaism and I’m not sure of their original location, but I know they had a location at Ferncreek and Rosalind. And on every major holiday we would visit all three institutions because my parents knew people and had to shake hands and hug and kiss…. It was so much fun to see people! Because driving up, oh there’s so and so… and we would always have warm greetings. It was community.          

It sounds like a very strong sense of community.

Oh it was. I’ve seen photographs of weddings and the like where the entire Jewish population were in attendance, you know.

I don’t know if this is an insensitive question, so does that mean that the Jewish community in Orlando felt very comfortable in Orlando, that it was a very well integrated community and they were all treated well?

I will not say that. I would let you to appreciate this is certainly a part of the Deep South and more openly there are people that bear inappropriate historical reference. And so, I would tell you that the congregations were socializing among themselves because there was freedom to be among themselves. When it comes to the ability to enjoy life, to laugh and sing out loud. It’s hard for anybody to be walking down the street and carrying on a tune today. I’m sure when I was a kid people would by whistling with regularity. But to sing out loud in a group usually calls for a lot of attention. And people who enjoy life, celebrations, it always seems to boil down to meals, dancing and song. And so, if you’re going to do that in public, yes, there are restaurants, but when it comes to more or less private areas, and you’re doing it among multiple families, you already share a bond. Bonds were made and strengthened at these places.

LISTEN  Part III  (17:47)

 

Where did you go to school?

My mother, who I mentioned was a nutritionist, when she started raising my brother, my sister, and myself, became a housewife. And then when I approached five years old, she went back to school and became certified as a teacher. She went to work at that time at Memorial Junior High. The principal there was Bill Frangus. And Mr. Frangus and she worked together and she became aware of the public school system and she wanted me to go to the best first grade teacher in Orlando. And at that time the school board was lenient in that way. And so, I went to Hillcrest Elementary and my first grade teacher was Mrs. Scarborough. And it was also a matter of convenience for my parents because I could go to school and was dropped off by my father on his way to the jewelry store in downtown. And at the same time I could walk to Hillcrest back to his jewelry store and then at the jewelry store either help out or do homework or whatever it was. And then I’d go back to home.

Hillcrest Elementary School

At that time, Rock Lake Elementary, which was on Tampa Avenue, was under construction and there was a double session going on at Concord Elementary. Concord Elementary was at the corner of 441 and Colonial Drive. I want to say that this is one of the first places in Orlando where there was an underpass built so that kids could cross the busy 441. My parents didn’t want me to go to a double session. They didn’t want me to go to a place where the construction was interrupting class and so I was at Hillcrest until second grade. In second grade I came to Rock Lake Elementary. From Rock Lake Elementary, where we lived on Tampa Avenue, I went to Memorial Junior High. And at that time, it moved to its present location which is, it’s back side opens to I-4 just north and west of 441. 

Emory University

And there I would ride the bus. And during that year I turned 13 and my parents moved from Tampa Avenue to College Park to the Knollwood  address. And there was a Memorial Junior High teacher that lived in that neighborhood. And so, I would ride with her back and forth every day to complete my 7th grade. And in 8th grade, I then went to Robert E. Lee Junior High and from Robert E. Lee, I went to Edgewater and from Edgewater I went to FSU in Tallahassee. And then from FSU I went to Emory University in Atlanta and then I returned to Orlando.

How did you decide to become a dentist? Was there a family member in the field? Did a teacher influence you?

I was really inspired by a family dentist. And was always amazed that the, I guess, a priority on my my mother’s calendar, we would go to the dentist. We would see the physician, don’t get me wrong. But it seemed like appointments were made with regularity, we would go to the dentist. And then when I was in eighth grade, we had to, for our civics class, we had to create a jobs wish list and then research jobs. Prior to that I wanted to be a research scientist. But after that I wanted to become a dentist. Even though I’ve done plenty of research, I’ve enjoyed the application of the arts and even human physiology. And I truly enjoy the fact that I can relieve someone’s discomfort and make them whole again so to speak. And at the same time, I’m honored by my colleagues in that they send me patients that have jaw issues that I can relieve. Yeah, eighth grade civics class.

You’ve been very successful. You’ve served in the Dental Society and you’ve had different leadership roles in the community.

Again, a thing from my father. My father was most politically active other than running for office. I learned talents that he expressed as well as those of my sister. And I really don’t mind being at the podium and I don’t mind running a meeting. My brother was running for city commission for the City of Orlando and I started on his campaign trail.

Trustee for the Florida Dental Association

And at that time, I had to speak to a group that I really didn’t know of called the Orlando Jaycees. And with the Orlando Jaycees these were all young businessmen that I readily identified with because I had started my practice in downtown Orlando. And so, I started to associate with them. And they taught me so much about time and its management and leadership skills. And so, from that I did join The Board of the Dental Society of Greater Orlando. I was appointed to councils for the Florida Dental Association. And currently today, I still remain on the Board  for the Dental Society of Greater Orlando. And I’m a Trustee for the Florida Dental Association. I’ve held office in my International Dental Fraternity [AEPI] and have enjoyed my relationships with dentists all over the world. 

You’ve been honored. You were Rotarian of the Year and Jaycee of the Year. You’ve received the A.P. Phillips Memorial Award, numerous awards.

Again, I know how to operate time, and for some reason I can find a crowbar to wedge things into my schedule including this interview. Sometimes it isn’t the easiest opportunity, but I know how to make time. And so, I get done what I feel is necessary, and I accomplish a lot in a day. So far today, I’ve been to a business meeting for another organization that I’ve climbed the ranks in, and tended to the typical home chores that I would normally do every day, and I have cleared a couple of files significantly on my desk, made my necessary posts on emails and alike, and, you know, enjoyed this interview. This opportunity to share the story. There’s a lot of time in a day.

Well, we appreciate and value the time that you’re sharing with the library for this interview…. Do you mind telling us a little bit about Jewish community life and civic life… we’ve talked about civic organizations that you’ve been active in, but particularly Jewish organizations.

Well, I alluded to earlier that I’m active in my international fraternity and it’s a Jewish organization. It’s the only thing of it’s kind where it’s medical and Judaism combined. And we’ve built the dental schools in Israel, we have clinics in Europe, in a few places in Europe as well as the United States and Canada. My relationship again was based on a need for a community in Judaism and I found it again while I was in dental school. When I was in undergraduate school I was in a fraternity AEPI, Alpha Epsilon Pi, and AEPI again is a Jewish group. As a teenager I went to a Jewish camp. I would always accompany my grandfather to go to synagogue. He was, in his later years, bound to a wheelchair. And so, I would be the one pushing him from occasion to occasion, certainly every Saturday.

Temple Israel Synagogue Board

And I have been on synagogue boards. I’m currently on the Temple Israel Synagogue Board. I’m on three committees with that. One is the cemetery committee. We maintain the Temple Israel Cemetery in west Orlando. I’m on the ritual committee, so we establish priorities for exercising ritual activity at the synagogue. And I’m active in the men’s club. And so, I participate through the ritual committee to help lead services. And I do two major roles in that. During the reading of the Torah, there are two people that are always by the Torah in honor and respect to the ritual of reading from the Torah. And I hold both roles.

Gabai Rishon and Sheni Gabai

So I am often times called the Gabai Rishon, the head reader if you will. I’m also the Sheni Gabai, the secondary person, and so that’s switched off among other members of the committee. In fact, this weekend, this Saturday, I’m reading Torah. And, it’s one thing to say you know Hebrew, it’s another  thing to say you can sing the song without any of the notes. And it’s an interesting process to study, and to learn, and to sing. So, yes, Judaism is a central core that I lean on and it certainly supports me.

It’s a vital part of Central Florida life would you say as well, the Jewish community…

The Jewish community is essential to life in every place on this earth. And if you don’t have an appreciation for what Jewish industrialization has done, then you don’t have a phone, you don’t have a computer, and you find it difficult to communicate. From being born in a hospital to everything that in multiple ways touches your life, has been through people who study. That’s the greatest asset of Jewish culture is study. Everything is questioned. You can take it in many different ways because when it comes to that which people call entertainment, there are elements of entertainment to one culture you find inappropriate, or others fantastic. And so, I think Judaism in this world has affected every continent.

 

Interview:  Dr. Bernard Albert Kahn

Interviewer:  Jane Tracy

Date:  February 7, 2019

Place:  Dr. Kahn’s Dental Office
              926 N Maitland Ave, Maitland, FL 32751

 

 

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