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Reverend Benjamin Safer and Family Collection

Identifier: MSS 0332

Scope and Content

This collection holds Benjamin Safer's official and personal papers, sermons, letters, and photographs, in addition to photographs of his family members. Whereas the elder members of the Jacksonville community spoke Yiddish, the younger members understood English only and thus Reverend Safer, like other rabbis who had recently immigrated from Central and Eastern Europe, needed to learn English quickly to be able to offer services in English. Consequently, his sermons are written in English with Hebrew characters and his notebooks include English vocabularies that he recorded for himself phonetically with Hebrew characters and translations to Yiddish. These handwritten documents will assist researchers interested in the history of Jewish religious leaders' immigration to the United States and their struggles to learn English, as well as scholars interested in Yiddish and other Jewish language studies, and techniques of language acquisition.

In addition to Reverend Safer's papers, Edwin Safer's genealogical research about the family history and the scripts of Edwin's address on his bar mitzvah can also be found in the collection. Edwin compiled a family history in two volumes: Letters from Papa and The Debobes Family. These volumes include copies of some of the photographs and documents found in the collection; Edwin's explanations offer first-hand historical context to the documents. Edwin's photographs taken during his visit to Lithuania, the places where his grandparents and great grandparents once lived, and the photographs of the localities in Jacksonville where the family once lived and ran their businesses, complement his reconstruction of the family history and of Benjamin Safer's life. Edwin also included a copy of the 1935 Yearbook of the Jewish Center in Jacksonville where his grandfather worked. There is a scrapbook which records a 1978 family reunion in Israel in addition to documents of other family events, including a reunion and plans for another visit in Israel. Three family recipe collections are also included. Correspondence with the Jewish Museum in Miami demonstrates that Edwin Safer offered his grandfather's mohel-knife for exposition. The folder "Miscellaneous" holds a "Bar Mitzvah Book" with handwritten note on it "My Haftarah Portion" and there is a typed card with a prayer inside, too. A vinyl disc, with handwritten, unreadable title is also included.


  • 1901-2017


Language of Materials

Includes materials written in English, Yiddish, and Hebrew.


Due to possible privacy concerns with this collection, researchers should consult with Dr. Rebecca Jefferson, Head of the Price Library of Judaica (352-273-2650), to access the records.

Biographical/Historical Note

The Safer family originated from the town of Brizh, Lithuania. Benjamin Safer's father, Joseph Schraga Safer, and mother, Hinda Reiza née Sweetgal, married in 1859 in Brizh. Benjamin Safer, who was named after his paterntal grandfather, was born there on January 1, 1872. Benjamin and his siblings, with the exception of his eldest brother, would later leave Lithuania, with three of his brothers immigrating to South Africa, and the rest to the United States.

The young Benjamin Safer, following the example of his father and elder brother, became a yeshiva student in the nearby town of Panevezys. It was there that he met his future bride Freda Leah Ziv. At about the age of 22, he was conscripted to the Russian Army's Territory Military Band. Upon his release from military service in 1894 or 1895, he returned to Panevezys and continued his studies in the yeshiva. Freda Leah and Benjamin were married in 1896 in Panevezys and in 1898 they moved to Pokroi, a small village to the northwest where Benjamin worked as mohel performing ritual circumcisions.

In 1900, the newly founded Orthodox Jewish congregation in Jacksonville, B'nai Israel, invited Joseph Shraga Safer to be their rabbi. He refused, but recommended his son Benjamin instead. Benjamin was offered the position and accepted it. He arrived in Jacksonville in 1902, leaving behind his pregnant wife and three children until the following year when they joined him in Florida. At the temple, Benjamin worked as hazan (cantor), mohel, and rabbi. He also ran a delicatessen shop with one of his brothers until 1933 when he and his wife moved to Orlando. He was invited there to become the rabbi of congregation Ohav Shalom. By then they had twelve children, with the elder ones being already married. Benjamin and Freda Leah returned to Jacksonville in 1937 after the Ohav Shalom congregation hired another rabbi.

After World War II, Benjamin Safer wished to live the remaining years of his life in the Holy Land (Israel) which he had visited once in 1926. He made two additional trips there, staying in various parts of Israel for extended periods of time despite his family's disapproval. Finally, he returned to the United States on September 17, 1959 and died early the next morning. Safer family members now live all over the United States and in South Africa. They cultivate the family and preserve its history, and occasionally organize family meetings, like the one held in Israel in 1978, which is recorded in the album included in this collection.

In 2017, The Hebrew Language Book Alcove in UF's Judaica Suite was named in memory of the Rev. Benjamin Safer by Dr. Edwin Safer and Edwin's wife, Harriet. The program of the dedication ceremony is included in this collection.


0.67 Linear feet (2 Boxes)


This collection documents the life of four generations of the Safer family of Jacksonville, Florida. It holds Reverend Benjamin Safer's Collection, including sermons, letters, notes, and family photographs. In addition, it includes official documents and photographs of the places where various family members lived and worked in Lithuania and Jacksonville, Florida. The family reunion scrapbook from 1978 and Edwin Safer's correspondence with the Miami Jewish Museum, which are also included in the collection, demonstrate the Safers' devotion to family and the cultivation of the memory of the past generations.

Physical Location

University of Florida Smathers Library Building

Acquisition Information

The collection is a gift of Dr. Edwin Safer, Benjamin Safer's grandson and alumnus of the University of Florida.

Alternative Format Available

Digital reproductions of selected items in the Reverend Benjamin Safer and Family Collection are available online via the University of Florida Digital Collections (UFDC). Please read the Permissions for Use statement for information on copyright, fair use, and use of UFDC digital objects.

A Guide to the Reverend Benjamin Safer and Family Collection
Finding aid created by Katalin Franciska Rac
June 2015
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared Using Dacs
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida Repository

George A. Smathers Libraries
PO Box 117005
Gainesville Florida 32611-7005 United States of America