by Marina Berkovich, president Jewish Historical Society of Southwest Florida
According to the post hurricane Donna lore, Olde Naples had only ahandful of Jewish residents, but what a fascinating bunch they were. It would have been mesmerizing to be at a cocktail party then with the financier and art collector Joseph Hirshhorn and Julius Fleischmann Jr. of the yeast fame, whose name is now prominently visible on the Naples park and whose descendants still live in town.
That was hurricanes ago, life moved on and we all need to adapt. There area few Southwest Florida Jewish pioneers still among us and they each have an amazing story to convey, which is why The Jewish Historical Society of Southwest Florida has been collecting the eyewitness accounts at Virtual Museum of Southwest Florida Jewish History http://jewishhistorysouthwestflorida.org/ and making documentary film series “Southwest Florida Jewish Pioneers.” The sixth film, subtitled “Murray’s Mile,” is making its premier on January 21, 2018 during the Annual Jewish History Celebration Event at Hilton Naples.
This year’s honoree is Murray Hendel. He is a man of considerable involvement with both the City of Naples and Collier County, having volunteered on the City of Naples and Collier County employees pension boards, The Board of Tourism, The Greater Naples Chamber, just to name a few. In fact, Murray has been so involved for the past thirty years that many wonder why he never ran for office himself.
We suspect it is because Murray prefers to affect things from behind the scenes. “The most powerful unelected official,” was a frequent reflection from members of some 13+ organizations where Murray was active by presiding or being a very vocal and involved member.
Some even say that walking the “Murray Mile” with Murray gets a candidate elected. Perhaps it is because the now famous Naples Murray’s Mile along the sand beaches is located in the most populated of all City of Naples neighborhoods on Gulfshore Boulevard North.
To be empowered by Murray’s charm does have a special effect, but three decades ago when he first retired to Florida, Murray knew practically no one. For a former IRS-man, Murray has a very outgoing and lively personality. He is full of anecdotes about the past and ideas about the future. He is also full of tireless energy and enthusiasm and determined to effect change.
Like many former servicemen, Murray has kept the importance of service to country and country folk at the top of his priorities throughout his life. No wonder, once he was settled in Naples, he found himself seeking opportunities to apply his skills, abilities, talent and expertise for the greater good of the city and county he was now a part of.
Many Naples retirees are active in the community, but Murray did indeed go that other extra special mile by forming a ROMEO group. If you ask him what it stands for, he smirks timidly, as if testing your sense of humor, and says Retired Old Men Eating Out, then stands back for a reaction.
He knows it’s clever and cute and charming. He know she’s all that, too, and that he is beloved for it by his peers. ROMEO’s members don’t just eat out, they are a group of men who are still in position to make things happen.
The January 21st Annual Florida Jewish History Month Celebration’s honorary chairman will be Naples Mayor Bill Barnett with distinguished guests Sheriff Rambosk and Rep. Francis Rooney attending.
This is a very special launch of 2018 for Jewish Historical Society of Southwest Florida, whose regular activities include SWFL Jewish History Master Classes and Southwest Florida Jewish Pioneers Film presentations.
Previous honorees have included Helen Weinfeld, Richard Segalman, Gloria Lipman-Goldberg and Bill Lipman, and Stuart Kaye.