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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                       IRA LAVINSKY

INTERVIEWER:                   DEBORAH SPECTOR

DATE:                                  DECEMBER 5, 2016

LOCATION:                          ADEL, GEORGIA

Transcript (PDF)

Biography
Ira Lavinsky was born in Brooklyn, New York, on April 22, 1944. Ira’s grandfather immigrated to the United States from Russia. The entire family eventually came to the United States. His grandmother’s family name is Tucker. Ira attended public elementary and high school in Brooklyn. He attended Hebrew school and was bar mitzvahed in a rabbi’s home that was converted into a little synagogue in the Crown Heights area of Brooklyn. Ira studied music as a child and professionally, which led to his career as cantor. 

In 1963, Ira left New York to attend University of South Florida and University of Tampa, where he earned a teaching degree. He became involved with Beth Israel Congregation in Tampa, where he sang in the choir.  He was elected vice president of the Jewish student union at university and started the first religious service on campus, leading the service as cantor.

After graduation, he taught in Tampa for two years and continued to be active in the choir. Ira later took a teaching job at a high school in Statenville, a rural town in South Georgia, where he met his wife. In 1970, they were married in Fitzgerald Hebrew Congregation in Fitzgerald, Georgia, where he has remained very active in Jewish life. He has served the community by leading services as cantor and performing other duties in absence of a rabbi. Ira is recognized for his years of service as educator and cantor in the Jewish community in Fitzgerald and neighboring towns.


Scope
Ira discusses his life career as a teacher and cantor.  He talks about his involvement in Fitzgerald Hebrew Congregation in Fitzgerald, Georgia, and the neighboring towns. He talks about growing up in the Crown Heights area in Brooklyn, New York, where he attended public school and Hebrew school at a little synagogue in a rabbi’s home in Crown Heights. He recalls that only Hebrew and Yiddish were spoken at the synagogue and that the men and women were separated. He talks about his friends from school, who were mostly Jewish, but his best friend was a Roman Catholic. He discusses how he started to sing at a young age and received praise and recognition from the rabbi who bar mitzvah'd him.

Ira recalls that his grandfather was a very religious man and remembers attending service with him.  He talks about his father, who spoke fluent English, recalling that he read the Yiddish paper, The Forward. He speaks fondly of his grandmother on his mother’s side, who lived with his family while she was sick. 

Ira talks about going to college at the University of South Florida and University of Tampa, where he began to be active in synagogue and the choir. He talks about being elected as vice president of the Jewish student union and starting the first religious service on campus. He discusses his teaching degree and studying music. He reflects that it was through music and singing that he started to become active in synagogue.  

He discusses teaching high school in Georgia, where he met his wife.  He reflects on their marriage in Fitzgerald Hebrew Congregation in 1970 and her conversion to Judaism. He talks about remaining in Fitzgerald, where he became more active as cantor and performing other duties in absence of a rabbi. Ira discusses the small Jewish population in rural Georgia and the challenges it has presented. He talks about his experiences there, particularly teaching, his interaction with teachers, the need for greater awareness of Judaism, and his contribution on educating others on Judaism. He reflects on the moments where he believed he was able to bring awareness through education in the schools. Ira discusses what has given him the most satisfaction living in an intimate community and what he believes was his greatest impact on Jewish life at Fitzgerald Hebrew Congregation.  



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