Jews in the Land of Disney: Meet a mainstay in the Jewish community
May 8, 2020
Dr. Bernard Kahn is one of the 36 percent who call themselves native Floridians. Born in Orlando in 1951, Bernie has lived and worked in the Orlando area his entire life and has seen the growth of Orlando first hand.
His family came from Germany. His grandfather, Richard Kahn, was a man of "means," who held multiple doctorates in economics, history and law. Around 1934, when he spoke out against the Nazi regime, he was arrested and thrown into prison. In prison he faked a heart attack, managing to escape from the ambulance that was transporting him to the hospital. From there he made his way to Czechoslovakia where he obtained a plane ticket to Argentina. Once he established himself, he sent passage for his entire family on a freighter that stopped in Baltimore, Maryland. Richard Kahn flew from Argentina to Baltimore where he was reunited with his family. Bernie's father, Wolf Kahn, was 14 years old when he got off the boat with his mother to rejoin his father. On the boat were his two uncles, grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins.
"My grandfather was quite a prolific man," said Bernie. "He was renown in the field of economics and he went to work for the United States government for the Department of Interior. He pretty much was responsible for the North Atlantic Fishing treaty, which is still in place today."
Bernie's mother, Tybell, was a Wittenstein. They have been in the Orlando area since the early 1900s. The family fled southern Russia, (the Minsk area), to Spain where they made their way to Argentina. They were prolific farmers in the old country and established a farm in Argentina until they had successive years of drought.
"I remember one relative tell me that the lack of water was caused by sabotage, which is why they came to the United States," Bernie said.
Ending up in Pittsburgh, they met a neighbor in the apartment across the hall, the Shader family. They were farmers from Minsk also, and together the Wittensteins and Shaders fled the city in hopes of finding land that they could homestead down south. They ultimately came to Sanford by boat and took the train to Orlando where they managed to acquire land to establish their dairy farm. This was around the year 1912. Not only did they raise dairy cows but they planted orange trees in a grove that went from the western shores of Lake Silver to Orange Blossom Trail. Bernie's brother-in-law, Ben Shader, had a farm on the other side of OBT where WKMG television station is located. They eventually opened a business called College Park Dairy.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Bernie's father, Wolf, enlisted into the Army/Airforce at age 18. At that time the Army/Airforce was a combined entity, which didn't separate until 1947 after the National Security Act had passed. The act restructured the United States military to a form that still stands today.
Wolf did his basic training in Miami and then was stationed in the Army/Airforce base that is now Baldwin Park. Because Wolf spoke fluent German, he became a counter espionage officer, where he would be introduced to the German submariner prisoners who were being held in Leesburg, Florida. He was passed off as a captured German submariner and would mingle with the prisoners where he would extract intelligence from the POWs.
"In 1943 my father went to USO party where he met Tybell (Tybe) Wittenstien and as they say the rest is history," Bernie shared.
"My mother went to Florida State University where she studied nutrition. She did her residency in her field in Philadelphia and when she returned home to Orlando she went to work for Orange Memorial Hospital as their first nutritionist."
Wolf was an artist. One of his first jobs after the war was for Sears Roebuck in downtown Orlando. He then went to work for Ferelli's Jewelery store and began applying his creativity to jewelry designs. He eventually purchased a jewelry store, which became Wolf's Jewelry on Church Street.
"They moved to Pine Street where my father operated a very successful business that eventually got into the engraving industry and trophies. He acquired Martin Marietta as an account where he engraved devices that are now somewhere in space."
In 1969, Wolf's business hooked up with Disney and when they opened the park in 1971 Wolf became the jeweler for Disney. His main office moved to the Contemporary Hotel called "Kingdom Jewels." He had a jewelry store in Hawaiian Village and then later in downtown Disney. Eventually Wolf opened two more stores, one was on their ship, the Queen Elizabeth, and another opened at Disney in Anaheim, California.
"Anything that came through Disney that related to precious stones and metals, my father was involved in. The executives at Disney held him in high regard and he was included on many of their projects. He represented Disney in their negotiations in the Orient and France.
"I had a free pass to Disney growing up and I enjoyed many afternoons and evening with friends at the park."
Bernie graduated from Edgewater High School and went to Florida State University in Tallahassee where he received his undergraduate degree in micro-biology/predentistry. He then attended Emory University in Atlanta, where he graduated from dental school.
He met his first wife through friends at Camp Bluestar, N.C., and had two sons, Aaron and Philliip. About two years after his divorce, he met Valarie Cadwallader, to whom he was married for 32 years. Valarie passed away recently.
"Out of dental school I had an associate-ship with Howard Oser. I went out on my own about a year later. My first solo practice was in downtown Orlando on Magnolia Avenue for approximately five years until I purchased the building I'm now in, which I opened in 1985 called Dental Associates of Maitland. My practice is located across from the Jewish Community Center, and is geared toward facial pain, therapy and restoration."
Bernie has been active in the American Dental Association since 1977 as well as serving in many positions with the Florida Dental Association and the Central District Dental Association. He's actively involved in the Dental Society of Greater Orlando serving as past president among many other roles within these organizations.
Bernie also has been active with the Alpha Omega International Dental Fraternity and has held many positions over the years. Today he's on the foundation board and was an International Board member.
"Living as long as one has in the Orlando area, I have seen the growth and development that came with Disney. My grandparents founded Ohev Shalom and my parents Temple Israel. The Jewish community today is spread out and is more diverse today than it was then."
He continued, "I'm amazed at the amount of Israelis that are living in the area, and I appreciate the contributions they've made to Orlando Jewish culture."