A Jewish Family in the Bahamas

Let me share a story with you about a Jewish family that was highlighted in the AEPi website recently. As many of you probably know, AEPi (Alpha Epsilon Pi) is the Jewish College Fraternity that operates chapters at more than 175 college campuses in seven countries. As noted in the home page of their website, The Fraternity’s mission… “Developing the future leaders of the Jewish communities… is demonstrated every day through acts of brotherhood, Tzedakah, social awareness and support for Jewish communities and Israel”.

June recently received a facebook message from our grandson, Jared (who is currently attending Law School in Miami). Jared was a member of AEPi and thought June might be interested in this article (FridayPiday which posted January 17, 2020) about a Jewish family that found their way from Poland to the Bahamas back in the late 1920s. Jared often sends June articles and postings that he thinks she would appreciate.

As June starts to read, the article begins by introducing the Hoffer family, explaining that they are “tucked away in Nassau, Bahamas, being a beacon of their small Jewish community for four generations”. The article goes on to describe how this family has become a household name among Bahamians, due to their sportswear and fashion business (Hoffer Sport). Norman Hoffer (in the article referred to as “Brother Norman Hoffer” since he is now an honorary brother of AEPi) and his brothers have run the family business and have taken full responsibility since the recent passing of their father and Patriarch of the family, Harold Hoffer, late last year. In the article, Norman Hoffer describes his father as having been an “inclusive and respectful man” which was unusual at the time due to segregation and discrimination. Norman remembers that his father was known in the Bahamas for being kind and welcoming to all, no matter what racial divides/separations society was influencing. The article explains that Harold Hoffer was a refugee who came to the Bahamas with his mother, Sylvia (nee BOTT), and his sister Peggy, on a freighter from France in 1928. Sylvia’s brothers, Rubin and Jack Bott, had arrived in Nassau several years prior. As the Bahamas was a British Colony at the time, it seems it was easier to get off a boat and stay there. Harold grew up without a father since his father, Abraham Hoffer, who had emigrated to the Bahamas with the family, went back to Europe and perished by the hands of the Nazis. Harold was proud of his Jewish heritage at a time when antisemitism was on the rise. The Hoffers/Botts were one of the first Jewish families to settle in the Bahamas (if not the first). They started a business and became successful. As the article reads; Harold Hoffer was the main supporter of keeping Jewish presence alive in Nassau, Bahamas. He was the founding member and president of the first Jewish Congregation in the Bahamas, the Nassau Hebrew Congregation and gave them a storefront and funded it for many years. Jewish tradition and supporting the Jewish community was extremely important to the Hoffers/Botts. As time moved on, a matchmaker (Shadchan) arranged Harold’s marriage to Norman’s mother, who had been from Chicago. Norman and his siblings were sent to Miami when he was nine years old so that they could experience the American lifestyle. The article explains that they used to go back to the Bahamas when they had some time off from school or it was a Jewish holiday. Norman graduated college and tried to start a business in S. Florida but it was difficult so Norman and his brothers returned to the Bahamas and turned their father’s “old fashioned general store” into a sporting goods store”. They are a family that truly supports the Jewish community in the Bahamas and is there for the Bahamian community as a whole.

Norman Hoffer has two sons, Aaron and Carl. As the article speaks about, Norman recalls that when his son Aaron started attending University, he suggested that he find a Jewish Fraternity, realizing that growing up Jewish in the Bahamas was obviously difficult as there is not a lot of exposure to Judaism. Aaron ended up joining and loving AEPi and now works for the Fraternity.

To be honest, I am not sure if this article is a tribute to the Hoffer/Bott family, as a family who left Europe and settled in a foreign land with virtually no Jewish community to support them at the time OR if the article is a tribute to AEPi as a very special place for college students and others to be part of the Jewish community and be surrounded by Jewish brotherhood and support for Jewish communities.

Here’s the most ironic part…this article that Jared sent to June is actually about MY FAMILY. Sylvia Bott (Harold Hoffer’s mother) was my FIRST AUNT (my MOTHER IDA’S SISTER). Harold Hoffer was my FIRST COUSIN and Norman Hoffer is my SECOND COUSIN.

My mother, Ida Bott, married my father, Samuel Zimelman, and they decided to stay in Poland until they had to escape in 1939. By that time, they could not get in to the U.S. so they went to Montreal. But, many of my mother’s siblings (she was one of 7), Sylvia Bott, Rubin Bott & Jack Bott, had left Poland for the Bahamas much sooner, as the article explains…

What makes me so proud is that my mother’s family (Bott/Hoffer), who left Europe and settled in the Bahamas without having a Jewish Community to welcome them, built their own Jewish Community, helped to build a shul and has been an integral part of the Bahamian Jewish community for generations. I am also so very proud that my family in the Bahamas is kind, generous and always inclusive of other cultures & backgrounds, no matter what negative influences are coming from their surroundings.

The Jewish People are strong, determined & brave! As did the Bott & Hoffer families, throughout history, our people have had to leave their homes and countries, travel to a foreign land to escape persecution and start fresh. We as a people work together and build Jewish Communities & Synagogues. Not only do we survive but we thrive! The love of Jewish Community, Tradition, Education & Culture is at the root of our souls. I am proud of my family and I am proud of all of our people who have had to rebuild in a new land and have done so with pride, dignity & respect.

Stay safe, Stay Vigilant and Stay Connected with Community!

See you in Shul.

Cantorially always,
Cantor Sol Zim