With great sadness, the St. Augustine Jewish Historical Society mourns the passing of our friend and supporter, Rabbi Israel “Sy” Dresner, who was caught up in the largest mass arrest of Rabbis in US History, here in St. Augustine, June 18, 1964. Dresner died of cancer at age 92.
Rabbi Dresner returned to St. Augustine several times after his arrest and incarceration in the St. Johns County Jail, most recently brought here by the St. Augustine Jewish Historical Society in June 2014 to mark the 50th anniversary of the day 16 Rabbis and a denominational administrator attempted to integrate the lunchroom at the Monson Hotel on Avenida Mendendez.
While the attention of authorities was diverted to the Rabbis, walking arm-in-arm with black teenagers into the lunch room, several young African-Americans were able to jump into the swimming pool at the Monson Hotel. To force them out, Monson owner Jimmy Brock poured large quantities of muriatic acid into the water.
Brock was photographed by a reporter in a picture that appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the world. Public opinion was stirred and inflamed by the photo, leading to the U.S. Senate overcoming a filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Act passed the Senate by a vote of 73-27 and was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 2nd.
According to an NPR obituary, “Dresner was arrested four times in the early ’60s during the time he spent as a Freedom Rider. He used to leave his home in northern New Jersey, sometimes driving all night long, to join the nonviolent protests against segregation in the South. In 1961, he traveled to Tallahassee, Fla., and was arrested and jailed after he and a group of Blacks and whites tried to integrate an airport restaurant. He was later the named petitioner in a legal case challenging the arrest that made it to the U.S. Supreme Court.”