Remembering “The American Jewish Hour” and its voice, Robert Lurie

Remembering+The+American+Jewish+Hour+and+its+voice%2C+Robert+Lurie

Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer

In post-World War II America, Jews in more than 150 cities tuned in every Sunday afternoon to hear what some described as the “voice of the Jewish community.” That voice belonged to Robert Lurie, who lived and created his radio show the “American Jewish Hour,” right here in St. Louis.

 

Who was Robert Lurie and what was the American Radio Hour

Robert Lurie was the son of Rabbi Isaac Lurie (Luria).  They first came to the United States from Latvia in 1912 escaping the pogroms that were occurring in Russia.

“My dad came from a long line of Orthodox rabbis including Rabbi Isaac Luria from Safed, the founder of the Kaballah movement,” said Stephanie Turner, Lurie’s daughter who lives in St. Louis and belongs to Shaare Emeth. “He grew up in a variety of places — wherever his father was needed to be the rabbi of the shul in that community.”

Among the places the Lurie family lived were Macon, Ga.; Akron, Ohio; upstate New York and Pittsburgh.  Lurie went to college at Carnegie Mellon but had to quit school to support his parents because his father had the beginnings of dementia.  He then moved to New York where he began working for various Jewish organizations.

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During World War II, Lurie went to Washington, D.C. and became the National War Service Director for B’nai B’rith.

“One day while visiting the ADL office in New York, then headed by former St. Louisan Leonard Finder, he met my mom who was Mr. Finder’s secretary.  Six months later they were married,” said Turner.

The couple lived in D.C. during the war and eventually moved to St. Louis. In 1945, he became the first executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis (JCRC), and in 1951 he became the head of the St. Louis Israel Bonds Program. Later, he and his wife Ruth Lurie, would become well known as the owners and operators of Brentwood Travel, which he ran from 1957- 1974.

The American Jewish Hour and Robert Lurie

The “American Jewish Hour” hit the air in 1946 and ran for 13 years. On Sunday afternoons, Jewish families gathered around their radios for an hour of entertainment, education, service, and understanding.

They listen to the news of what was going on in the world that affected Jewish people. In addition, there was Jewish music, and a 15-minute narrative about either a current famous Jewish person or one from the past, or even a bible-type story that was relevant for the audience.

Lurie was the heart of the show, and from his heart is where his family believes the show came from.  When Lurie was just a 10-year-old boy in Macon, Ga., he saw a black man lynched in the streets.

“He vowed then he would spend his life-fighting prejudice,” said Turner, who continues to run Brentwood Travel. “He dedicated his life to this in so many ways.  He used to say to me, ‘Stephanie – people are people wherever you go.  They have two arms, two legs, two eyes, two ears, a nose, and a mouth and they go to the bathroom just like you and me.

“You didn’t have to like everyone – you just couldn’t dislike someone purely based on the color of their skin or their religious beliefs.  That kind of decision was based on ignorance.  There are good and bad people all over the world.”

Growing The Show

Lurie gathered an interested and caring group of people to help support his beloved project. These individuals either personally supported the program and/or helped to raise the funds to keep it going. Lurie never personally took any money for this time and effort — it was truly a labor of love for the Jewish community.

At some point, the show became syndicated in roughly 160 cities. The program reached thousands of people throughout the country for years after the initial startup. On Sept. 11, 1948, Billboard even awarded the show first place as the best local program in the United States.

Even though Lurie made his living as Israel bond director and eventually in public relations and advertising business before starting Brentwood Travel, his passion was the “American Jewish Hour.”  So many people in the Jewish community loved him and the show.

“Even as a child when someone heard my last name was Lurie, they would ask me if I was related to the man on the radio,” remembered Turner. “People were always impressed to know he was my dad.  To this day people will tell me how their family gathered around the radio every Sunday morning. My dad was a really special man.”

Turner also found herself becoming a part of the show.

“I once even got to play Beatrice Bee when we were doing a story about King Solomon and the bee was a part of the story. I sometimes wish I had paid more attention, but as a kid, you don’t always realize what you are a part of,” said Turner.

The Show Was Lurie’s Legacy

Lurie’s family believes the “American Jewish Hour” was one of the most important things in his life – after his family, of course. He loved not only the show but the connection it gave him to the Jewish community in St. Louis.

“My parents could have moved back to New York where he was offered more money, but they had come to love St. Louis and especially the Jewish community. They made the decision that life here in St. Louis was what they wanted for their family,” said Turner. “I am glad they did, because I told them I wouldn’t move to New York if they went. I was only 16 at the time but this was my home.”

In its final years, largely due to the growth of television, the “American Jewish Hour” was shortened to 30 minutes and moved from KXLW to WIL. Then, after 13 years, the “American Jewish Hour” came to end.

After the show, Lurie continued speaking and fundraising for Jewish causes. He spent a great deal of time speaking, often on behalf of Israel Bonds and the Jewish Federation.

He traveled all over the country and Canada and was often paired with a “headliner,” such as George Jessel, Hubert Humphrey or Eleanor Roosevelt,” remembers Bruce Lurie, Robert’s son. “He could captivate an audience.  He was a superb storyteller, often interspersing his stories with Yiddish phrases.  Stephanie and I had occasions where we got to see him in action.”

He continued speaking until he got Parkinson’s disease in the late 60s.

He passed away in 1989. His family maintains his radio show was the thrill of his life.

The American Jewish Hour Today

After his death, Lurie’s family donated a massive amount of material to the Jewish Community Archives, now overseen by Diane Everman.

“When I came, I inventoried the collection and discovered it was not only a large amount of material, one that included scripts, books, phonograph LPs, but also transcription disks,” said Everman. “It’s a whopping 39 cubic feet of material. I didn’t know anything about the  ‘American Jewish Hour’ until I processed the collection. It’s amazing.”

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