Miami Beach has long been known as a vibrant, sun-soaked destination for travelers worldwide. However, the rich cultural history that has shaped the city, particularly its Jewish heritage, remains a lesser-known aspect of Miami Beach’s identity. This article delves into the Jewish landmarks and cultural experiences that tell the story of the once-thriving Jewish community that contributed significantly to Miami Beach’s development. Join us as we explore synagogues, museums and even food tours that celebrate this unique cultural legacy.
A Brief History of Miami Beach’s Jewish Community
In 1949, the Florida Legislature abolished discriminatory restrictions on Jewish real estate ownership. Paving the way for Miami Beach to become a popular destination for Jewish winter vacations and retirement. This trend earned the city nicknames such as “Little Jerusalem” and “Shtetl by the Sea.”
The Jewish community flourished in Miami Beach, peaking in 1982 with approximately 60,000 Jewish residents, constituting 62 percent of the total population. However, due to factors such as the death of elderly Jews, rising living costs related to the Art Deco revival and migration to other counties, the Jewish population has now decreased to under 19 percent. Despite this decline, Miami Beach’s Jewish landmarks continue to thrive, offering visitors a glimpse into the city’s rich cultural history.
Landmarks and Cultural Experiences
1. Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU
Located at 301 Washington Avenue, the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU is housed in two historic synagogues. This museum invites visitors to learn about the history of the Jewish people in South Florida, beginning with the core exhibit, MOSAIC: Jewish Life in Florida. The museum stands on the site of Miami Beach’s first synagogue, Beth Jacob, which opened in 1929 in the city’s South Beach neighborhood.
2. Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach
The Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach, situated at 1933-1945 Meridian Avenue, is a poignant tribute to the lives lost during the Holocaust. Designed by architect Kenneth Treister and built by Holocaust survivors. The memorial features a four-story-high arm tattooed with a number from Auschwitz, a Memorial Wall etched with thousands of names and a stone tunnel filled with the voices of Israeli children singing songs.
3. Eden Roc
This 631-room Art Deco gem, located at 4525 Collins Avenue, boasts its own in-house kosher kitchen. Designed by Russian Jewish immigrant architect Morris Lapidus, the hotel underwent a $240 million renovation in 2009. Lapidus’ Neo-baroque Miami Modern hotels have come to define the 1950s resort-hotel style synonymous with Miami and Miami Beach.
4. Temple Emanu-El
As the oldest Conservative congregation on Miami Beach, Temple Emanu-El, situated at 1701 Washington Avenue, is one of America’s most beautiful synagogues. Its impressive and eclectic Byzantine and Moorish architecture features a rotunda building and an aluminum dome more than ten stories tall. The congregation has a long and venerable history as a spiritual home to the Jewish residents of Miami Beach for more than seven decades.
5. Temple Beth Sholom
Located at 4144 Chase Avenue, Temple Beth Sholom is Miami Beach’s largest and oldest Reform Synagogue. A member of the Union for Reform Judaism, the temple stands as a testament to the mainstream of liberal Judaism.
6. Temple Beth Shmuel
Temple Beth Shmuel, also known as “Circulo,” is the Cuban Hebrew Congregation at 1700 Michigan Avenue. Founded in 1961 to provide a home for Jews from Cuba, the temple was designed by Oscar Sklar. It features stained glass windows depicting the Twelve Tribes of Israel designed by Inge Pape Trampler. Mexican artist Naomi Siegman designed the candelabras beside the bimah.
7. Isaac Bashevis Singer Home
The Surfside Towers Ocean Condominium, located at 9511 Collins Avenue in Surfside, was the residence and workplace of renowned author Isaac Bashevis Singer from 1977 until his death in 1991. A plaque was placed on the building after being presented to his widow, Alma, in 1991, marking it as a literary landmark.
Cultural Tours in Miami Beach
For visitors interested in a guided experience, there are tours dedicated to showcasing the impact of the Jewish community on Miami Beach’s Jewish Heritage:
1. The Jewish Miami Beach Tour
Run by the Miami Design Preservation League, this tour explores the rise and fall of the Jewish population over the past 100 years, offering an overview of architectural styles that shaped the city.
2. The Jewish Food Walking Tour
Organized by the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU, this tour highlights past and present Jewish-owned restaurants in Miami Beach. Participants can enjoy tastings from venues such as My Ceviche, Aroma Espresso Bar, Pita Loca and, of course, key lime pie from Joe’s Stone Crab Restaurant.
Miami Beach’s rich Jewish history offers visitors a unique cultural experience through its landmarks, tours and food. Whether you choose to explore independently or join a guided tour, the city’s Jewish legacy provides an invaluable glimpse into the community that significantly shaped the development of Miami Beach.
From breathtaking synagogues and poignant memorials to culinary adventures and architectural marvels, Miami Beach’s Jewish heritage invites you to immerse yourself in a captivating journey through the past. As you uncover the stories of resilience, perseverance and faith that lie at the heart of this once-thriving community, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the cultural tapestry that defines Miami Beach.