Southeast Florida is estimated to have more than 500,000 Jews living in the Miami area. That's about 10 percent of the overall population. There are almost 190 synagogues and congregations in the area, serving Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism. The exact dates of the first Jewish settlers are not known, but Jews were first recorded in Key West in the 1880s. Many of the first settlers were Jews from Europe who wanted to escape the persecution. Many Cuban and Brazilian Jews settled in the area, and the population exploded. Unfortunately, until the 1950s, the Jewish population also faced a lot of discrimination.
Sanford L. Ziff Jewish Museum in Florida
In 1995, the Jewish museum opened, and this should be one of the first places of your Miami tour. The main building has Art Deco features and 80 stained glass windows. The museum houses more than 100,000 items in its collection of objects related to Florida Jewish Heritage. Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky used to worship in the sanctuary. Jews could not live north of South Beach until the mid-1940s, which is why a congregation built this synagogue, which was in operation until 1986. One of the worst moments in Jewish history was in 1939, when the S.S. St. Louis brought hundreds of German Jewish refugees to the Miami area. They were not allowed to leave the ship, but they could see the synagogue from where they were anchored. President Franklin Roosevelt would not allow entry to the United States. The ship went back to Europe, and many of the passengers died in the Holocaust.
Temple Israel, a Reform Synagogue
This congregation was founded in 1922. The synagogue moved in 1928 and has been at its same location since that time. The Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center was built on the first site of the synagogue, just four blocks away from the temple. When admiring the beautiful construction, you should remember that the project was completed long before computers and 3D modeling. It's a thriving congregation today that has brought a lot to the community.
Temple Beth Shmuel
This congregation was not officially incorporated until 1962, but it was founded for Cuban Jews in South Florida. Many of these Jews were refugees twice over, having immigrated to Cuba to escape European persecution, then leaving Cuba for the United States. They offer a number of community activities today and are a vital part of the community. The temple was designed by Oscar Sklar, but the must-see is the stained glass windows of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
The Eden Roc may not be a Jewish temple, but it is an important Jewish landmark. It has an in-house kosher kitchen. At the time it was built in 1955 56, it was considered one of the most luxurious hotels of its time. It sits next door to the Fontainebleau Hotel, which is considered a significant part of Miami's history. The Eden Roc was built in the Art Deco style, purposely designed to be much different than its neighbor. Today, it still has its 1950s resort-style feeling with all the modern amenities a traveler could want.
Holocaust Memorial, Miami Beach
If you're visiting Miami, you don't want to miss another popular and moving landmark built as a remembrance to the Holocaust survivors. Kenneth Treister designed the memorial as an environmental sculpture, one in which the visitor is led through the exhibit to experience the history and emotional aspects of the Holocaust.
Miami is known for its beautiful beaches and temperate weather. Take a trip to Miami to relax, but take a few hours to enjoy the Jewish heritage of the area. Appreciate what the Jews have brought to the South Florida culture.