Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Jewish Community of Greater Miami (Part 1 of 2)

By: Ann Rabinowitz
One of the more well-known Jewish communities in the world is that of Greater Miami or Dade County, Florida. This encompasses the towns of Miami Beach and Miami as well as other small subdivisions within the county. A magnet for emigrants from all over the world and particularly the American east coast and the New York Metropolitan area, the area has drawn a plethora of individuals, all intent on succeeding in this southern tropical paradise.

A new book has been written about this area entitled “L’Chaim, The History of the Jewish Community of Greater Miami”. The author is Seth H. Bramson, well-known South Florida historian and railroad buff as well as owner of the largest private collection of Miami memorabilia and Floridiana in America. Bramson uses his knowledge drawn from personal reminiscences and other sources to provide a richly textured view of Jewish continuity in Dade County.

If you are expecting a lot of heavily detailed material as well as genealogically significant records, this book is not for you. On the other hand, if the visual sparks your genealogical memories, then this book has more than enough photographs, graphics, and other materials to recreate the South Florida of your youth or that of your parents or grandparents.

The ten chapters are replete with the social and religious infrastructure of the Jewish community such as the Temples and Schools, Greater Miami Jewish Federation, the Miami Jewish Home and Hospital for the Aged at Douglas Gardens and the Jewish Museum of Florida.

In addition, Greater Miami is shown as a place not only for “snow birds” (winter visitors), but real people, Jews, who lived in the area year round. Despite an early era in the development of Dade County, when Jews were restricted from patronizing certain places and living in certain areas, they managed to forge ahead and create a strong economic niche for themselves in the community. They owned the major hotels, restaurants, night clubs, and places such as gas stations, truck stops, cab companies, food distributors, tire companies, drug stores, grocery stores, department stores, hospitals, and other businesses.

It was an area that thrived on small businesses and many were named after their counterparts in the north. Looking through the voluminous collection of photographs, one finds Barbara Walter’s father and his night club on Miami Beach, or Dubrow’s Cafeteria, Junior’s or Pumpernick’s, all names from the New York area. An emigrant from the north never had to feel home sick, as he had the names he was familiar with right on his door step.

How does this add to our knowledge of Greater Miami? The book displays an array of visual documentation, much of which has never before been published, beginning with the arrival of Isidor Cohen, who first came to Miami in 1896. Whilst most of the people and buildings are long gone, they are now permanently recorded for us in this small jewel of a book and can become part of our collective memory of what once was.

To Be Continued on 12/7/2008

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