Sunday, December 7, 2008

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

My experience in Greater Miami was in a mostly non-Jewish area, adjacent to the village of Miami Shores. My father had been living in Miami Beach since 1928, but chose to settle in this newly built up area after World War II when housing for veterans became available there.

The book brought back many memories, especially of the store-front synagogue, Beth Emeth, where my parents were founding members and I received my Jewish education. There were also the businesses where my family either knew the owners or patronized them. Our neighborhood stores included a photographic studio, a jewelry store, a bar which enticed the best musicians who were appearing at the hotels on Miami Beach, an ice cream parlor, a small department store, a truck terminal, and Food Fair, the major grocery chain in the county, all owned by Jews.

One of the photographs sparked a particularly vivid memory for me. It was a photo of the Seventh Avenue Truck Terminal on Northwest 103rd Street and 7th Avenue which was adjacent to I-95 in unincorporated Dade County. I never knew or, perhaps did not remember, that this thriving place had a Jewish owner, Edward Weintraub, who later parlayed this business into the Gold Coast Truck Rental and the huge International Carriers. However, I do remember the thousands of times I stopped to say hello to him as I rode my bicycle by the Terminal on my way to grammar school or to the ice cream parlor next door.

It was an amazing, fascinating and busy place to a child what with bright lights and huge noisy trucks and other heavy equipment rumbling in and out at all times of the night and day. It even had a two story building where the truckers could catch a nap on their way to their next stop. In that somewhat sleepy and secure era, a child could ride by the Terminal and linger to say hello to the regulars or a teenager could stop and get kerosene for their lawn mower without being afraid.

Although most, if not all, of the Jews in that area moved away, first to North Miami Beach and Aventura, then Hollywood, and finally to Boca Raton, their contributions to the development of Greater Miami are now given a fitting place on the pages of Bramson’s book.

An interesting sidelight in the book is the mention of the community’s dark underbelly in the person of Madame Sherry, one of the most infamous and legendary bordello owners in the entire south. In an otherwise, largely law-abiding, productive and charitable community, Madame Sherry is the exception. Given the information in Bramson’s book, which includes photographs of her bordello and her original name, as well as mention of the book that was written about her life and banned, one can trace who she actually was genealogically.

Using the vast resources of Ancestry.com, one can determine that Madame Sherry was actually born Rebecca Levitch in Louisville, KY, in January, 1893. She was the daughter of Robert Levitch, a peddler, who came to America in 1879, from Russia. The records tell of the migratory patterns of Robert Levitch as he and his family moved from town to town such as Louisville, KY, Memphis, TN, and St. Louis, MO. He and his wife Leah had fourteen children, only seven of whom survived. A typical Jewish family you might say. However, it was their daughter Rebecca who left the fold of respectability and who brought the scrutiny of the law upon their family, despite her use of names such as Ruth Barnes and Rose Miller.

Much more is in store for the reader of Bramson’s book as one leafs through the photographs and relives the historical presence of what was once known as the Jewish Riviera. More about this book can be found here. In addition, Bramson has also written a number of other books about various sections of Dade County, Florida, and is writing a new book about Miami Beach.

Further, you can view information and a searchable photographic archive regarding the Miami Beach/Miami Jewish communities at the Jewish Museum of Florida. The City of Miami Beach also has a searchable photographic archive here.

Forthcoming on JewishGen will be a shtetlink site for Miami Beach.


© Ann Rabinowitz, 2008

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