Editor’s Wrapup: Not Your Grandmother’s Florida
My first trip to Florida was in 1979. I had been invited to speak at a conference of the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County, held at The Breakers. The beautiful beachfront hotel was still remembered as a place that had once barred Jewish guests. And even though Jews had long since been welcomed, the memory lingered; the event at which I spoke was, my host told me, the first major Jewish conference ever held there.
From Palm Beach I drove down to Miami Beach. The retirees bantering in Yiddish on Collins Avenue reminded me of my grandparents, who had described Florida in the winter letters they had sent me when I was growing up in Michigan.
On that introductory trip, I saw glimpses of three distinct Jewish eras in Florida. There was the echo of the early years of genteel anti-Semitism; a clear vision of the middle years, when the community was made up overwhelmingly of retirees who had spent most of their lives in the north; and a new era—symbolized by a Jewish first at a once-forbidden hotel—that saw the emergence of younger community leaders who had lived much of their lives in Florida.
As I’ve aged, Florida’s Jewish face has gotten progressively younger. The retirees are still there, but overall the community now has the full Jewish life cycle, from brit mila to burial. For reminders of anti-Semitism, you have to go to a museum. In fact, a fourth Jewish era has dawned. South Florida has become, statistically, the most Jewish urban region in America, surpassing New York. The Jewish center of gravity has shifted from Miami Beach toward Palm Beach County which, because of the explosive growth, is now served by two Jewish federations.
In this issue, our writers take a look at the Jewish state of Florida, its growth and development, its landscape and some of the traditions Jews have brought from other climes. If you haven’t been to Florida in a while, you may want to make the trip. It’s not the same place.