It should come as no surprise that the Jewish community in South Beach has often defied the status quo.Barbara Capitman was a Jewish woman who defied the establishment. Capitman fought city officials “tooth and nail” to preserve the historical buildings that light up Miami Beach and make it the second most popular place in Florida. If not for her vision and perseverance, there would not be an Art Deco District. The over 800 Art Deco buildings that remain are testaments to Capitman’s defiance. The Art Deco District was the first 20th century neighborhood placed on the National Register of Historic Places much to her efforts. The Miami Design Preservation League continues Capitman’s legacy. What’s more, Henry Hohauser, an architect who was Jewish, built over 300 Art Deco buildings. Hohauser lived in an era when signs “Gentiles Only” and “No Jews Allowed” were commonplace in South Beach. Jews were not even allowed to live beyond 5th Street. Visit one of Hohauser’s buildings and experience first hand the story of Jewish culture in Florida. Hohauser’s building, once a synagogue, is now the home of the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU. Eighty stained glass windows, a copper dome, and chandeliers are reminders of the days when Hohauser and others worshipped in the synagogue. Taste and see the Jewish experience during the Jewish Food Tour that leaves from the Museum. Learn how the Jewish community thrived despite many obstacles. Facing off with those who thought South Beach should be known only as a place for “fun in the sun,” Holocaust survivors garnered public support for the building of the Holocaust Memorial. A memorial garden and a sobering sculpture recall those who died and remind all who visit: “we shall NEVER forget.” The impact of Jewish culture permeates every aspect of the city. Mount Sinai Hospital was built because Jewish doctors weren’t given staff privileges at area hospitals. The Bass Museum scheduled to reopen in the fall, is named in honor of John and Johanna Bass, Jewish immigrants who bequeathed over 500 works of art to the City of Miami Beach. It is said that obstacles are opportunities. Fighting bias and opposition, the Jewish community realized that no means yes in South Beach.
I have a cousin who is really into genealogy. He has dedicated an entire room in his house to his research. He looks at graveyards, court records and talks to family elders to make sense out of our family history. If you talk to him, he rambles on about names and lineage as if speaking a foreign language! There is real value in what he does. He is creating a Mosaic of my family history. We are learning who we are.
The American story is a like a Mosaic. Mosaics are made of many pieces called “tesserae.” Like puzzles one piece, one missing tesserae affects the entire story or image. How we see ourselves are results of the Mosaic.
The Jewish Museum Florida FIU has a permanent collection called “Mosaic.” The collection tells the story of Jewish life in Florida for more than 250 years.
The story begins in 1763 when Jews were first allowed in Florida and shares their contributions to the development of the “Sunshine State.”
At the museum, watch an introductory film and see exhibits in the former 1936 synagogue designed by noted Art Deco architect, Henry Hohauser.
Explore the temporary exhibit, “The Seventh Day: Revisiting Shabbat” in the Jonathan Symons Building.
Get a snack at Bessie’s Bistro. It was named after the first Jewish “Miss America,” Bess Myerson. Don’t miss the display in the Bistro that celebrates Miami Beach’s Centennial.
Learning about each part of our Mosaic helps us appreciate the values and cultures in our nation.
For more information on the Jewish Museum Florida FIU, visit http://www.jmof.fiu.edu.