Just 5 minutes down the road from the beautiful loft-style, luxury condominiums at 88Hundred Collins in Surfside, Florida, scheduled to open in late 2018, is the memorable Jewish Museum of Florida, located at 301 Washington Avenue in Miami Beach.
If you’re not Jewish, you’ll find not only a fascinating history of Jews in Miami Beach and surrounding areas, but also exhibits on arts, crafts and culture and history, including the near-universal experience of immigration. If you are Jewish, you will probably discover things about the history of Jews in South Florida that you didn’t know.
For instance, you may be surprised to learn that, of 31 U.S. Jewish communities of 50,000 or more people, six are in the South, and include Broward County, South Palm Beach, West Palm Beach and Miami. And that two of the most prominent contributors to the synagogue that now houses the museum were the famous Mafia accountant Meyer Lansky and the former Miss America Bess Meyerson.
Located in two adjacent buildings that were formerly synagogues, the Jewish Museum of Florida is on the National Register of Historic Places and is accredited by the American Association of Museums, a distinction enjoyed by less than 5% of this country’s museums. The main building, built in 1936, features Art Deco influences, a beautiful copper dome and over 80 stained glass windows.
One of the synagogues, built in 1929 at 311 Washington Avenue, was the first permitted in Miami Beach. The second, at 301 Washington, was erected in response to the needs of the growing congregation. The museum, now housed in both buildings, opened in 1995, and has been a must-see attraction in the Miami area ever since.
Its mission is “to collect, preserve and interpret material evidence of the Florida Jewish experience from when Jews were first allowed to settle in 1763 and up to the present and to interpret this history in the context of the American Jewish experience.”
The museum’s core exhibit, “MOSAIC: Jewish Life in Florida,” includes more than 500 photos and 200 artifacts that reflect the Jewish experience. In addition, the museum curates and cares for more than 100,000 historic items that range from the buildings themselves to a complete bound set of The Jewish Floridian, a statewide Jewish newspaper that published from 1928 to 1990.
It also features such revolving attractions as the two current exhibitions, “Hot Couture: Florida Jews on the Fashion Scene, 1980s to Today” and “Stitching History from the Holocaust,” an exhibit which displays the letters, sketches and dresses from a couple who perished in the Holocaust. While at the museum, don’t miss the museum shop with its wide range of items for sale, including jewelry, toys, souvenirs, cards, books and more.
The museum is free, handicapped-accessible and open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It offers all visitors guided tours with museum-trained docents.