FLORIDA


FLORIDA
FLORIDA, most southeasterly U.S. state, with a warm climate and long coastlines on the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. This combination creates a desirable quality of life that has attracted large numbers of people of all ages, among them many Jews. Florida (in 2005) boasted more than 17 million residents and had diversified its economy to become an important center of tourism, beef cattle, citrus, and space technology. Much of the growth in the Sunshine State since the end of World War II has been in its southern portions and South Florida had the third largest concentration of Jews in the U.S. after the New York and Los Angeles metropolitan areas. Florida was discovered by Ponce de Leon for Spain in 1513 (21 years after the Spanish Inquisition) and some conversos may have come with him, as they did with Columbus. America's first permanent settlement was in St. Augustine in 1565. There are Sephardi names among those who lived there and evidence suggests that Pedro Menendez Marques, the third Spanish governor of Florida (1577–89) may have been a Converso. The perception that Jews were late arrivals in Florida parallels the belief that ascribes the founding of the U.S. to the pilgrims of Plymouth Rock. Current documentation shows that Jews have been allowed to live in Florida for nearly 250 years. Until the mid-18th century Florida was for Catholics only. The Treaty of Paris (1762), which concluded the French and Indian War, gave Florida to the British and Louisiana to the Spanish. Jews living in Louisiana had to move. In 1763 three Sephardi Jews came from New Orleans to Pensacola: Samuel Israel, Joseph de Palacios, and Alexander Salomon. (Alexander Salomon may have been related to Haym salomon , who helped finance the American Revolution.) Although Florida was returned to Spain following the American Revolution (1783), the Spanish needed settlers in   the territory, so they tolerated a tiny Jewish presence. From the mid-18th century until Florida achieved statehood in 1845, Jews continued to trickle into northern Florida. The "Architect of Statehood" was a Jew, david levy yulee , a son of pioneer moses levy . Eighty-one years before the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland (1897), Sephardi Jew Moses Elias Levy embarked on his own "Zion" plan to resettle oppressed European Jews in Florida. Born in Morocco in 1782, Moses Levy was descended from one of the many Jewish families who, having been expelled from the Iberian Peninsula at the end of the 15th century, found refuge in northern Africa. Raised in Gibraltar, Levy made his way to St. Thomas, V.I., in 1800. There he worked in the lumber business, accumulating a considerable fortune. He became interested in Florida and, in 1819, purchased 92,000 acres in the north central region. Envisioning a haven for persecuted Jews, Levy called his settlement in Micanopy "Pilgrimage Plantation." He hired frederick warburg , a member of the noted German Jewish banking family, to help him recruit Jewish settlers. Young Warburg, along with at least five other German Jewish families, lived on the Plantation. Included among them was Levy's son David, who became Florida's first U.S. senator. Moses Levy built a plantation house and houses for the settlers' families, as well as a blacksmith shop, stable, sugar mill, sawmill, and corn house. He brought in sugar cane, fruit trees, and seeds. In an effort to create a utopian Jewish settlement, Levy included among his projects a plan for the abolition of slavery, public schools, and a Jewish school. The 1,000-acre plantation lasted from 1822 to 1835, when it was burned down by the Seminoles at the outbreak of the Second Seminole Indian War. Sustaining the plantation had been a challenge; in early 19th century Florida, it was virtually in the middle of nowhere. And the urban backgrounds of most of the Jewish settlers made adaptation to a rural outback difficult. As Levy said, "It is not easy to transform old clothes men into practical farmers." Moses Levy left Florida a lasting legacy. Divorced, he had brought with him to Florida two of his four children, Elias and David. Elias was sent to Harvard; David boarded with the Moses Meyer family in Norfolk to get his Jewish education and then came to Florida by 1827 to manage some of his father's properties. He pursued law and was admitted to the Florida bar in 1832. David Levy became extremely active in politics. He helped draft Florida's constitution and eventually was sent to the U.S. Congress as the representative of the Territory of Florida (1841), where he argued for statehood. Being the first Jew to serve in the U.S. Congress, Levy faced discrimination when John Quincy Adams referred to him as the "alien Jew delegate." With less than one hundred Jews in the state, David Levy was elected to the U.S. Senate when Florida became a state in 1845. He officially added the name of his father's Sephardi ancestry, Yulee. Yulee operated a 5,000-acre sugar plantation on the Homosassa River and another in Alachua County. He established a residence in Fernandina, where, in the 1850s, he organized and planned Florida's first railroad linking the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. On March 1, 1861, the first cross-state train of the Atlantic & Gulf Railroad left Fernandina at 7:15 A.M. and reached the outskirts of Cedar Key at 4 P.M., with eight stops in between. Yulee resigned from the Senate when Florida seceded from the Union in early 1861. During the Civil War he served in the Confederate Congress. The war took a heavy personal toll. Union forces burned Yulee's plantation in Homosassa, his railroad lay in ruins, and, after the war, he was briefly imprisoned by the Union. Following his release, Yulee rebuilt his railroad, its operation continuing until the 1930s. Yulee moved to Washington, D.C., in 1880. He died six years later and is buried in Washington. Scholars contend there is no evidence that David Levy Yulee converted from Judaism, even though he married a Christian. Florida's Levy County and the town of Yulee (Nassau County) are among the places in Florida named for him. Until 1822, Jews who lived in Florida came from somewhere else. The earliest known Jewish births are a girl (Virginia Myers) in Pensacola in 1822 and a boy (George Dzialynski) in Jacksonville in 1857. In that same year (1857), also in Jacksonville, Jews built the first Jewish cemetery in Florida. And in 1874 B'nai B'rith had a chapter in Pensacola. Florida's first synagogue was constructed in Pensacola in 1876. By the end of the 19th century, there were six Jewish congregations and five Jewish cemeteries in Florida. Floridian Jews served on both sides of the Civil War. Following the Civil War, Jews began migrating south, settling in Tampa, orlando , Ocala, and even Key West. The west coast city of Ft. Myers, founded in 1886, was named for a Jew – Abraham C. Myers, a West Point graduate and a descendant of the first rabbi of Charleston, South Carolina. Myers had served as quartermaster during the Second Seminole Indian War. In 1879 German Jew Henry Brash was elected mayor of Marianna in north Florida, the first known of more than 150 Jews to serve their communities in this capacity. David Sholtz, a Russian Jew, became Florida's governor in 1933. Miami's richard stone became the state's second Jewish U.S. senator in 1974 after serving as Florida's secretary of state. Scores of Jews have served in the state legislature and in the U.S. Congress. In 2005 Florida was represented in Washington by Debbie Wasserman Schultz and robert wexler . More than 250 Jews have served as judges in Florida. In 1915 Jacksonville Jew Ben Chepenik wrote his relatives in Massachusetts, "Sell everything; come quickly to Florida, the land of milk and honey; you can walk down the streets and pick citrus." And many did come. For Jews, Florida offered a variety of occupational opportunities. Some transferred their traditional dry goods businesses to Florida; others used the state's resources to develop or expand new ideas. In Florida, Jews became ranchers, farmers, cigar makers, architects, developers, hoteliers, artists, writers, scientists, retailers, educators, doctors, lawyers, civic leaders, and more.   Jewish communities in Florida, with earliest dates of establishment. Population figures for 2001. Jewish communities in Florida, with earliest dates of establishment. Population figures for 2001.   Jews owned the largest shade tobacco-packing factory in Quincy, near Tallahassee. Saul Snyder, a Russian Jew who immigrated to St. Augustine in 1904, founded the Florida Cattlemen's Association at a time when cattle was the state's major industry. The first Miss Florida was Jewish (1885). Much more recently, marshall nirenberg of Orlando was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology for breaking the genetic code (1968) and isaac bashevis singer – routinely associated with New York City but a Florida resident as well – received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1978. Four Jews have served on the Supreme Court of Florida, including as chief justice: Ray Ehrlich, Arthur England, Gerald Kogan, and Barbara Pariente. Prior to the 20th century, most Jewish settlement in Florida was in the north or Key West (Key West was a port of entry for some European immigrants). But the development of railroads made accessible southern regions, and Jews headed south. Jewish migration throughout the state increased, but numbers increased exponentially after World War II, especially in Miami-Dade County. Air conditioning made Florida comfortable for year-round life. The first South Florida community to host Jews was probably West Palm Beach, where Jews settled in 1892 when the railroad arrived there. Growth was slow at first; as late as 1940, the Jewish population in palm beach county was only 1,000. In 2005 the Jewish population in Palm Beach County was the second largest in the state at about 220,000; the Boca Raton metropolitan area was more than 50% Jewish. Many of the Jews who first settled in West Palm Beach were among the earliest settlers of miami . Miami, founded in 1896, was difficult to reach until Henry Flagler extended his railroad southward. But by the mid-1890s, the railroad rendered Miami and sites south accessible and Jews migrated accordingly. Other Jews migrated from Key West to Miami in the 1890s when a peddler's tax was imposed there. Some stayed after serving in the Spanish-American War. The first Jews settled on Miami Beach in 1913. After reaching its Jewish population zenith in 1975 (250,000), Miami-Dade County declined to about 113,000 in 2005 as elderly Jewish residents died and more recent retirees moved north, partly due to "white flight." At present, broward county , not Miami-Dade, has the largest number of Jews. Just as the center of the Jewish population moved south from jacksonville in the 1930s, it is now moving north. Jews came to escape persecution in Europe, for economic opportunity, to join family members, to enjoy the climate, for their health, and to retire. In the 21st century, South Florida was an area stretching from Palm Beach to Miami where 15% of the population was Jewish. Most Jews came from other places in the United States, with considerable subsequent migration from Latin America as Jews were impacted by politics and economics. Jews have contributed in multiple ways to the development of the state, striving to maintain Jewish culture and institutions even as they've adjusted to the special nature of the place. Sixteen percent of the American Jewish community lived in Florida in 2005. In the 1890s the Florida Jewish population was about 2,500; by the 1950s, the population had grown to 70,000; in 2005 it was nearly 850,000, about 5% of the general population, and still growing. Outside of South Florida, communities with noteworthy Jewish populations include Orlando, 35,000; Tampa, 25,000; St. Petersburg-Clearwater, 20,000; Sarasota, 17,000; Jacksonville, 13,000; Ft. Myers, 8,000; Naples, 6,000; Cocoa, Rockledge, Titusville, 6,000; Daytona, Ormond and environs, 5,500; Tallahassee, 4,400; Pensacola, 900 and Key West, 550. (See separate entries on other Jewish communities.) In 2005 there were more than 350 congregations, 14 Federations that raised $82 million annually, 15 Jewish community centers, six university Judaic Studies programs, five Jewish homes for the aged, and eight Jewish newspapers. In Miami Beach were the Jewish Museum of Florida, a nationally recognized Jewish hospital (Mt. Sinai), and a major Holocaust Memorial. There was Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg as well as other Holocaust memorials and documentation and education centers around the state. The March of the Living and the Alexander Muss High School in Israel, two programs with international implications, began and are based in South Florida. There were nearly 100 kosher restaurants. And there was the full array of Jewish organizations, from the American Jewish Committee to the Zionist Organization   of America. Few would deny that this was a significant American Jewish community. (Marcia Jo Zerivitz (2nd ed.)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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