Jewish Museums and Centers Throughout the Sunshine State
Florida’s Jewish heritage is notable. From the Jewish Museum of Florida in Miami Beach to the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, there has been a significant Jewish presence throughout the Sunshine State for centuries.
It began in 1763, when three Jewish gentlemen selected Pensacola for their new home. In the next century, Moses Elias Levy built a refuge for Jews in Micanopy and also served as Florida’s first Education Commissioner. His son, David Levy Yulee, helped write the Florida’s Constitution in 1841 and was elected Florida’s first U.S. Senator in 1845. Levy County and the city of Yulee honor the family.
Today, the Jewish Museum of Florida in Miami Beach presents this rich history in a restored 1936 Art Deco synagogue listed on the National Register of Historic Places. With nearly 80 stained glass windows, a copper dome, marble bimah and many Art Deco features including chandeliers and sconces, this museum shares the story of the Jewish experience in the Sunshine State. Its premier publication, the “Florida Jewish Heritage Trail,â? features 250 historic sites in the state.
In St. Petersburg, the Florida Holocaust Museum plays an important educational role, skillfully telling the story of the Holocaust through art, photographs and historical artifacts. Its permanent exhibit, “History, Heritage and Hope,â? is a compelling report of notable individuals “who confronted the extremes of hatred and persecution in their homes and communities.â? This museum's extensive educational outreach is the basis of the curriculum taught in Florida schools today.
In Maitland, the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center provides an overview history of the atrocities and serves as a memorial to the victims.Through photographs, artifacts, art and short film presentations, the museum focuses on 12 major themes of the Holocaust. One standout area is the importance of the early years of Nazi rule, when periodic acts of social, political and economic discrimination obscured the gradual nature of the ultimate anti-Semitic goals.
In Naples, the Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida has a treasury of 1,000 World War II and Holocaust artifacts and original photographs. A hallmark is its documentation of the personal experience of more than 50 Southwest Florida residents who survived the genocide. Each year, the museum does outreach to more than 23,000 students and receives more than 5,000 visitors. The origin of this unique institution was a middle school classroom exhibit created by students and teachers studying the Holocaust. It also conducts the International Holocaust Remembrance Service, a community-wide interfaith program with other area organizations.
Floridians of the Jewish faith are part of the fabric of Florida, a dynamic, multicultural and multiethnic state comprised of people who have sought liberty, freedom and sunshine on our sandy shores.