If your second thought (after “hot”) when someone says Miami is “lots of Jews,” then you might be surprised to learn that in the not-so-distant past, the city was not always welcoming to Jews.

Until 1763, Florida was Spanish territory, and entry to Miami to practicing Jews was thus forbidden because of the Inquisition. While Jews did slowly settle in other areas of Florida, the first Jew to settle permanently in the Miami area is believed to have been Isador Cohen, who arrived in February 1896. Quickly successful in his mercantile efforts, Cohen was actually one of the signatories of the city’s charter, which was signed on July 28, 1896. He also helped organize Miami’s first congregation which was called B’nai Zion (in honor of benefactor Morris Zion).

In 1913, a bridge was built between the mainland and the island that is now Miami Beach and South Beach. Choice beach-front real estate was available for development, but developers prohibited the sale of land to non-Caucasians and anyone of “Hebrew or Syrian” origin.  The only exception was at the southern end of Miami Beach, south of Fifth Street.

In 1921, the Nemo opened. It was the city’s first kosher hotel. As development boomed, the area attracted top architects who created the unique nautical art deco designs, many of which have been preserved to this day.

While Jews slowly gained more access to Miami property as land changed hands and the initial restrictive clauses were forgotten, it was not until 1949 that the Florida legislature made it illegal for real estate companies and hotels to discriminate.

In addition to tourists who were entranced by the surf and sun and chose to relocate, and the retirees who made their winter plans permanent, Miami also attracted a large number of Jewish servicemen who had been stationed there during World War II. Miami became home to a large population of Cuban Jews as well, who left their homes when Fidel Castro assumed control in 1960.

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