Why, in a way, is this one of South Beach’s most relevant museums? Many people don’t realize that the today world-celebrated Deco District was built back in the 1920s and 30s essentially as a Jewish ghetto. Since developersin what were then more desirable nabesrefused to sell to the sons and daughters of Abraham (illustrated here by a sign quoting a charming local hospitality industry boasting, “Always a View, Never a Jew”). However, this pair of buildings, including a 1929 former synagogue, doesn’t dwell on the negative but focuses more on the myriad, sometimes surprising, ways Jews have made their mark not just in Miami but throughout Florida all the way back to the conversos thought to have arrived with Ponce de León; groundbreakers also include mobster Meyer Lansky, whose name is even on a stained-glass window on the right-hand side of the main exhibition hall, and the first Jewish Miss America, Bess Myerson, who donated photos and memorabilia. It’s a modest collection of pictures and text with a smattering of multimedia and original artifacts, but it’s likely to be an eye-opener.
- David Paul Appell