South Florida's Jewish Community Grows Beyond Its Retirees

Latin Americans, Orthodox Families Bring Diversity

An Orthodox Jewish woman takes in some sun in Miami.
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An Orthodox Jewish woman takes in some sun in Miami.

By Uriel Heilman

Published February 11, 2014.
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(JTA) — At the Urban Rustic Cafe in a strip mall in this city located between Miami to the south and the Palm Beach retirement communities to the north, the line for a table stretches out the door and into the parking lot.

Inside the kosher establishment, the volume is loud. An elderly Orthodox man sitting near the window leans across a table to hear what his wife is saying. At the dessert counter, a gaggle of boys with tzitzis fringes hanging from their shirts have their noses pressed against the glass.

Nearby, two stylishly dressed 30-something women chatter away in Spanish, one of them rocking a young baby. As the blond waitress trying to serve them bumps hips with a busboy, the two have a brief exchange in rapid-fire Hebrew.

Welcome to South Florida’s Jewish community, an amalgam of retirees, Latin American immigrants, Orthodox families, Holocaust survivors and plenty more.

More than half a million Jews live in three counties there – Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach – making the region America’s third-largest Jewish metro area behind only New York and Los Angeles. Add in the smaller Jewish communities elsewhere in Florida, and one of every 10 American Jews resides in the Sunshine State.

While many are retirees, Florida isn’t just a place for elderly Jews. A combination of factors – lower costs of living than in the Northeast, the lack of state income tax, Jewish institutional infrastructure, the draw of Miami to Latin American immigrants and, yes, the weather – has helped turn Florida into one of America’s largest, most diverse and most unusual Jewish communities.

“I think today we are no longer simply a retirement community,” said Jewish demographer Ira Sheskin, a professor of geography at the University of Miami.

The Jews of South Florida boast several distinctions. Palm Beach County has the oldest median Jewish age in the country, 70, according to the last Jewish community study of the area. The southern part of Palm Beach County has the highest density in the country of Jews proportionate to the total population: 49 percent, according to the same survey.


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