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Miami Nice -- and Naughty

August 23, 2007 By:
Aaron Dalton, JE Feature
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Miami Beach's Holocaust Memorial
Take a walk some Friday evening on Collins Avenue, the main drag of Miami Beach. Up around 40th Street, you won't see many joggers, bicyclists or sun-worshippers in bikinis. (They're all on the other side of the towering condominiums and resorts, enjoying the beautiful beaches and boardwalks.)

But you will see Orthodox Jews dressed modestly despite the heat, walking to and from services with their families.

These pedestrians are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Miami's thriving and varied Jewish scene that features dozens of synagogues, scores of kosher restaurants and a handful of mikvot.

The time to go? Most folks from the Philadelphia region wait until the weather gets nippy before zipping south for a little sun and fun, but visiting Miami in late summer has its advantages -- thinner crowds on the beach, less traffic, shorter waits for restaurants and lower rates on hotel rooms.

Food-lovers have another reason to visit the city in August or September -- to experience Miami Spice 2007 (www.ILoveMiamiSpice.com), when more than 70 of the town's top restaurants -- including Chef Cindy Hutson's award-winning Ortanique on the Mile, located in Miami's tony Coral Gables neighborhood -- serve three-course meals for the price of a single entrée on a normal night.

If you've ever wanted to spend the evening in an art gallery, look no further than the Four Seasons Miami (www. fourseasons.com/miami; 305-358-3535). This gleaming high-rise downtown is stuffed with an amazing collection of original art work, including several sculptures by famed Colombian artist Fernando Botero. True to its name, the in-house restaurant Acqua (Italian for "water") offers a selection of no fewer than 11 types of bottled waters.

Prefer a beachfront hotel? The Palms on Miami Beach (www.thepalmshotel. com; 1-800-550-0505) offers easy access to the restaurants and nightlife of South Beach, while still being far enough removed from the hubbub to let you get a good night's sleep and wake up to a quiet stretch of white sand beach along the blue ocean.

Just 10 blocks north of the hotel is an Orthodox enclave with some kosher shops and Judaica stores scattered along 41st Street.

Jewish settlement in Miami Beach was once limited to the area south of Fifth Street. Although anti-discrimination laws erased such limits long ago, the historical roots of the community can still be seen in the location of the Jewish Museum of Florida (www.jewishmuseum.com), which sits at the corner of Third Street and Washington Avenue, housed in a former 1936 Art Deco-style synagogue.

Just this year, the museum expanded into a neighboring building that was the first synagogue on Miami Beach when it opened in 1929.

Formed in 1995 to provide a permanent home to the traveling exhibit of "MOSAIC: Jewish Life in Florida," the museum tells a heartwarming story of Jewish success and life in the Sunshine State.

From 1763 -- when the first Jew settled in Pensacola -- the community has grown to hundreds of thousands strong, with Jews reaching the top of their professions in sports, business, the arts and politics. Indeed, Florida's first senator, David Levy Yulee, was a Jew.

Browse the exhibits at your own speed or take advantage of the volunteer docents on hand to give tours of the collection. It's best to call in advance (305-672-5044) before scheduling your visit to get the latest news on temporary exhibits and docent availability.

Focused as it is on a celebration of Jewish life in Florida, the museum makes little mention of the Holocaust. That role is filled by Miami Beach's dedicated Holocaust Memorial (www.holocaustmmb. org) at 1933 Meridian Ave., built from Jerusalem stone and black granite.

The centerpiece of the memorial consists of a gigantic bronze arm tattooed with a number from Auschwitz reaching toward the sky. To the arm cling many smaller figures -- men, women and children -- caught up in the conflagration, hanging on to each other, swept up and simultaneously falling. The memorial also encompasses a Memorial Wall listing with dignity names of Shoah victims.

Where the Holocaust Memorial mourns death, another more recent Miami institution celebrates life. In 2005, Naomi Wilzig opened the doors of the World Erotic Art Museum (1-866-969-WEAM, www. weam.com), at 1205 Washington Ave., in Miami Beach.

How does a 72-year-old Jewish grandmother who grew up in an Orthodox household where discussions of sexuality were verboten come to run a 12,000-square-foot museum billed modestly as the "greatest erotic art collection in the world"?

A lifelong antique collector, Wilzig started searching for erotic artwork more than 15 years ago when her eldest son asked her to find him a conversation piece for his bachelor apartment. She soon became hooked.

With a collection that runs the gamut from tame to risqué, WEAM is off-limits to anyone younger than 18 years old. Among the more than 3,000 pieces of art on display, visitors will find depictions of biblical stories (Adam and Eve, Noah's Ark), as well as pieces by Israeli artists such as Haim Gross and Uri Lifshitz. There is even one painting attributed to Chagall.

As for those who question the propriety of such art, Wilzig counters that erotic art has been created throughout the ages.

For more information on visiting Miami, go to: www.MiamiandBeaches.com.

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