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The Jewish Community of Sarasota, FL

Sarasota

A city in Sarasota County, Florida, United States.

21st CENTURY

In 2001, the Jewish population of Sarasota was made up of approximately 12,200 full-time residents, with an additional 3,300 seasonal residents.

By 2019, according to a demographic study conducted by the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University, the number of Jewish individuals had increased by 86%, double the regional population growth rate. There were 17,100 Jewish households that included 25,400 Jewish adults and 3,400 Jewish children.  The community had become younger with the median age going down from 69 to 64 and the number of children more than doubling.  Of the children, 25% attended Jewish preschool, and 10% of those K-8 were enrolled in some type of Jewish educational program.

The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee lists 13 congregations in its directory, ranging from Humanistic Judaism to Chabad.  There is a small Jewish day school, the Hershorin-Schiff Community School, that describes itself as inclusive, progressive, and pluralistic, welcoming all faiths.

HISTORY

Sarasota was founded in 1855. The first event of Jewish interest connected with the city was in 1865, when the Jewish Judah P. Benjamin, Secretary of State for the Confederacy, hid there for several weeks after the defeat of the South in the Civil War.  He subsequently fled to England where he became a successful barrister.

The city grew slowly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The first Jews in the area settled in Arcadia, 40 miles inland. Simon Rosin, a peddler arrived there is 1905 and opened a dry goods store.

Phillip H. Levy is the first Jew known to have made a home in Sarasota.  He opened a retail clothing business in 1913 and became active in civic life. When 20 Jews joined to establish a Jewish Community Center in 1925, Levy became the first president.

 In 1927 the community began building a synagogue on land donated by the city. John Ringling, the circus entrepreneur who had just moved the winter headquarters of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus to Sarasota, although a non-Jew, made the single largest donation to the building fund.  The new synagogue took the name Temple Beth Sholom and opened in time for Rosh Hashanah services in 1928. In the early 1930’s, Joseph Idelson, a founding member of the congregation, obtained land as a gift from the city for a Jewish cemetery.

In the 1940’s Temple Beth Shalom attempted to accommodate Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform members.  In the 1950’s however, the different groups began to split.  An Orthodox minyan was founded in a private home.  A liberal faction left and established a Reform congregation, Temple Emanu-el in 1956.  It received a charter from the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1957 and erected a building in 1961.

Some local Jews found employment with the Ringling Circus as clowns and acrobats.  Jack Earle (born Jacob Rheuben Erlich) spent time in Sarasota performing as a giant.  He was 8 feet, six inches tall (259 centimeters), and also played on the Sarasota Junior College basketball team during the 1932-1933 season.

Most of the Jewish settlers became merchants or started businesses, although some engaged in real estate and agriculture. By 1930, downtown Sarasota had a cleaners, bakery, grocery, furniture store, tailor shop, men’s store, ladies’ store, and two department stores owned and operated by Jews.

The community grew after World War II when Jews, attracted by the climate, moved to the area to work, or retire, either as full-time or part-time winter residents.  Some Jewish veterans who had been stationed nearby during the War also settled in the city. Jewish land developers played a role in the growth of the region.

Jews became active in the civic and cultural life of Saratoga and contributed to many non-Jewish institutions and programs. David Cohen, who served as Saratoga’s first Jewish mayor from 1964 to 1966, was greatly involved in the development of the Florida West Coast Symphony Orchestra.

Jewish community and human services were gradually established. In 1959 the Sarasota Jewish Community Council was organized.  In 1980, it changed its name to the Saratoga Jewish Federation, and in 1982 became the Saratoga-Manatee Jewish Federation. The area’s first Jewish newspaper, the Chronicle, began publishing in 1971. The Jewish Family Service was established in 1984.

Between 1975 and 1987 the Jewish population doubled from 4,200 to 8,400, and continued to grow through the 1990s.

Place Type:
City
ID Number:
21660556
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
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Related items:

Jews of Sarasota-Manatee, Florida

Kimberly Sheintal, president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Southwest Florida, and author of Jews of Sarasota-Manatee (Images of America) [Paperback, Arcadia Publishing, January 28, 2013], presents the history of the Jewish community of Sarasota and nearby Manatee, Florida, USA. The first Jew arrived in Sarasota in 1913 followed by others and in 1925 they established the Jewish Community Center of Sarasota. By the 1950s, some of Sarasota's most prominent citizens were Jewish. They played an enormous role in creating Sarasota's businesses, charitable organizations, and cultural assets. In 2021 the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee had 13 Jewish congregations and a thriving Jewish population.

This online presentation via Zoom was part of Sunday Salon: Jews of Sarasota-Manatee, an event organized by Temple Beth Am, Pinecrest, Miami, Florida, and the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Miami on Sunday, January 31, 2021

The Oster Visual Documentation Center, ANU - Museum of the Jewish People, courtesy of Kimberly Sheintal

United States of America (USA)

A country in North America

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 5,700,000 out of 325,000,000 (1.7%). United States is the home of the second largest Jewish population in the world. 

Community life is organized in more than 2,000 organizations and 700 federations. Each of the main religious denominators – Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist – has its own national association of synagogues and rabbis. 

American cities (greater area) with largest Jewish populations in 2018:

New York City, NY: 2,000,000
Los Angeles, CA: 662,000
Miami, FL: 555,000
Philadelphia, PA: 275,000
Chicago, IL: 294,000
Boston, MA: 250,000
San Francisco, CA: 304,000
Washington, DC & Baltimore, MY: 217,000

States with largest proportion of Jewish population in 2018 (Percentage of Total Population):

New York: 8.9
New Jersey: 5.8
Florida: 3.3
District of Columbia: 4.3
Massachusetts: 4.1
Maryland: 4
Connecticut: 3.3
California: 3.2
Pennsylvania: 2.3
Illinois: 2.3

Tampa

A major city located on the west coast of Florida, USA.

Tampa is home to a diverse and active Jewish community. According to the Jewish Press of Tampa Bay, the Tampa Bay area is home to over 45,000 Jews, and includes 37 synagogues, 2 Federations, 2 JCCs, 2 family service agencies, 1 day school, and 7 preschools.

The Fort Homer Hesterly Armory, which had been managed and used by the Florida National Guard from 1941 until 2004, was converted into the Bryan Glazer Family JCC, which opened on December 8, 2016. The community center serves Tampa’s educational, cultural, and health needs, and offers programming for preschoolers, as well as a Center for Senior Living.

Hillel Academy, which was originally founded in 1970, is a Jewish day school that serves nearly 200 students in elementary and middle school.

Tampa Jewish Family Services provides programming and assistance “consistent with Jewish values” for individuals and families in need.

Through the second decade of the 21st century, the Jewish population in South Tampa has increased significantly. As of 2011, the neighborhood of Pinellas had the largest Jewish population, at 26,135, followed by Hillsborough with 23,000, and Pasco, with 8,400 Jews.

HISTORY

Tampa is mentioned in records dating from the 16th century as one of the places visited by the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto; a number of references are made to “Juetas” (apostate Jews) and their dealings with the local Native Americans.

The first permanent Jewish resident of Tampa was probably Emmaline Quentz Miley, who arrived in 1846 with her non-Jewish husband. A Jewish community, however, was not established until about 40 years later, when the cigar industry began to develop in the city. The Glogowski, Maas, Kaunitz, Brash, Oppenheimer, Wolf, and Wohl families were among the first Jewish families to settle in Tampa and contributed to the city’s commercial development. Indeed, Herman Glogowski served as the mayor for four terms, from 1886 until 1894. May of the Jews who arrived in Tampa during the late 19th century were merchants who came from Georgia and South Carolina.

By 1894 there were enough Jews living in Tampa to organize a new congregation, Sha’arai Zedek (though the congregation began as Orthodox, it eventually became Reform and joined the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1903). Congregation Rodeph Sholom was formed in 1904 and was Orthodox for many years before becoming Conservative. Congregation Beth Israel was founded in 1917 as the Hebrew Free School (later Knesset Yisrael). Tampa’s Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA) was founded in 1906 (after World War II it would become the Jewish Community Center). The Tampa branch of the National Council of Jewish Women was established by Sarah Brash in 1924.

When World War I (1914-1918) broke out, Tampa was home to the second-largest Jewish community in Florida. The Jewish community became incredibly active in the city’s cultural and civic life. Notable figures during this period included “Salty” Sol Feischman, who began working as a radio sportscaster in 1928 before moving to television in 1957, while also writing sports columns for the Tampa Tribune. Harry Cohen began a 30-year term as a circuit judge (1935-1965) during this period and Rabbi David Zielonka, the rabbi of Congregation Sha’arai Zedek, began teaching at the University of Tampa when it opened in 1931 (in 1963 he would become the head of the Department of Religious Studies). During the interwar period a local chapter of Hadassah was established, as was a youth chapter of Bnai Brith.

The community continued to grow and develop after World War II (1939-1945). By the 1970s a number of new congregations had been established, including Beth Am, Kol Ami, Temple David, Jewish Congregation of Sun City Center, and Young Israel. The Hillel Day School served the educational needs of the city’s Jewish youth, and a number of old-age homes were established to serve the Jewish elderly.

The Jews of Tampa were very active politically. Dr. Richard Hodeswas elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1968; in 1975 he gave the nominating speech for Jimmy Carter at the Florida Democratic Convention. Sandra Warshaw Freedman was elected to the city council in 1974, and in 1986 became the first woman to serve as mayor of Tampa.

In 1970 there were approximately 5,200 Jews living in Tampa. By the early 21st century this number had grown to about 25,000.

St. Petersburg

A city in Pinellas County, Florida, USA. 

Nine years after St. Petersburg became a town in 1892, Henry Schutz emigrated from Germany and opened up a dry goods store, becoming the first Jew in town. Soon, others dribbled in to St. Petersburg and Tarpon Springs.

By the time of the great Florida land boom in the 1920s, there were about 10 Jewish families. Most found the closest Jews across the bay in Tampa. By 1923, the first temple was formed in St. Petersburg.

Nineteen years later, the Army opened an airfield for pilot training and local Jews welcomed Jewish soldiers with public Shabbat dinners and Passover seders. There were also many Jewish doctors at the large Bay Pines Veterans Hospital. By the end of the war, there were about 1,500 Jews living in town.

While anti-Semitism was not unknown, Jews steadily became significant members of the community. Today, for example, the second-term mayor of St. Petersburg is Rick Kriseman. In 1998, The Florida Holocaust Museum moved to downtown St. Petersburg.

The surrounding Pinellas County and greater Tampa region has a large Jewish population, second in the state only to the West Palm Beach to Miami area on the Atlantic Coast.
Most permanent Jewish residents have resettled in the Tampa Bay region from the Northeast and the Midwest, and the Jewish population swells in the winter with thousands of part-time resident “snowbird” Jews from the United States and Canada who enjoy the climate and amenities.

St. Petersburg and Pinellas County have about 27,000 full-time resident Jews (2.85% of the population). Tampa and Hillsborough County across the bay are nearly 2% Jewish with about 23,500 in the population and another 8,400 Jews (1.8% of the population) live in Pasco County to the north of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. There are 34 synagogues and other Jewish religious institutions in the region.

Pinellas County is home to the Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services, which dates to 1960, a Jewish day school, a Jewish center in Clearwater and the TOP Jewish Foundation. It has 11 Jewish congregations, including three Conservative, two Orthodox and one independent.
Pinellas also has at least three groceries who cater to those who keep kosher, a fairly large Jewish housing complex for the aged and a biweekly Jewish newspaper called The Jewish Press of Pinellas County.

The easiest way to get a sampling of Jewish life for observant Jews in St. Petersburg and vicinity is to consult the Chabad of St. Petersburg guide to Jewish life in the area found at chabadsp.com.

Jeffrey and Virginia Orenstein are travel writers from Sarasota, Florida.

Naples

A city on the Gulf of Mexico in Collier County in southwest Florida, United States.

21st Century

According to a demographic study conducted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Naples in 2017 in association with Brandeis University, the Greater Naples Jewish community is estimated to consist of 5,250 households with 8,800 individuals of which 4,500 households with 7,750 individuals live in Collier County. The others live in adjacent counties but are involved with at least one Jewish organization within the Naples area. The majority of the Jewish community members are reasonably affluent retirees, drawn to the area by the climate, and nearly two-thirds are over the age of 60. About two-fifths of the households are seasonal residents with an additional home elsewhere, although of these, two-thirds consider Naples as their primary residence.

There are only 400 Jewish households that include children, of which approximately 300 are raising their children as Jews.

The Holocaust Museum & Cohen Education Center of Southwest Florida was established in Naples in 2001. It is unique in that it began as a Naples middle school classroom exhibit created by students and teachers called “Out of the Ashes.” It now houses over 1,000 World War II and Holocaust artefacts.

Jewish places of worship include the Chabad Jewish Center of Naples, the Conservative egalitarian Beth Tikvah, and two Reform  congregations, Temple Shalom of Naples and Naples Jewish Congregation. The Jewish Federation of Greater Naples is active, supporting a variety of programs,  and is in the process of constructing a building that will also serve as a cultural center.

 

History

The city of Naples was founded in 1886. As late as the early 1950s Jews were not welcome.

In 1962, the Jewish Community Center of Collier County was established by a few Jewish families along with salesmen of a large area real estate development. Services, meetings, and social events were held in various venues. It received its first Torah in 1965, donated by a visitor and his family out of gratitude for the community organizing a minyan for him so he could say kaddish.

The Jewish Community Center of Collier was chartered by the Secretary of State of Florida in 1966.  In 1975 a building was dedicated, at which time the membership consisted of 57 families. In 1972 a Religious School was established with eight students.  In 1980 the name was changed to Temple Shalom, and in 1993 it officially joined the Reform Movement. A new building was dedicated in 1991, at which time the membership had reached 330. Today it has over 700 member families, 150 Religious School Students and 170 preschool students.

The Naples Jewish Congregation, a Reform synagogue opened in 1998.  It describes its mission as meeting the spiritual needs of mature adults.

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The Jewish Community of Sarasota, FL

Sarasota

A city in Sarasota County, Florida, United States.

21st CENTURY

In 2001, the Jewish population of Sarasota was made up of approximately 12,200 full-time residents, with an additional 3,300 seasonal residents.

By 2019, according to a demographic study conducted by the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University, the number of Jewish individuals had increased by 86%, double the regional population growth rate. There were 17,100 Jewish households that included 25,400 Jewish adults and 3,400 Jewish children.  The community had become younger with the median age going down from 69 to 64 and the number of children more than doubling.  Of the children, 25% attended Jewish preschool, and 10% of those K-8 were enrolled in some type of Jewish educational program.

The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee lists 13 congregations in its directory, ranging from Humanistic Judaism to Chabad.  There is a small Jewish day school, the Hershorin-Schiff Community School, that describes itself as inclusive, progressive, and pluralistic, welcoming all faiths.

HISTORY

Sarasota was founded in 1855. The first event of Jewish interest connected with the city was in 1865, when the Jewish Judah P. Benjamin, Secretary of State for the Confederacy, hid there for several weeks after the defeat of the South in the Civil War.  He subsequently fled to England where he became a successful barrister.

The city grew slowly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The first Jews in the area settled in Arcadia, 40 miles inland. Simon Rosin, a peddler arrived there is 1905 and opened a dry goods store.

Phillip H. Levy is the first Jew known to have made a home in Sarasota.  He opened a retail clothing business in 1913 and became active in civic life. When 20 Jews joined to establish a Jewish Community Center in 1925, Levy became the first president.

 In 1927 the community began building a synagogue on land donated by the city. John Ringling, the circus entrepreneur who had just moved the winter headquarters of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus to Sarasota, although a non-Jew, made the single largest donation to the building fund.  The new synagogue took the name Temple Beth Sholom and opened in time for Rosh Hashanah services in 1928. In the early 1930’s, Joseph Idelson, a founding member of the congregation, obtained land as a gift from the city for a Jewish cemetery.

In the 1940’s Temple Beth Shalom attempted to accommodate Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform members.  In the 1950’s however, the different groups began to split.  An Orthodox minyan was founded in a private home.  A liberal faction left and established a Reform congregation, Temple Emanu-el in 1956.  It received a charter from the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1957 and erected a building in 1961.

Some local Jews found employment with the Ringling Circus as clowns and acrobats.  Jack Earle (born Jacob Rheuben Erlich) spent time in Sarasota performing as a giant.  He was 8 feet, six inches tall (259 centimeters), and also played on the Sarasota Junior College basketball team during the 1932-1933 season.

Most of the Jewish settlers became merchants or started businesses, although some engaged in real estate and agriculture. By 1930, downtown Sarasota had a cleaners, bakery, grocery, furniture store, tailor shop, men’s store, ladies’ store, and two department stores owned and operated by Jews.

The community grew after World War II when Jews, attracted by the climate, moved to the area to work, or retire, either as full-time or part-time winter residents.  Some Jewish veterans who had been stationed nearby during the War also settled in the city. Jewish land developers played a role in the growth of the region.

Jews became active in the civic and cultural life of Saratoga and contributed to many non-Jewish institutions and programs. David Cohen, who served as Saratoga’s first Jewish mayor from 1964 to 1966, was greatly involved in the development of the Florida West Coast Symphony Orchestra.

Jewish community and human services were gradually established. In 1959 the Sarasota Jewish Community Council was organized.  In 1980, it changed its name to the Saratoga Jewish Federation, and in 1982 became the Saratoga-Manatee Jewish Federation. The area’s first Jewish newspaper, the Chronicle, began publishing in 1971. The Jewish Family Service was established in 1984.

Between 1975 and 1987 the Jewish population doubled from 4,200 to 8,400, and continued to grow through the 1990s.

Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
Jews of Sarasota-Manatee, Florida

Jews of Sarasota-Manatee, Florida

Kimberly Sheintal, president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Southwest Florida, and author of Jews of Sarasota-Manatee (Images of America) [Paperback, Arcadia Publishing, January 28, 2013], presents the history of the Jewish community of Sarasota and nearby Manatee, Florida, USA. The first Jew arrived in Sarasota in 1913 followed by others and in 1925 they established the Jewish Community Center of Sarasota. By the 1950s, some of Sarasota's most prominent citizens were Jewish. They played an enormous role in creating Sarasota's businesses, charitable organizations, and cultural assets. In 2021 the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee had 13 Jewish congregations and a thriving Jewish population.

This online presentation via Zoom was part of Sunday Salon: Jews of Sarasota-Manatee, an event organized by Temple Beth Am, Pinecrest, Miami, Florida, and the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Miami on Sunday, January 31, 2021

The Oster Visual Documentation Center, ANU - Museum of the Jewish People, courtesy of Kimberly Sheintal

United States of America (USA)

United States of America (USA)

A country in North America

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 5,700,000 out of 325,000,000 (1.7%). United States is the home of the second largest Jewish population in the world. 

Community life is organized in more than 2,000 organizations and 700 federations. Each of the main religious denominators – Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist – has its own national association of synagogues and rabbis. 

American cities (greater area) with largest Jewish populations in 2018:

New York City, NY: 2,000,000
Los Angeles, CA: 662,000
Miami, FL: 555,000
Philadelphia, PA: 275,000
Chicago, IL: 294,000
Boston, MA: 250,000
San Francisco, CA: 304,000
Washington, DC & Baltimore, MY: 217,000

States with largest proportion of Jewish population in 2018 (Percentage of Total Population):

New York: 8.9
New Jersey: 5.8
Florida: 3.3
District of Columbia: 4.3
Massachusetts: 4.1
Maryland: 4
Connecticut: 3.3
California: 3.2
Pennsylvania: 2.3
Illinois: 2.3

Tampa, FL

Tampa

A major city located on the west coast of Florida, USA.

Tampa is home to a diverse and active Jewish community. According to the Jewish Press of Tampa Bay, the Tampa Bay area is home to over 45,000 Jews, and includes 37 synagogues, 2 Federations, 2 JCCs, 2 family service agencies, 1 day school, and 7 preschools.

The Fort Homer Hesterly Armory, which had been managed and used by the Florida National Guard from 1941 until 2004, was converted into the Bryan Glazer Family JCC, which opened on December 8, 2016. The community center serves Tampa’s educational, cultural, and health needs, and offers programming for preschoolers, as well as a Center for Senior Living.

Hillel Academy, which was originally founded in 1970, is a Jewish day school that serves nearly 200 students in elementary and middle school.

Tampa Jewish Family Services provides programming and assistance “consistent with Jewish values” for individuals and families in need.

Through the second decade of the 21st century, the Jewish population in South Tampa has increased significantly. As of 2011, the neighborhood of Pinellas had the largest Jewish population, at 26,135, followed by Hillsborough with 23,000, and Pasco, with 8,400 Jews.

HISTORY

Tampa is mentioned in records dating from the 16th century as one of the places visited by the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto; a number of references are made to “Juetas” (apostate Jews) and their dealings with the local Native Americans.

The first permanent Jewish resident of Tampa was probably Emmaline Quentz Miley, who arrived in 1846 with her non-Jewish husband. A Jewish community, however, was not established until about 40 years later, when the cigar industry began to develop in the city. The Glogowski, Maas, Kaunitz, Brash, Oppenheimer, Wolf, and Wohl families were among the first Jewish families to settle in Tampa and contributed to the city’s commercial development. Indeed, Herman Glogowski served as the mayor for four terms, from 1886 until 1894. May of the Jews who arrived in Tampa during the late 19th century were merchants who came from Georgia and South Carolina.

By 1894 there were enough Jews living in Tampa to organize a new congregation, Sha’arai Zedek (though the congregation began as Orthodox, it eventually became Reform and joined the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1903). Congregation Rodeph Sholom was formed in 1904 and was Orthodox for many years before becoming Conservative. Congregation Beth Israel was founded in 1917 as the Hebrew Free School (later Knesset Yisrael). Tampa’s Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA) was founded in 1906 (after World War II it would become the Jewish Community Center). The Tampa branch of the National Council of Jewish Women was established by Sarah Brash in 1924.

When World War I (1914-1918) broke out, Tampa was home to the second-largest Jewish community in Florida. The Jewish community became incredibly active in the city’s cultural and civic life. Notable figures during this period included “Salty” Sol Feischman, who began working as a radio sportscaster in 1928 before moving to television in 1957, while also writing sports columns for the Tampa Tribune. Harry Cohen began a 30-year term as a circuit judge (1935-1965) during this period and Rabbi David Zielonka, the rabbi of Congregation Sha’arai Zedek, began teaching at the University of Tampa when it opened in 1931 (in 1963 he would become the head of the Department of Religious Studies). During the interwar period a local chapter of Hadassah was established, as was a youth chapter of Bnai Brith.

The community continued to grow and develop after World War II (1939-1945). By the 1970s a number of new congregations had been established, including Beth Am, Kol Ami, Temple David, Jewish Congregation of Sun City Center, and Young Israel. The Hillel Day School served the educational needs of the city’s Jewish youth, and a number of old-age homes were established to serve the Jewish elderly.

The Jews of Tampa were very active politically. Dr. Richard Hodeswas elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1968; in 1975 he gave the nominating speech for Jimmy Carter at the Florida Democratic Convention. Sandra Warshaw Freedman was elected to the city council in 1974, and in 1986 became the first woman to serve as mayor of Tampa.

In 1970 there were approximately 5,200 Jews living in Tampa. By the early 21st century this number had grown to about 25,000.

St. Petersburg, FL

St. Petersburg

A city in Pinellas County, Florida, USA. 

Nine years after St. Petersburg became a town in 1892, Henry Schutz emigrated from Germany and opened up a dry goods store, becoming the first Jew in town. Soon, others dribbled in to St. Petersburg and Tarpon Springs.

By the time of the great Florida land boom in the 1920s, there were about 10 Jewish families. Most found the closest Jews across the bay in Tampa. By 1923, the first temple was formed in St. Petersburg.

Nineteen years later, the Army opened an airfield for pilot training and local Jews welcomed Jewish soldiers with public Shabbat dinners and Passover seders. There were also many Jewish doctors at the large Bay Pines Veterans Hospital. By the end of the war, there were about 1,500 Jews living in town.

While anti-Semitism was not unknown, Jews steadily became significant members of the community. Today, for example, the second-term mayor of St. Petersburg is Rick Kriseman. In 1998, The Florida Holocaust Museum moved to downtown St. Petersburg.

The surrounding Pinellas County and greater Tampa region has a large Jewish population, second in the state only to the West Palm Beach to Miami area on the Atlantic Coast.
Most permanent Jewish residents have resettled in the Tampa Bay region from the Northeast and the Midwest, and the Jewish population swells in the winter with thousands of part-time resident “snowbird” Jews from the United States and Canada who enjoy the climate and amenities.

St. Petersburg and Pinellas County have about 27,000 full-time resident Jews (2.85% of the population). Tampa and Hillsborough County across the bay are nearly 2% Jewish with about 23,500 in the population and another 8,400 Jews (1.8% of the population) live in Pasco County to the north of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. There are 34 synagogues and other Jewish religious institutions in the region.

Pinellas County is home to the Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services, which dates to 1960, a Jewish day school, a Jewish center in Clearwater and the TOP Jewish Foundation. It has 11 Jewish congregations, including three Conservative, two Orthodox and one independent.
Pinellas also has at least three groceries who cater to those who keep kosher, a fairly large Jewish housing complex for the aged and a biweekly Jewish newspaper called The Jewish Press of Pinellas County.

The easiest way to get a sampling of Jewish life for observant Jews in St. Petersburg and vicinity is to consult the Chabad of St. Petersburg guide to Jewish life in the area found at chabadsp.com.

Jeffrey and Virginia Orenstein are travel writers from Sarasota, Florida.

Naples, FL

Naples

A city on the Gulf of Mexico in Collier County in southwest Florida, United States.

21st Century

According to a demographic study conducted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Naples in 2017 in association with Brandeis University, the Greater Naples Jewish community is estimated to consist of 5,250 households with 8,800 individuals of which 4,500 households with 7,750 individuals live in Collier County. The others live in adjacent counties but are involved with at least one Jewish organization within the Naples area. The majority of the Jewish community members are reasonably affluent retirees, drawn to the area by the climate, and nearly two-thirds are over the age of 60. About two-fifths of the households are seasonal residents with an additional home elsewhere, although of these, two-thirds consider Naples as their primary residence.

There are only 400 Jewish households that include children, of which approximately 300 are raising their children as Jews.

The Holocaust Museum & Cohen Education Center of Southwest Florida was established in Naples in 2001. It is unique in that it began as a Naples middle school classroom exhibit created by students and teachers called “Out of the Ashes.” It now houses over 1,000 World War II and Holocaust artefacts.

Jewish places of worship include the Chabad Jewish Center of Naples, the Conservative egalitarian Beth Tikvah, and two Reform  congregations, Temple Shalom of Naples and Naples Jewish Congregation. The Jewish Federation of Greater Naples is active, supporting a variety of programs,  and is in the process of constructing a building that will also serve as a cultural center.

 

History

The city of Naples was founded in 1886. As late as the early 1950s Jews were not welcome.

In 1962, the Jewish Community Center of Collier County was established by a few Jewish families along with salesmen of a large area real estate development. Services, meetings, and social events were held in various venues. It received its first Torah in 1965, donated by a visitor and his family out of gratitude for the community organizing a minyan for him so he could say kaddish.

The Jewish Community Center of Collier was chartered by the Secretary of State of Florida in 1966.  In 1975 a building was dedicated, at which time the membership consisted of 57 families. In 1972 a Religious School was established with eight students.  In 1980 the name was changed to Temple Shalom, and in 1993 it officially joined the Reform Movement. A new building was dedicated in 1991, at which time the membership had reached 330. Today it has over 700 member families, 150 Religious School Students and 170 preschool students.

The Naples Jewish Congregation, a Reform synagogue opened in 1998.  It describes its mission as meeting the spiritual needs of mature adults.