Bagels, Beaches, & Bombers: Florida’s Jewish Community From 1929 – 1945

Jason Ashley Memmer

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Masters of Liberal Arts, College of Arts and Sciences, University of South Florida St. Petersburg

Abstract

The purpose of this thesis is to recount the history and discover the beginning of modern Florida’s impressive Jewish community. While it is believed that Jews have lived in the state under Spanish, British, Confederate, and American flags, the Hebrew population did not see rapid expansion until the mid-twentieth century. Therefore, I will seek to examine the various events and people who influenced the massive waves of migrations, and show how World War II is responsible for creating the lasting affinity between Jews and the Sunshine State. This study will also provide insight into today’s population distribution, voting trends, and various other aspects of the growing influence Judaism has on Florida’s affairs. Oral interviews conducted by myself as well as other academics will accompany newspaper articles, journals, and countless other primary sources that will lay the foundation of my research. By looking at government released population statistics and breakdowns, records from the War Board, and histories released by synagogues across the state I will piece together a picture of the foundations of the Jewish community from 1929 through World War II. Drawing on scholarly work that examines Florida’s social history, I will link the stories of these individuals with a broader picture of what trends were taking place across the state. iii It will become clear to the reader that no other event in the state’s history weighed as heavily on America’s Hebrew population as World War II. Undisputable evidence will link the number of servicemen and women training on Florida’s beaches with a generation that sought a new paradise to call home after achieving victory in the Pacific and Europe. Armed with this important data, we will now be able to examine why certain areas such as Boca Raton, Miami Beach, Jacksonville, and Tampa have been chosen as Hebrew havens. We will be able to understand how organizations, communities, and congregations were formed, and why certain districts flourished much earlier than others. This work paves the way for more research on the topic, which has been overlooked for far too long.