Jewish Museum of Florida
The Jewish Museum of Florida is located in two restored historic buildings that were formerly synagogue
A synagogue is a Jewish house of prayer. This use of the Greek term synagogue originates in the Septuagint where it sometimes translates the Hebrew word for assembly, kahal...

s, at 301 & 311 Washington Ave., in Miami Beach, Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

. The main Museum building, at 301 Washington Ave., was built in 1936, is on the National Register of Historic Places, has Art Deco
Art Deco
Art deco , or deco, is an eclectic artistic and design style that began in Paris in the 1920s and flourished internationally throughout the 1930s, into the World War II era. The style influenced all areas of design, including architecture and interior design, industrial design, fashion and...

 features, a copper dome, a marble bimah and 80 stained glass windows. The adjacent building located at 311 Washington, which served as Miami Beach's first synagogue, was purchased by the Museum in 2005 and restored in 2007 as a Museum expansion.

Permanent Collection

The Museum’s core exhibit, MOSAIC: Jewish Life in Florida, includes more than 500 photos and artifacts that depict the Jewish experience in Florida since 1763. The Museum also has several temporary exhibits on display each year. The Museum mounts and hosts its own and traveling exhibitions; sponsors cultural and educational programs; houses a Collections & Research Center reflecting Florida Jewish history since 1763; and communicates Jewish history, values and issues to Jews and non-Jews alike in an informal manner.


Miami Beach's first synagogue, the original home of Congregation Beth Jacob, was designed by architect H. Frasser Rose and built in 1929 at 311 Washington Avenue. The site was chosen because at the time the synagogue was built, Jews were not permitted to live north of Fifth Street.

Its construction satisfied an urgent need of the small Jewish community of residents and winter visitors who had first settled on Miami Beach in 1913. It established that Jews were accepted and a permanent part of the resident population of the City.

Prior to this, Jews had been denied permission to construct a synagogue
A synagogue is a Jewish house of prayer. This use of the Greek term synagogue originates in the Septuagint where it sometimes translates the Hebrew word for assembly, kahal...

. They had to ferry across Biscayne Bay
Biscayne Bay
Biscayne Bay is a lagoon that is approximately 35 miles long and up to 8 miles wide located on the Atlantic coast of South Florida, United States. It is usually divided for purposes of discussion and analysis into three parts: North Bay, Central Bay, and South Bay. Its area is...

 (and later the County Causeway, now the MacArthur Causeway
MacArthur Causeway
The General Douglas MacArthur Causeway is a six-lane causeway which connects Downtown, Miami, Florida and South Beach, Miami Beach via Biscayne Bay....

, built in 1920) to attend religious services at B'nai Zion Congregation in Miami. When Orthodox Jews, who do not travel on Shabbat
Shabbat is the seventh day of the Jewish week and a day of rest in Judaism. Shabbat is observed from a few minutes before sunset on Friday evening until a few minutes after when one would expect to be able to see three stars in the sky on Saturday night. The exact times, therefore, differ from...

and high holidays, joined the congregation, they and the winter visitors from Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 and Miami Beach residents held services in the Royal Apartments at 221 Collins Avenue. In 1924, Malvina Weiss Leibman organized and taught Sunday School classes in a vacant lot on the west side of Washington Avenue north of Third Street.

Beginning in 1926 and during construction of Beth Jacob, services were held on the roof of the David Court Apartments at 56 Washington Avenue, owned by the Granat family. The first rabbi was reportedly Rabbi David Yallow followed by Rabbis Hurowitz, Axelrod and David I. Rosenbloom. Rabbi Moses Mescheloff
Moses Mescheloff
Moses Mescheloff was a renowned American Orthodox rabbi and community leader for 75 years, known especially within circles of American Orthodox Judaism, primarily in Miami Beach, Florida, and in Chicago, Illinois....

 served the congregation from 1937 to 1954. In 1954, Rabbi Mescheloff went to Chicago, in time to celebrate Chanukah with his new congregation in West Rogers Park, Congregation K.I.N.S. (Knesset Israel Nusach Sfard). The congregation had a life contract with Rabbi Mescheloff, who became “Rabbi Emeritus” upon his retirement. Rabbi Mescheloff died in 2008 in Chicago. Subsequent spiritual leaders were Rabbis Akiva Chill, Tibor Stern (1955–65), Shmaryahu T. Swirsky (1965–92) and Moshe Berenholz.

Almost every Jew who was a permanent resident of Miami Beach between 1927 and 1932 was a member and financial contributor to the synagogue. The initial role of the Synagogue as the religious and social center of the Jewish community soon developed into being the Jewish cultural center as well. A Hebrew school was established, scholars, rabbis and cantors were invited and a mikvah (ritual bath for women) was built in 1944 for $35,000 ($ in current dollar terms) at 151 Michigan Avenue.

The original building was dedicated on February 17, 1929. The founding officers were Lazarus Abramowitz, President; Jekuthiel Kaplan, Vice President; Morris Abraham, Treasurer; Samuel Guttman, Secretary; and Joseph Tilzer and Harry Levitt, building committee members.

In 1936, the congregation outgrew its original facility and constructed a second larger adjacent building for the synagogue at 301 Washington Avenue. The original building was used as the religious school and social hall. Faced in stucco
Stucco or render is a material made of an aggregate, a binder, and water. Stucco is applied wet and hardens to a very dense solid. It is used as decorative coating for walls and ceilings and as a sculptural and artistic material in architecture...

, the two-story building has a rectangular plan and a gable roof. The central entrance consists of three double doors of simple, vertical panels and large iron hinges of Spanish style.

The top of the building façade has a contemporary plaque reading "Beth Jacob Social Hall, 5689-1929." The façade is crowned by the tablets with the Ten Commandments
Ten Commandments
The Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue , are a set of biblical principles relating to ethics and worship, which play a fundamental role in Judaism and most forms of Christianity. They include instructions to worship only God and to keep the Sabbath, and prohibitions against idolatry,...

. Inside, the main hall is two stories in height.

A two-story addition of concrete block was built to the east in 1946, containing offices, meeting rooms, and classrooms.

Towards the end of the 20th century, Beth Jacob Congregation began to dwindle and moved all of its functions back to this original building. Many of its older members died. There were hardly enough members remaining to have a minyan (the ten men required for many parts of the religious services) and in 2005, the congregation went out of business. The Jewish Museum of Florida, which needed room to expand its facilities beyond the confines of the adjacent building it has occupied since 1995, purchased the original synagogue, ensuring that the building so rich in Jewish history will continue to be preserved and become a repository for the chronology of Florida's Jews.

The 311 structure is currently being renovated. Offices will be located upstairs in the former women's balcony on the west side. The area on the east side of the second floor, which was formerly the synagogue's classrooms, will become the Collections and Research area. The former sanctuary on the main level of the building will become a 2400 square feet (223 m²) multi-purpose room that will house a second exhibit venue for the Museum and be used for public programs and special events.


The museum is home to many Holocaust artifacts and objects, photographs, documents, and religious objects.
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