Miami, has long been the reigning crown jewel of Southern Florida.
It’s a city of great beauty, enveloped by sparkling blue waters which separates neighborhoods into islands connected by bridges. The sun shines most of the time and the vegetation is mind boggling, like something out of the strangely magical trees in "The Lord of The Rings".
It is a city so full of things to see and do, I for one find it almost impossible to list all my favorites. Like a kid in a candy store, I want to grab everything it has to offer, and the selection is certainly plentiful.
For some reason, perhaps because of the impression the experience left on me long ago, scared and thrilled simultaneously, the first thing that comes to mind is the airboat ride at the Everglades. This is the swamp most of Florida is built on, and many companies offer guided boat tours, where you safely get to see the alligators and crocodiles who live there, some as old as Methuselah.
This is certainly an experience you’ll never forget. Communing with these fearsome, Paleoecological era creatures is a rare and unique treat. Being so close yet protected, seeing their giant jaws pop out of the swamp water, poised to bite down on the tasty morsels the tour guide offers.
Then of course there are the exquisite Botanical Gardens, established 50 years ago but given a 1.2 million makeover, in 2012. Anyone who wants to enjoy the indigenous horticulture and an incredible sense of peace and calm, could partake of Yoga classes, visit the Farmer’s Markets which offer fresh sun ripened produce, or just sit and picnic under a shady palm tree.
The Bird Sanctuary is a treat for lovers of beautiful colorful, tropical birds and you can hear their song and unique calls if you keep silent for a bit.
One must not forget Miami’s prime attraction: sun bathed pristine beaches, where frost bitten Northerners flock to en-masse. The city keeps the beaches clean and plowed of debris – barefoot walks on stretches of sand as one gets a healthy glow collecting shells or building sand castles, are all a must do when in Miami. There are many classes to learn a new water-sport, or take a boat ride around the city and it’s waterways.
For those with a taste for history, there is the magical Art Deco district, which contains around 800 samples of this highly theatrical and very gorgeous style of architecture, born in the 1920’s and continuing into the 30’s and 40’s. Park central hotel and the Imperial, both designed by Henry Hohauser are grand examples of the style, I personally adore. South beach and Ocean drive in particular are teeming with beauties built during The Art Deco Golden Era, drawing the greatest celebrities to Miami and the Beaches.
The area of South Beach went through a period of decay and neglect. The glamour of the past was replaced by peeling paint and the sound of the ocean combined with the creaking of rocking chairs. The Art Deco hotels on Ocean Blvd and most of South Beach were inhabited mainly by the very old, who silently sat on the porches, waiting to join their departed loved ones.
Then the late Eighties and Nineties brought the beginning of a resurgence of glamour, the renovated hotels becoming desirable hangout places for the rich and famous, as well as anyone wishing to rub shoulders with them.
It still is overcrowded, and the nearby streets house some of the big name designer boutiques, with the newly renovated Lincoln Ave, being the central place to go shopping and people watching.
There is so much more…Vizcaya’s magical castle, right out of a european fairy tale and filled with precious antique furniture and fixtures, to take you to a world so unexpected in Florida (and rarely in other places in the USA).
For art lovers, the museums abound…there is a modern art museum located in the design district, a children’s museum where kids can have a ball and lots of galleries, displaying colorful, young fresh art.
Now to end with my favorites.
I know, I know, The Jewish Museum of Florida is not most people’s idea of what’s most extraordinary in the "Magic City", where Art Deco buildings and pristine beaches rule the roost.
Maybe it’s my sentimental attraction to anything Old and Jewish, May it be synagogues, Museums or wise elders who tell stories I practically inhale. If you are anything like me, you’d enjoy to find out about the History of Jewish life in the sunshine state, and Miami in particular.
The Museum, built in 1936, a two storied stucco rectangular building, with a gable roof. The main entrance has three double doors in the Spanish style is in National Register of Historic places, and is beautiful, informative and hearkens back to Jewish life in 1769 to present times.
The main building has Art Deco features, a copper dome and 80 sparkling stained glass windows. There is a Bimah made of marble, since the Museum is housed in two restored former synagogues,the original on 301 Washington ave, and the addition the adjacent 311, was added in 2005.
The core permanent collection, ‘Mosaic’ depicts the Jewish experience with over 500 photos, and artifacts. They tell of our People’s struggle to gain the permission to worship traditionally, and be accepted as a permanent part of the city. The museum also hosts traveling exhibits, and sponsors educational programs.
It was a revelation to find out that toward the end of the 20th century, the dwindled congregation consisted mainly of old people, many of whom moved here from the North East to spend their last days in a warm climate. As they died, rocking away in the sun, there were hardly enough members for a Minyan.
The museum is home to many Holocaust artifact, documents and religious objects. The Holocaust Memorial is another marvel, and the heart rending sculpture, with it’s tangled masses of humanity clinging onto a giant hand pointing upwards can’t help but impress anyone very deeply, I happen to be even more partial to the memorial, since my sculptor uncle was a member of committee to initiate the Memorial, and as an artist, a contributing force to the final Masterpiece.
Miami Beach has changed in the last few decades and now has a vibrant, youthful Jewish community, excellent Kosher restaurants and synagogues filled with young families. Going to shul will surely connect one with the local color, spiritual awareness and new friends.