Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Books review: 'Jewish South Florida'-a history and guide to everything Jewish


November 10, 2017

Written by Paul Kaplan, Pelican Publishing Company, $24.95

Beyond the stereotype of elderly Jews visiting sunny beaches and stopping in at New York-style delis lies a rich history and Jewish cultural tradition. The area is populated by Ashkenazi Jews, Sephardic Jews with roots in Spain or Turkey, and those from Cuba and other Latin American countries. It's this cultural mingling that makes the Jewish way of life in South Florida so unique.

"I realized there was a huge desire for these cultural guides," says author Paul Kaplan. "I did not want to write a conventional travel book that simply listed places for readers to go. I wanted to tell the little-known stories behind key venues like restaurants and delis with decades of history, historic synagogues, neighborhoods, and community centers."

In his research, Kaplan conducted many primary interviews with curators, tour guides, historians, shop owners, and rabbis to give the book more texture.

"I learned about unique venues I had never heard of. For example, the Holocaust Documentation Center in Fort Lauderdale showcases the tanks used to liberate concentration camps. Or Palm Beach's Cafe Cinematique, which screen films and promotes discussions on a variety of fascinating topics. I was interested to learn about a library at Florida Atlantic University that is reimagining old music with a modern beat and performing them."

Kaplan also wanted to tell the little-known history of how Jews immigrated to South Florida. Now one of the nation's largest Jewish communities, it all began with some of the region's first pioneers and "snowbirds" migrating from the north. An integral part of this story is the Cuban-Jewish experience in the region's history. A diverse group of both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, Kaplan was surprised to learn that many in the first wave of Cubans to reach Florida felt unwelcomed from the larger Jewish community. "I think South Florida receives many vacationers," says Kaplan "But many (including myself) don't realize that there are some fascinating stories to uncover."

More than simply a travel guide, Jewish South Florida approaches each profiled location as an opportunity to bring to light the culture of the Jews that have made South Florida their home.

Paul Kaplan earned a BA in ethics, politics, and economics from Yale College and an MBA from Yale School of Management. He enjoys traveling, having visited six continents. Kaplan's fascination with travel and the history of places led him to pursue writing as an avenue through which to share cultural experiences and universal themes. His published works include business, travel and social history, and biographies.

Available now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and select bookstores nationwide.


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