BROWARD COUNTY, district in the southwestern part of Florida, U.S. In 2005 Broward had around 260,000 Jews, about 15% of the population there and the largest concentration of Jews in Florida. Broward County comprises 30 cities, including Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, Cooper City, Deerfield Beach, Hallandale Beach, Margate, Oakland Park, Pembroke Pines, Plantation, Pompano Beach, Tamarac, and Weston.
By 1910, five years before Broward became a county, Louis Brown, a Jew, had arrived in Dania, the first of the county's cities. The Sokolow and Rubinstein families followed. In 1916 Rose Seitlin and Max Lehrman, who married in 1913 in the first Jewish wedding in Miami, moved with two daughters to Fort Lauderdale, where they had two more children, the first to be born there in 1918 and 1919. By 1923 seven Jewish families were living in Fort Lauderdale. Among them were Moe and Mack Katz, who had migrated there to speculate in real estate. It is believed that Moe received the first real estate license issued in Florida, just prior to the boom that transformed a frontier area into an emerging metropolitan region. The boom reached its peak in 1925, when Fort Lauderdale claimed, for the first time, a growing Jewish population. Mack Katz, Abe Newman, Archie Robbins, and other pioneer Jews opened stores that provided most of the retail activity for the towns. These first Jewish families faced much discrimination, but more Jews arrived, and together they built the foundations of a Jewish community. The first Jewish service in Broward County was held on September 17, 1926, in rented quarters over a restaurant on Las Olas Boulevard. The building was destroyed a few hours later by the fury of the killer hurricane of 1926. This congregation became Temple Emanu-El, which erected the county's first synagogue in 1937. The businesses that Jews opened, the institutions they created, and the civic leadership they demonstrated all helped to make it more attractive and comfortable for other Jews to settle there. By 1940 there were 1,000 Jews in Broward County; in 1970 there were 40,000; and in 1990 there were 275,000, with a slight decline by 2005. The median age of the current Jewish population was 59; 50 percent were over 65 and 29 percent over 75. About 24,000 or 9 percent were "snowbirds," 5,300 Hispanic, and 3,400 Israeli, another 275 households Russians, and over 7,000 Holocaust survivors.
The boom went bust in 1926, but the Jewish community remained. By the second half of the 1930s, the area was emerging from the economic doldrums on the heels of a surge of tourism, another building boom, and the advent of commercial aviation. No family was more influential in the development of the city of Hollywood than the Horvitzes through their Hollywood Inc. In the 1920s, Sam Horvitz entered into a contract to build sidewalks and streets for Hollywood, and with the bust he ended up controlling more than half the vacant land in the city. With nearly 25,000 lots, Horvitz began building and selling single-family homes; after World War II, he introduced the first planned residential community, then Hollywood Mall, considered at the time of its opening in the 1970s as a prototypal mall.
For much of its existence, Broward County has also relied heavily on agriculture as an economic engine. Thus many Jews were drawn into farm-related businesses, including the
families of Rubinstein (tomatoes), Gross (poultry), Levy (cucumbers and other produce), Roth (citrus), and Berman (dairy cows).
The 1939 story of the plight of 937 Jewish refugees aboard the S.S. St. Louis, who were fleeing the Nazis on the eve of World War II, is familiar. But there is little awareness of Broward County's role in the drama. The ship attempted to land off the coast of southeast Florida, awaiting permission to enter the U.S. Instead, Coast Guard vessels dispatched from Fort Lauderdale patrolled the waters to prevent anyone from swimming ashore. The Jews aboard the St. Louis stared at the Broward-Dade coastline but were denied entry. After the ship was forced to sail back to Europe, some Jews disembarked in England. The remainder went to France and Holland, where a year later they were again subject to the Nazi terror after the German invasion.
A rising postwar prosperity contributed to the early stages of recovery. The advent of air-conditioning made year-round living in Florida much more comfortable. Members of Broward's small but growing Jewish community remained close to one another, knitted together by their common interests and institutions. In 1943 the Jewish Welfare Federation of Hollywood began operations; young physicians arrived. In the 1950s, Broward's 2,200 Jews began playing an ever-larger role in county affairs. Jews recorded solid accomplishments in community building, operating major businesses, entering politics, and leading the way in philanthropic endeavors. New cities were developed. Russian-born Morris Cooper arrived in the U.S. in 1908 with one suit and pocket change. He went to work in a shirt factory making $4 a week. Within four years Cooper owned the shirt company and began visiting Florida and buying citrus groves. In 1958 he retired to Florida and created Cooper City. Moving to Hollywood in 1950, Abraham Mailman, renowned for his leadership and philanthropy, played a large part in shaping the Broward Jewish community. Mailman was a highly successful industrialist, property developer, and banker. He created the city of Miramar to provide affordable homes for working people. Samuel Friedland, who built the Diplomat Hotel and Country Club in 1956, was already a successful grocer with his Food Fair chain of stores and a developer of shopping centers when the $26 million hotel opened. Leonard Farber, another pioneer in shopping-center development, built dozens of centers, including the Galleria Mall on East Sunrise Blvd., "Fort Lauderdale's most fashionable address." For Jewish culture and traditional experiences, many Jews still reached out to Miami Beach and Palm Beach County, so this was an impetus for many new organizations. In 1966 Maynard Abrams was Broward's first Jewish mayor (of Hollywood). Notwithstanding these gains, antisemitism and discrimination remained a reality in Broward.
In the 1970s, the Jewish population of Broward was growing at a much more rapid rate than that of Dade County, which had been since the end of World War II one of America's most important Jewish communities. The large influx of Jews in Broward enabled them to develop a real sense of community. Synagogues opened in new municipalities. Nova Southeastern University grew when Dr. Abraham Fischler served as its president for ten years, followed by another Jew, Dr. Stephen Feldman.
By the end of the 1980s, Broward County contained a larger Jewish population than Dade County. The epicenter for this population stood west of I-95 along West Oakland Park Boulevard. Increasingly, Jewish retirees were embracing Broward as their new home and for many of them the proliferating retirement communities in west Broward, such as Century Village in Pembroke Pines, helped fill their needs for community and activity. The vast increase in the number of Jews was especially evident in the community's heightened political involvement. By 2005 more than 114 Jews had served in public office in Broward County, including four U.S. Congressional representatives, 33 state legislators, 29 mayors, 41 judges, and 7 county commissioners. Mara Giulianti was serving her seventh term as mayor of Hollywood (1986–2005).
As the population exploded, the number of synagogues grew, while new cultural and educational centers continued to proliferate. In 1979 the Jewish Community Center of Fort Lauderdale purchased 16 acres of land in Plantation that became the Samuel and Helene Soref Jewish Community Center. David Posnack had begun as a peddler before moving to Hollywood in 1944, where he went into the produce business and prospered. He quickly immersed himself in philanthropic pursuits; the David Posnack JCC in Davie and Posnack Hebrew Day School are some examples.
By the 1990s, Jews comprised over 25 percent of the enrollees at Broward Community College, which offered a Judaica Studies program. Jewish women deepened their involvement in every element of community life. Culturally, Jews were the driving force in the creation and direction of the new County Performing Arts Center as well as the art museum. Fort Lauderdale is the yachting capital of the world and Jewish yacht builders, brokers, and owners play a prominent role.
At the outset of the 21st century, Jews in Broward were living a vibrant community life with about 65 congregations and a full array of support organizations. In Davie, the United Jewish Community of Broward County, referred to also as the Federation, was created in 1996 with the merger of the Jewish Federation of South Broward (Hollywood) and the Jewish Federation of Greater Fort Lauderdale, which was founded in 1967. The Broward edition of the Jewish Journal began publishing in 1976 and continued into the 2000s. In 2004 the county's first congregation, Temple Emanu-El, merged with Temple Kol Ami. The 24-year-old Holocaust Documentation and Education Center secured a permanent home in Hollywood. A Jewish Home for the Aged in Broward was being planned. Florida's largest Jewish community was thus entering its second century with a robust future, having come from an environment that discouraged Jews from settling there at all.