After the triathlon on April 19, I felt I needed to move around. I was afraid that if I stayed seated and rested that I would be miserable on the plane back home later that evening. So I made myself keep moving! I was in search for a smoothie place on my gps and ran across the little letters that floated across Washington Ave: Jewish Museum of Florida. I had made my decision about what would occupy my afternoon. I’m going to warn you, I took at least 30 pictures with my cell phone, but the pictures are such poor quality that you may not benefit from them. I hope you do, because this was really exciting for me.
After a 15-20 minute walk I found myself standing in front of an Old Jewish Synagogue that had been renovated into a Museum about Florida’s Jewish population.
Here’s a mini version found inside the museum.
As I walked into the Museum the small-framed older Jewish woman met me with a very thick accent. When i only responded with nods and gestures and asked her to repeat herself, she asked me what language I spoke- as if she had a myriad of languages in her head to choose from to communicate with me. When I mentioned that I spoke sign language and English- she realized I just can’t hear! She was so gracious to me enough to show me the way around the museum before I started. There was a small event going on inside the museum while I was there- a lady giving her testimony about Judaism and the faith of her fathers, however I could not understand all of it since everyone seemed to have thick accents.
In the beginning of the self-guided tour, I learned that Florida has a long history of Jewish Immigration that dates back to even the 1800’s but had a very strong influx of Jewish populations in the 1940’s due to Hitler’s reign, oppression, hate, and slaughter. Below is a map depicting the population of Jewish immigration from states into florida. Jewish peoples have moved from other states, countries, and provinces to settle in Florida. (I was too tired from the triathlon to retain a TON of information… so my answer about “Why” has been forgotten)
I walked around the museum and looked at several holy and sacred objects that I recognized from my studies of the Torah the last couple of months. It was very, very educational and exciting to me to see something that I had read about in person- Even if it was in a museum. I would much rather have seen everything be used in real life rather than sitting in a museum, but these objects had been passed down from generations for several years, sometimes hundreds of years.
The scrolls I zoned in on is what they call a “Pocket version” of the Torah! Kind of like you see those guys on the streets handing out the green new testament tiny pocket bibles… These are tiny pocket Torah scrolls.
Above is something called the Tefillin or phylacteries worn by observant and devout Jewish men during weekday morning prayers. There are tiny scrolls in the small leather boxes that contain the Shema within it along with other prayers from Deuteronomy. They are attached to the forehead and the arm by leather straps you see there. These particular Tefillin belonged to a man named Joseph Hillel Sutton who was born in Palestine and immigrated to the US, arriving in Miami Beach 1925. He was one of the Observant Jews who returned to Israel in 1950 where he stayed until the day he died. I summarized the information from a small (but blurry) picture I took of the description next to the Tefillin explaining in depth.
Do you see it? the Mezuzah? It took me a while to figure it out when I was looking at it since i was so taken away by the Tefillin, but you can see it behind the Tefillin- the long green stick looking thing. That’s called a Mezuzah. This fulfills the Commandments The Holy One gave through Moses to “write them (the scriptures) upon the doorpost of your house and upon your gates.” It’s usually affixed to the door jam, tilted inward and contains the beginning of the Shema “Hear, O Israel, The Lord if G-D, the Lord is One!”. This particular Mezuzah came from an original doorjam from a synagogue (Congregation Beth Jacob) where it served for 50 years (1938-1988- if I can read the blurry writing correctly!)
Above is a prayer… it starts out much like the prayers we said during Seder at the beginning of this month to kick of Pesach (Passover, in English) “Blessed art thou O Lord Our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us by thy commandments…” I have a feeling that’s just another way to spell Tephillin/Tefillin, that we learned about above!
My favorite article that I saw in this part of the museum was a Hebrew Pocket watch pictured below:
This pocket watch has Hebrew Numerals in it and was owned by George Dzialynski from 1857-1937. The neatest thing about the pocket watch is it’s hours in Hebrew going clockwise and bas-relief (sculpture or carving) of Moses and the Ten Commandments in reverse.
After being in this part of the very small museum, I felt more alive! I felt almost in awe and wonder because the Torah that I had just studied in my reading… is being practiced by people all over the world!
Below is a Stained Glass work of Art as a tribute to the fallen Jews of the Holocaust:
I don’t know if you can read that, but it”s pretty incredible. This is the most beautiful work of art that I saw there- And the most tragic.
Unfortunately I didn’t see anyone wearing this pin. If I had, I’m pretty sure I maybe would have kissed someone! haha! When I saw that I couldn’t quit laughing!
In the next room, I saw several Menorah encased. I wondered what they were on display for so I wandered over to take a gander. There I saw at least 4 Menorah that had placed in a local Menorah-making contest. My favorite one had made 3rd place and it was absolutely stunning. It took my breath away.
This menorah is made completely out of old, tough, long construction nails. And it’s beautiful. I really wish I could have gotten a better picture of it, but there’s nothing like seeing a Menorah made completely out of nails and feeling there’s a deeper meaning behind it.
I finally made it to the next room where congregations used to meet, I assume.
I turned my body around and behind me there was an entire room dedicated to the seriousness of Shabbat- and keeping the Sabbath Holy. For people who are jewish, Shabbat starts on Friday at Sundown and ends Saturday at sundown. That means cooking all the meals for Friday night and into saturday so there is complete rest. According to many of the plaques that I read, for modern Jews it means to take a break from technology, cell phones, Facebook, and spend face-to-face time with family. Some families opt to go to the park and chat. Others opt to stay home and eat sweet Challah. It was a very beautiful description of Shabbat. There were TONS of artworks all around to display the importance of Shabbat in their lives, but I felt disrespectful taking pictures of all of them. For that reason, I only captured one and a blurry photograph of a family celebrating Chanukah. I was told I could take as many pictures as I wanted, but with all the beautiful artworks about how much they long to rest on Shabbat and honor the Holy One of Israel, it felt intrusive.
For those of you who do NOT enjoy history or historical things, you probably hated this blog post. That’s okay with me. I LOVED my time in the Museum. I wish I could have been more alert and awake to remember more from it. Unfortunately, I was pretty exhausted from my Triathlon just a few hours before so I did not feel fully coherent.
I want to give full credit to every ounce of information and every single photo and piece to the Jewish Museum of Florida located in Miami, FL. Thank you for your time and the opportunity you allowed me to visit, even while hosting an event!