Museum History


The mission of the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU is to collect, preserve and interpret the material evidence of the Florida Jewish experience from when Jews were first allowed to settle in 1763 and up to the present and to interpret this history in the context of the American Jewish experience.

We communicate this story to Jews, non-Jews, Florida residents and visitors of all ages and backgrounds and examine how Jews form part of a dynamic mosaic of ethnic groups, all seeking to balance the continuity and traditions of their heritage with the values and customs of a larger society. A focus is to explore the richness and diversity of Jewish life, the unique ways in which Florida Jews influence and are influenced by the historic and cultural dynamics of Florida, the nation, and the world, and issues of discrimination against all peoples in Florida over history.

The Museum is dedicated to multi-cultural education and demonstrates through exhibitions, public programs, and a collection of archival materials how the challenges of the immigrant experience are shared by all ethnicities in the diverse State of Florida and the nation.


A history of the Project

The Museum opened to the public in 1995 at 301 Washington Avenue on South Beach and was accredited (2002) by the American Association of Museums (an honor awarded to less than 5% of the nation's museums) and was re-accredited in 2011. It is a non-profit organization, incorporated in the State of Florida (1989), to primarily collect, preserve and interpret for the public benefit - material evidence of the Jewish experience in Florida that began in 1763 in Pensacola, when Jews were first allowed to live here.

The project has many phases:

1. 1986-90 - Research for and fabrication of a traveling exhibit, MOSAIC: Jewish Life in Florida, depicting the Jewish experience in Florida from 1763 to the present.

2. 1990-94 - Exhibit opened in Miami, traveled to ten other Florida cities and Washington and Philadelphia.

3. 1993-94 - Fundraising/planning for restoration and adaptive reuse of the former historic synagogue to become a Museum.

4. April 1995 - Opening and daily operations of the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU (301 Washington Ave.)

5. June 2005 - Purchase of three properties and planned expansion.

6. May 2007 - Opening Museum expansion, historic shul (311 Washington) after restoration and Museum Store expansion.

7. July 2008 - Opening of skylighted Bessie's Bistro that connects the two historic buildings.

8. 2012 - Partnered with Florida International University (JMOF-FIU).

Image Begun in 1984 as MOSAIC, it expanded in 1986 to a statewide effort to document Florida Jewish history. With a grant from Florida's Department of State, a project team was assembled. Travel began by State Coordinator Marcia Zerivitz to conduct research and train hundreds of volunteers in twelve communities to collect family photographs, documents and artifacts and conduct hundreds of oral histories. Ultimately, Zerivitz traveled more than 200,000 miles to 30 cities.

The entire collection was entered into a computer database, with duplicate negatives of the photographs made by the Florida State Archives in Tallahassee. These are now also part of their collection and available on the Internet. From this early collection, a colorful exhibit was written by the team and designed and fabricated by museum professionals. The 2,000 square feet exhibit opened in October 1990 in Miami at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida and traveled to ten other Florida cities through 1993 (Orlando, Sarasota, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Pensacola, Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Miami Beach, and Key West), then nationally. In each host community, educational programs focused on the immigrant experience and ethnic diversity. A multicultural curriculum was created that was piloted in Dade County schools, is state endorsed and now being used in both public and private schools throughout the state, along with other developed lesson plans.

ImageAs the exhibit traveled, enthusiasm mounted for a permanent Jewish Museum that would continue to collect and mount exhibitions based on the collections and that would relate to all ethnic groups. Marcia Jo Zerivitz was selected as the founding executive director (1992), a board of directors assembled, strategic plan and mission written and capital campaign initiated. After considering several sites throughout the state, the board selected a unique abandoned building at 301 Washington Ave. on Miami Beach, because of its historical and cultural significance. A long-term lease was arranged, as the property, at that time, was not for sale. The 1936 structure served as a synagogue for 50 years for Miami Beach's first Jewish congregation. It was designed by Art Deco architect Henry Hohauser, featuring 77 stained glass windows, a Moorish copper dome, Art Deco chandeliers, a marble bimah, and 7,200 sq. ft. on three levels to house the museum, its administration and its exhibitions and Iemagcollections. The Museum raised the money for the renovation and adaptive reuse of 301, led by Ira D. Giller, of the deteriorated building, with the assistance of the City of Miami Beach, Metro-Dade County Cultural Affairs Council, the State of Florida, and private and foundation funding. Then in 2005 the organization purchased three contiguous properties [their leased building (301), the original synagogue next door (311) and the parking lot] and began plans to expand. In Image2007, after a one-year restoration, the Museum opened their second space, which housed the first synagogue on Miami Beach and expanded the Museum Store. During 2008, a sky lighted Bessie's Bistro for casual dining connected the two historic buildings. The Museum has invested $4 million in restorations/construction of their properties as of 2010.

The core exhibit, "MOSAIC: Jewish Life in Florida," opened in the fall of 1996 and is Imagecontinuously updated. In addition, temporary history and art exhibits change throughout the year (more than 65 to date) as extensions of a theme in the core exhibit and many travel to other museums. Permanent features also include a Time line Wall of Jewish history; a film depicting the Jewish history of Florida and the two building restorations; more films and the Collections and Research Center that grows daily and is used regularly by scholars, historians, journalists and families. The ImageMuseum is a leader in its field and also in the theme of tolerance and has initiated many state and national programs.

Tens of thousands of visitors annually enjoy this significant cultural institution, the only museum dedicated to telling the story of 250 years of Florida Jewish life, history, arts and culture as well as the generic immigration experience of everyone's family. Visitors include residents and tourists from all over the world, Jews and non-Jews, young and old- of all backgrounds. Student and adult groups come regularly and dozens of educational/cultural public programs are presented annually that complement the temporary exhibits. The historic buildings are used for many community events. Docent led tours are conducted 2,100 hours each year, Tuesdays-Sundays, except Civil & Jewish holidays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.