Florida Jewish History


1763 England acquires Florida in the Treaty of Paris. Joseph D. Palacios, Alexander Solomons and Samuel Israel leave New Orleans and were the first Jews to settle in Florida in Pensacola in 1763.
1820 Moses Elias Levy begins purchase of 100,000 acres in what are now St. Johns, Volusia and Alachua Counties. In 1822 he builds “Pilgrimage Plantation,” a refuge for Jews that lasted until 1835. He publishes a plan to end slavery and also serves as Florida’s first Education Commissioner.
1821 Samuel Myers settles in Pensacola, becomes alderman and an officer in the military. In 1822, he and his wife, Louisa, have Virginia, the first-known Jewish child born in Florida.
1836 Abraham C. Myers, a West Point graduate, serves as Army Quartermaster for the Seminole Indian Wars, 1835-1842. Ft. Myers is named to honor him.
1837 Raphael Jacob Moses opens a store in Tallahassee. He later becomes a lawyer and practices in Apalachicola.
1841 David Levy Yulee, the son of Moses Elias Levy, helps to write Florida’s Constitution (1841). He is elected Florida’s first U.S. Senator, when Florida becomes the 27th state (1845) and is the first Jew to serve in the U.S. Senate (1845-1851; 1855-1861). He organizes the Florida Railroad Company (1853). The town of Yulee (Nassau County) and Levy County honor the family.
1850 Phillip P. Dzialynski arrives in Jacksonville. This is the longest-known continuing Jewish family in Florida.
1857 The first Jewish cemetery in Florida is established in Jacksonville. George Dzialynski, born in Jacksonville, was the first child born in Florida to a Jewish family that planted roots in the state and has continued to live here as Jews since 1850.
1865 Floridian Jews serve on both sides in the Civil War. Judah P. Benjamin from Louisiana serves as Attorney General, Secretary of State and Secretary of War for the Confederacy (1861-1865). At the end of the Civil War, he escapes from the Union Army by hiding in the Gamble mansion (Manatee County).
1876 Temple Beth El (Pensacola), the oldest congregation in the State, is founded.
1879 Henry Brash elected Mayor of Marianna, the first-known of more than 170 Jewish mayors in Florida.
1880s Cousins Morris Dzialynski of Jacksonville and Herman Glogowski of Tampa serve as mayors of their cities.
1882 The Okeechobee Land and Development Company adopts a plan to save Jews in Russia. The Company starts an agricultural colony above the Everglades. Temple Ahavath Chesed founded in Jacksonville with Morris Dzialynski as president.
1890 Dr. Louis Oppenheimer of Bartow establishes the local school system.
1895 Key West Jews raise funds for Cuban revolutionaries fighting for independence from Spain.
1896 The first permanent Jewish settlers arrive in the Miami area.
1933 David Sholtz of Daytona Beach begins his term as Governor of Florida (1933-1936).
1940s Admiral Ellis N. Zacharias of Jacksonville, Chief of Naval Intelligence, breaks the Japanese code. This leads to the U.S. victory in the Pacific.
1943 Mitchell Wolfson serves as Mayor of Miami Beach, the first of 15 Jewish mayors in that city.
1953 Abe Aronovitz serves as Mayor of Miami, the only Jew to serve in this office.
1968 Marshall Warren Nirenberg of Orlando and a graduate of the University of Florida awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology for deciphering the genetic code.
1974 Richard Stone begins his term as a U.S. Senator (1974-1980), the second Florida Jew to hold this office.
1975 Arthur England begins his term as Justice on Florida’s Supreme Court (1975-1981). He becomes Chief Justice in 1978.
1981 Raymond Ehrlich begins his term on Florida’s Supreme Court (1981-1991). He becomes Chief Justice in 1988. More than 250 Jews have served as judges in Florida.
1987 Gerald Kogan begins his term as Justice on Florida’s Supreme Court (1987-1998). He becomes Chief Justice in 1996.
1990 “MOSAIC: Jewish Life in Florida,” a traveling exhibit, begins its tour to 13 cities. Gwen Margolis becomes the nation’s first female Florida Senate President.
1995 Jewish Museum of Florida opens in Miami Beach.
1997 Barbara Pariente becomes the second woman appointed to the Florida Supreme Court. In 2004 she becomes Chief Justice.
2003 Governor Jeb Bush signs a Bill designating each January as Florida Jewish History Month.
2004 Debbie Wasserman Schultz elected to U.S. Congress, the first Jewish woman to represent Florida.
2006 President George Bush signs a Proclamation designating each May as Jewish American Heritage Month to honor contributions by Jewish Americans to our Nation. The Jewish Museum of Florida was the birthplace of this legislation, with the effort led by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
2012 Jewish Museum of Florida becomes part of Florida International University, igniting a new era of interdisciplinary education and research.