Deadly Florida apartment building collapse hits growing, diverse Jewish community
JTA – When part of the Champlain Towers collapsed early Thursday morning, plunging the seaside town of Surfside, Florida into tragedy, it also touched the hearts of a thriving and growing Jewish community.
As of Friday morning, the deaths of four people had been confirmed and local authorities said 159 were still missing. Search and rescue teams are still trying to find survivors in the rubble, and the cause of the disaster is still unknown. Jewish organizations and synagogues rallied to raise funds and gather supplies for families in the building.
Here’s what you need to know about the Jews in and around Surfside as the city and community grapple with an evolving disaster.
The region is more than a third Jewish, with a large Orthodox population
Surfside is one of four small towns that together make up North Beach, the northern end of Miami Beach, just east of the city of Miami. The area covers the top of a narrow strip of land on the Atlantic Ocean. Other towns in North Beach are Bal Harbor, Bay Harbor Islands and Indian Creek.
The region is more than a third Jewish. In total, North Beach has more than 14,000 residents and more than 5,000 Jews, according to Ira Sheskin, author of a 2014 study of the Jewish population in the greater Miami area.
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Jews began to arrive in significant numbers in the 1950s after widespread anti-Semitic discrimination by local establishments began to fade. Today, a neighborhood where a hotel once advertised itself with the slogan “Always a sight, never a Jew” is home to a vibrant and practicing Jewish life.
Miami Beach is dotted with synagogues and kosher restaurants. North Beach Jews, in particular, are more observant than American Jews as a whole, according to Sheskin. They are 34% Orthodox, 24% Conservatives, 18% Reformed and 24% “just Jews”. In contrast, American Jews are more generally around 10% Orthodox.
Sheskin said Jews came to North Beach for the weather, the beach – and the Shul of Bal Harbor, a large congregation led by a Chabad rabbi whom Sheskin called “one of the most successful Orthodox shuls in the country.” .
“What attracted Jews was what attracted Jews to Florida,” said Sheskin, professor of geography at the University of Miami. About the synagogue, he added, “They attract a lot of people, a lot of young people. “
The region has a large Latin American Jewish population, as well as retirees and young families
Miami has a large percentage of Hispanic Jews, many of whom come from families who came to the area after leaving Cuba, Colombia, Argentina, Venezuela and elsewhere.
North Beach is no exception. According to Sheskin, the region’s Jewish community is 30% Hispanic, although he said given the small numbers, it is difficult to know which countries Hispanic Jews in North Beach are from. It’s only 1% Israeli.
Jews in the region are also 13% Sephardic, compared to 3% of American Jews nationally.
South Florida is known as a haven for Jewish retirees, and 30% of North Beach Jews are over 65. But the region’s Jewish community is actually relatively young. Her median age is 43, compared to an American Jewish median age of 49, according to the Pew Research Center. More than a quarter of North Beach Jews are under the age of 18.
And the Jews in the region are wealthy. The median income of Jewish households in North Beach is over $ 150,000, more than double the median income in the United States.
Climate change is a growing concern – but Jews can still come
While the cause of Surfside’s collapse is still unknown, officials fear climate change may have contributed to it. Sheskin says that in general rising temperatures and sea levels are cause for concern, but he doesn’t expect them to dissuade Jews from staying in North Beach.
“There is no doubt that as the climate changes, South Florida is going to be one of those areas that is going to suffer,” he said. “The flood is already there, you are at the water’s edge, you may be affected by hurricanes.
He added: “We can see more and more buildings moving away from the water, but there is such an attraction to getting up in the morning and looking at the Atlantic.”
And while the reality of climate change is being felt right now, Sheskin said retirees might not place as much emphasis on the worsening effects that will hit the region eventually.
“It is a place where a large Jewish population has grown and is likely to continue to grow,” he said. “If you move in there and you’re 70, what will happen in 20 or 25 years is not as important.