Special to the JTA the Jews of South Florida

Tourism, as anyone will tell you is the life blood of South Florida. The newspapers in Miami, the media in general and the public seem to talk incessantly about the subject.

Despite some gloomy predictions about the current season most people in the tourist industry are buoyant about the prospects for 1984. Some of the optimism derives from Eastern Airline’s recent announcement of the $99 New York-Miami one way ticket.

Other signs that Miami Beach still has faith in its future may be seen in the construction of numerous high rises and in the recent building of the city’s first giant luxury hotel in 30 years — the Alexander, a posh establishment a short walk from the legendary Fontainebleau Hotel.

One of the city’s biggest boosters is Rabbi Irving Lehman of Temple Emanu-el of Greater Miami (Conservative). The rabbi, who has occupied his present pulpit for 40 years, and who had been acclaimed a one of the most gifted preachers in American Judaism, concedes that in recent years rarer has been a drop in tourism.

Lehrmart indicates that at one time it was standing room only on Friday evenings as worshipers tried to obtain tickets for Enamel’s services. As much as 30 percent of the congregation was made up at any one time of tourists from all parts of the United States and Canada.

REASON FOR DECLINE OF TOURISM

The crowds are smaller these days and an occasional empty seat may be found by those wishing to attend services and listen to Lehman’s eloquent commentaries on the quandaries of Jewish life. How does Lehman explain the diminution in tourism”

“The reason is quite simple. Ever since the Marie exodus of Cubans, stories of violence in the Miami region have percolated up north and people are frightened by those accounts.

“What is really painful, however, is that what has caused the reduction in tourism is not the factuality of violence but the perception of it. In fact, every indicator shows that crime is way down statistically in this city.”

The rabbi points to the growth of his own congregation as evidence of the stability of the area. There are more than 1,300 families affiliated with his Conservative congregation which is located across from the Miami Beach Center for the Performing Arts.

Lehrman indicates that despite the spacious facilities provided by the synagogue building it was not big enough to house all its members on the High Holidays.

“A number of years ago I determined to persuade m congregation to move to larger quarters for the holidays,” he recalls. “By dint of stubbornness and persistence I persuaded them to utilize the much more adequate facilities of the Performing Arts Center.

HOFFA AGREED TO DO A MITZVAH

“It was not an easy task but I convinced my board of the need for the move and we conducted Rosh Hashanah services there. But what I did not tell my board was that on that first Yom Kippur service I had an insurmountable problem.

“The teamsters hod reserved the hall for that very day and it would have been impossible to prepare the hall for Kol Nidre. I put in a call to Jimmy Hoffa at his Chicago office and asked for an appointment. I met with Hoffa and explained our dilemma to him. Hoffa said it was impossible to change the teamsters meeting because an election was being held. I told him that by doing a mitzvah he would be rewarded sevenfold. Hoffa agreed to change the venue of the teamsters meeting to the Fontainebleau. He won the election and we had our services in spacious surroundings.”

Since most Jewish tourists arrive in the Miami area with the onset of cold weather (and because of lateness of the High Holidays) Temple Emanuel and the synagogues on the Beach plan their programming to begin in January. Lehman’s adult education department is an especially ambitious one with five different ongoing class-type series and a cultural offering which in 1984 will include Barbara Walters, former President Gerald Ford, Louis Rukeyser and Robert Merrill.

JEWISH CULTURAL, INTELLECTUAL ACTIVITY

About a mile from Emanuel at Temple Sholom (a Reform congregation) Judy Drunker, Miami Beach’s famous “impresario” (so termed by the Miami Herald) has drawn up a 1984 series that features both artistic and literary participants.

Drucker has persuaded Luciano Pavarotti to come to Miami Beach this year. In addition the Toronto Symphony will be featured in the Temple Sholom events along with other celebrities such as Elie Wiesel and Yitzhak Yitzhaki, the latter, a preeminent Israeli Bible scholar.

How does one explain the lushness of Jewish cultural and intellectual activity in Miami Beach? Is this not at odds with the “playground” image of the area. ?

A recent issue of the Miami Herald addressed itself to this question. Many of the Jewish tourists who come for the whole season (November through April) are retired people with a great deal of leisure time. In Miami Beach they often have, for the first time, the opportunity to think seriously about matters religious.

As a result, synagogues are full of both worshipers and students eager to learn about their heritage. On an average morning It is not uncommon to see men carrying tall is and to Philip bags walking home from shahorit services over the 41st Street bridge.

For the Miami Beach resident or the casual Jewish tourist, news of the community’s panoply of activities can be obtained through the “local news” section in both the Miami Herald and the Miami News or in the area’s Jewish publications.

These are important sources of community news not always covered by the metropolitan dailies. They give, moreover, a feeling about the pulse of the community — its Israel-centeredness, its commitment to Jewish education and its concerns with that perennial Jewish anxiety — assimilation.

Israel spent 60 million Shekels last year on civilian projects in south Lebanon including road improvement, building clinics, digging wells and erecting homes.

NEXT STORY