It was a cold, snowy, winter day in 1967 when, while sitting in my junior high geography class in South Philadelphia, I first read about this tropical paradise called Florida.
The book told of beaches, palm trees, alligators, the Fountain of Youth and Bunny Yeager. I knew then that I wanted to be there, but being 14 at the time, the dream was repressed. We had Atlantic City, where my parents and their parents vacationed, but the ocean water was cold even in June.
In 1973, while attending Temple University, the dream of going to Florida bubbled up. Maybe it was the movie Midnight Cowboy, or maybe it was because it was December, but I got on a Greyhound and headed for Miami Beach. When the bus dropped me on the corner of 17th Street and Washington Avenue, I looked up and saw Temple Emanu-El. I returned to Philly and two years later, in August 1975, I packed my bags and transferred to the University of Miami.
My first job was as a doorman at the Mimosa, where I parked cars for the rich and a little famous. It was 75 degrees in December and, as I worked and people were giving me money to park their cars and open their doors, I saw the bus pass by that Ratso Rizzo had been riding on in the movie, and it was carrying more escapees from the Northeast. I rented a “kitchenette” at the oceanfront Betsy Ross Hotel for $400 a month in the summertime, including a phone, electric, and maid service! This was too good to be true.
I left in the winter because it went up to $400 a week. From there I lived in a garage apartment on North Bay Road where I would watch the Bee Gees drive back and forth to their recording studio in a nice Cadillac.
In May 1980 I went to Israel again for 10 days. When I returned to Miami the Mariel Boatlift had happened, as well as the riots. I remember walking home down Lincoln Road in the 1980s from the only club on Ocean Drive, The Carlyle, and fearing for my life. During the riots I drove tourists back and forth from the beach to the airport watching the city in flames.
There were so many great places to eat on Miami Beach at the time. I still have the cholesterol and triglycerides to prove it. There was Wolfie’s, Pumpernicks, the Concord, Rascal House, and so many others, like the Famous, the Embers, and Curry’s.
My favorite was the King David Deli on Washington Avenue. There were several kosher butchers in Miami Beach and the bakeries were unreal. I remember dancing at The Forge to the Bee Gees, and even took my mother there when she visited from Philly. I remember going to the Marco Polo Hotel and the Wreck Bar, where greats like B.B King and the Staple Singers performed to a small audience. I caught the tail end of an era.
I continued my education all along the way, earning a second bachelor’s in criminal justice from Florida International University in 1981. I began working as a counselor for Douglas Gardens Community Mental Health Center on Lincoln Road From 1985-1986 I studied and worked in Israel and returned again to Miami Beach. This time I brought my parents with me and they lived on Miami Beach enjoying the weather and thawing out from 70 years of living in Philly. I believe the move increased their years. They both attended what was an active Jewish Community Center on Espanola Way.
It was the 1980s and the stars returned with Miami Vice and Scarface. I was star struck once again and chatted with Don Johnson, Philip Michael Thomas, and spoke with Mickey Rourke while he trained at the Fifth Street Gym. I completed a second master’s and then a doctorate in psychology in 1997 from the Carlos Albiezu University. I became licensed as a psychologist in 2001 and have had a practice in Miami Beach since then.
It’s great to see the rebirth of the Jewish community with new synagogues, kosher restaurants, and a soon-to-be Jewish Community Center, for which I’ve waited 37 years. I’ve been to 30 states and 15 countries but I always find myself coming back to Miami Beach. Must be in the stars.