Miami Stories

Woman recalls life after Cuba and growing up in Miami Beach

Lidia Epelbaum, then 12 in 1962, sitting outside her house on Española Way in Miami Beach, wearing her school patrol belt.
Lidia Epelbaum, then 12 in 1962, sitting outside her house on Española Way in Miami Beach, wearing her school patrol belt. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

The date was Jan. 17, 1961, when I left my beautiful island of Cuba and arrived in Miami. I was 10 years old. I always had a dream of going to Miami Beach, so I was very excited, but I couldn’t understand why my mom looked so upset and why my dad stayed behind. My mom kept saying we will be returning in a few months, but my father and grandparents joined us six months later, and the few months became the rest of my life.

For the first year, we all lived in a big old wooden house with my aunt, uncle and cousins in what today is known as Midtown. Eventually we all moved on our own but always within walking distance of each other. Then I finally got to live in Miami Beach, on Española Way and Meridian Avenue, what is now known as South Beach. How exciting!

Growing up in South Beach was absolutely wonderful. I attended Central Beach Elementary, now known as Fienberg-Fisher K-8. Leroy D. Fienberg was my wonderful principal; the school was named after him after he passed away. I then attended Ida M. Fisher Junior High and Miami Beach Senior High. Dr. Solomon Lichter was my incredible principal for those six years.

On weekends, my friends and I would walk to Lincoln Road or go to the Cameo Theater to see double features for 25 cents. The first summers were spent attending camp and fun activities at Flamingo Park. As I got a little older, the 14th Street beach was like a home away from home.

I am from Cuba but I am also Jewish, so that makes me known as a “Jewban.” Being a Jewban growing up in Miami Beach was a fun thing; we were a very close group and everyone knew each other, so we adopted the 14th Street beach as our own. We would then hang out at Dipper Dan, our favorite ice cream place. We also would go to Fun Fair in the north part of the beach and take buses to downtown Miami to buy records and have lunch at Woolworth.

My school years were wonderful. I learned English quickly and attended class with so many of my old friends from Cuba. In the 1960s, I would be sitting in class and when an old time friend would show up, it was so exciting that our sixth grade teacher, Mr. Bergman, would stop teaching and give us a few minutes to hug and catch up with the old days.

At Beach High, I became active with several school clubs. I enjoyed being an officer in them and most of all I enjoyed being part of the Usher Club, which allowed me to go to concerts, the circus and the Jackie Gleason show for free. Because of my grades and activities, I received a scholarship from the Lion’s Club that helped me with my education.

I definitely had the Beach High spirit, which I still do. I have worked closely with the reunion High Tides committees. To this day, there is always excitement when I meet someone from Beach High.

Because of my love of Miami, I decided to stay in town for college and graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in education. Years later I received a master’s in leadership and administration from Nova University.

While attending the University of Miami, I met my future husband who was a law school student there. Can you imagine: a Jewban from Miami meets and marries a guy from St. Paul, Minnesota, who played hockey. I was the first Cuban he ever met. I didn’t even know what hockey was and had never seen snow. I made him promise me that he would never move back. We will be celebrating our 43rd anniversary very soon.

Life has been great. I have taught and have been an administrator for several Miami-Dade County schools. We live in the north end of town and never want to leave the area. Our children attended Florida schools, University of Florida and Florida State, and you can just imagine football season at our home. Our children live in Broward and we are the proud grandparents of five. It is so wonderful to be able to live close to where I grew up and still have the children nearby.

Growing up in Miami has just been incredible. I have seen many changes to our city, but it has always been truly a “Magic City.”

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