By Chris Remington, Alejandra Martinez
New Book, Film Document A Forgotten Era Of Miami Beach’s Jewish History
Before the city of Miami Beach became a hotspot for nightlife and celebrities, it was home to a massive Jewish retiree population. It‘s estimated that 20,000 elderly Jews made up more than half of the beach’s population in the late 1970s. This era in Miami‘s history and the experiences of the Jewish community is the focus of a new book of photography entitled “Shtetl in the Sun: Andy Sweet’s South Beach Photography 1977-1980.”
Iconic Miami Beach photographer Andy Sweet documented many of the middle class Jewish families that called Miami Beach home before he was murdered in 1982. His photographs, along with those of photographer Gary Monroe, are also the focus of a new documentary, entitled “The Last Resort”. The film is premiering in South Florida this weekend with a number of showings across the region.
We spoke with reporter Brett Sokol, who edited the book of photography, and filmmaker Dennis Scholl about this era of Miami Beach’s history. An interview with writer Brett Sokol and filmmaker Dennis Scholl.
SOKOL: One of the reasons why I thought it was so important to put this book out and why I’m thrilled that this documentary film also capturing Andy Sweet’s work is out is because it really fills in this chapter of Miami Beach history and really of Jewish culture that I, as a Jew, didn’t even really know much about. I moved down to Miami Beach in 1999 and like so much of the rest of this country I had a wrong take on what Miami Beach was like before its current renaissance.
We know what Miami Beach was like in the 50s and 60s with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin at the Fontainebleau. And we know what happened in the 90s, this transformation of South Beach and the fashion industry and it becoming a playground for celebrities. But we didn’t really know was what happening in between. Particularly in the 1970s and “God’s waiting room” was the phrase that you heard over and over. And when you see these photos you realize just the opposite, that this community of Jews on South Beach, this shtetl, really were not waiting around to die. They were full of life. They were living. They were loving. They were dancing.