Everglades: Wilderness Surrounded by Jewish Communities

No, that’s not a submerged log. It’s a fairly large alligator sunning himself along an Everglades National Park trail. Photo by Jeff Orenstein

By Jeff and Ginny Orenstein

The first known Jews moved to Pensacola, almost as far away as you can get from the Everglades in Florida, in 1763, though some converted Jews may have been in St. Augustine with Ponce de Leon two centuries earlier.

A few more Jews followed to the northern part of the state over the next few decades, numbering only about a dozen. By 1821, 30-40 Jews lived in north Florida. By 1960, the Jewish population grew to about 175,000, mostly in southeast Florida and St. Petersburg.

The Florida Everglades and Everglades National Park are not any religion, but since the park is predominantly in south Florida, it is surrounded by Jewish communities on both coasts.

On the west coast, the Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island metropolitan area is about 0.75% Jewish, though the concentration in Naples and environs is somewhat higher. Greater Naples has five Jewish places of worship, including one on Marco Island.

On the east coast, there is a huge Jewish community with a total Jewish population of well over half a million, about 13% of the population, one of the single largest concentration of Jews outside of Israel.

Miami Dade County, adjacent to the national park, has about 113,000 Jews. Broward and Palm Beach counties, respectively, adjacent counties to the north, have even larger Jewish communities, including a large group of retired Jews who have relocated from the U.S. and Canada.

About 514,000 Jews live in southeast Florida in all. The population of Palm Beach County is 15.8% Jewish. Boca Raton, with a population of about 95,000, has 16 synagogues. A dense network of Jewish houses of worship and community institutions, museums and centers accompanies this dense population.

In addition to a large contingent of retirees who have resettled in South Florida from the northern U.S. and Canada, the South Florida population is fairly diverse. Miami-Dade has about 9,000 Jewish emigres from Central and South America, and there are significant communities of Holocaust survivors and their offspring and Jews can be found living there from many places worldwide.

For information on the Florida Jewish Heritage Trail, check out archive.org/details/fljewish00flor/mode/2up?view=theater. l


  1. The best time to visit the Everglades National Park is during the winter months which is the dry season. There are less mosquitoes in the dry season. By Gregg L. Friedman MD


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