The dramatic story of South Florida’s oldest Jewish community and a major addition to the history of this unique island city.
Long before Miami was on the map, Key West had Florida’s largest economy and an influential Jewish community. Jews who settled here as peddlers in the nineteenth century joined a bilingual and progressive city that became the launching pad for the revolution that toppled the Spanish Empire in Cuba. As dozens of local Jews collaborated with José Martí’s rebels, they built relationships that supported thriving Jewish communities in Key West and Havana at the turn of the twentieth century. During the 1920s, when anti-immigration hysteria swept the United States, Key West’s Jews resisted the immigration quotas and established “the Southern American terminal of the Jewish underground,” smuggling Jewish aliens in small boats across the Florida Straits to safety in Key West. But these and other Jewish exploits were kept secret as Ku Klux Klan leaders infiltrated local law enforcement and government. Many Jews left Key West during the 1930s and their stories were ignored or forgotten by the mythmakers that reinvented Key West as a tourist mecca.
Arlo Haskell’s The Jews of Key West is an entertaining and authoritative account of Key West’s Jewish community from 1823-1969. Illustrated with over 100 images, it brings to life a history that had long been forgotten.
Praise for The Jews of Key West: Smugglers, Cigar Makers, and Revolutionaries (1823-1969)
“Think you know Key West? Think again. Arlo Haskell’s new book uncovers in fascinating and vivid detail the story of the immense impact the Jewish community has had on the basic culture of Key West. Whether it’s the black community, the Cubans, the cigar factories, the peddlers, Prohibition, smuggling, immigration, or real estate you are interested in, this book will have wonderful surprises and multiple delights for you. Haskell gives us Key West before it was Hemingwaylaid. The Jews of Key West is a terrific, absorbing read; I could not put it down.”
—Robert D. Richardson
Bancroft Prize-winning biographer of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and William James.
“If, like me, you were always puzzled about why Jews from Germany or Eastern Europe would locate themselves anywhere but New York, you will rejoice that Arlo Haskell has written The Jews of Key West. His brilliant and fast-paced narrative dazzlingly combines breadth of vision and grasp of detail. Anyone at all interested in the subject will be completely satisfied by this wonderful book.”
Author of Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages and The Shelf: Adventures in Extreme Reading.
“Well researched and richly illustrated, Arlo Haskell’s The Jews of Key West: Smugglers, Cigar Makers, and Revolutionaries: 1823-1969, is the first critical history of America’s southernmost Jewish community. Jews have been part of the action from the beginning of American settlement at the southernmost tip of the Sunshine State, but their story had largely been unknown, fragmentary, and undocumented. Not unlike Key West’s famous marine salvage operations, Haskell was required to do deep research and undertake enormous forensic effort. The results in The Jews of Key West are remarkable and fill a gap in the literature of the American Jewish experience. This book is an important contribution to the genre of communal biography and the field of American Jewish studies.”
—Lance J. Sussman
Author of Isaac Leeser and the Making of American Judaism and senior rabbi at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel (Philadelphia, PA).
About the Author
Arlo Haskell is executive director of the Key West Literary Seminar. He is also the author of the poetry collection, Joker, and the editor of poetry volumes by Harry Mathews and Héctor Viel Temperley. Born and raised in the Florida Keys, he lives with his family in Key West. Click here for full bio and here for video.
Image: An outing of the Key West, Florida, Young Men’s Hebrew Association in 1908. (Black & white photonegative, 4 x 5 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.)