The Jews of Key West: Smugglers, Cigar Makers, and Revolutionaries (1823-1969)
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 southernmost 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.
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.
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.
Publisher: Sand Paper Press
Photo credit: Nick Doll
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