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Jewish Community

The number of Jewish residents in Palm Beach County rose from about 3,000 in 1950 to 89,000 in 1980, when over 40% lived in South County—Delray Beach, Boca Raton, and Highland Beach. The first known Jewish residents in Boca Raton arrived in the 1930s, Harry and Florence Brown (originally Boguslavsky from Russia), and Harry’s sister Nettie and her husband, Max Hutkin from Poland. Both couples opened businesses that became popular meeting places for the locals and for the thousands of soldiers stationed at the Boca Raton Army Air Field during World War II. Veterans later returned, recalling fewer social restrictions than “back home,” although some reported difficulties in finding off-base housing.

From 1946 to 1956, a Russian Jewish immigrant, J. Meyer Schine, owned the Boca Raton Resort and Club, but was known to encourage discrimination against Jews when developing local real estate. Other communities, such as Boca Raton Hills, openly advertised they were “restricted.”

Although nationwide there was a boom in new synagogues during the 1950s and ‘60s, the first Jews in South County felt isolated. In 1967 a small group formed the Boca Raton Hebrew Congregation, now Temple Beth El, and was invited to hold their services at Marymount College in Boca Raton, now Lynn University.

Jews from the northeast states, like others, found many reasons to come to Palm Beach County in the 1960s: education at the new Florida Atlantic University, employment with big industry that was locating here, and a nice climate for a retirement or vacation home.

In 1970 about 1,150 Jews lived in South County and the Fifth Avenue Deli opened, offering the first bagels and corned beef sandwiches; the closest Kosher food was in Miami. The 1970s saw many breakthroughs for the Jewish community of South County: Delray Beach’s first synagogue, Conservative Temple Emeth, opened in 1973. The Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County, based in West Palm Beach, opened a part-time office in Boca Raton. Jews moved into the formerly restricted Camino Gardens and Royal Palm subdivisions. As the decade ended, five synagogues served South County, Century Village offered inexpensive retirement living in West Boca, and the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County split off from the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County.

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