Temple Menorah was designated as a contributing building in the national North Shore Architectural District by the United States Department of the Interior in 2009, and acknowledged as contributing to the historic and design significance of the local North Shore historic district by the Miami Beach City Commission in 2018.
Originally designed by Gilbert Fein and constructed as the North Shore Jewish Center in 1951, Temple Menorah was expanded according to a design by Morris Lapidus in 1963. Lapidus added the belvedere tower at the northwest corner, the vertical pilasters on the north façade, and the modernist arches on the west façade.
There is some ambiguity about the role of another architect – Tony Sherman – in the 1963 expansion, but these three features are consistent with the work of Lapidus throughout Miami Beach. Gilbert Fein and Morris Lapidus are among the most prolific and significant Miami Modern or MiMo architects who practiced on Miami Beach in the 1950s and 1960s. Fein studied architecture at New York University; Lapidus at Columbia University. Both designed during a period of Miami Beach optimism and expansion after World War II. Lapidus is perhaps best known for his Fontainebleau and Eden Roc Hotels as well as his design for a pedestrian Lincoln Road. Gilbert Fein designed hundreds of smaller multi-family buildings in South Florida, including 76 buildings in the North Shore and Normandy Isles neighborhoods.
Rabbi Mayer Abramowitz was a key figure in the development and growth of Temple Menorah, serving from 1951 until 1989, when he was designated Rabbi-Emeritus.
According to his obituary in the Miami Herald, the Rabbi had served as an Army chaplain at the end of World War II, and after the war’s end stayed in Europe helping Jewish refugees. One of those refugees was his wife, Rachel, who accompanied him to Miami Beach in 1951.
It was perhaps those post World War II experiences with refugees that moved Rabbi Abramowitz to welcome hundreds of Cuban Jewish refugees to Miami Beach in the early 1960s. In the late 90s, Rabbi Abramowitz recalled in a late 1990s interview with Caroline Bettinger-Lopez, “No one really welcomed the Cuban Jews, because the American Jewish community looked at the Cuban Jews as wealthy, not in need of help ... So they all came to Temple Menorah. I gave them free temple membership, free Hebrew school, free everything.”
While other Jewish Cuban congregations eventually developed, a significant number of Temple Menorah’s current members are former Cuban refugees or their descendants. The current rabbi, Eliot Pearlson, has continued this welcoming work with Russian Jewish refugees in the early 1990s and with the Argentinian community trying to settle in South Florida during their nation’s economic crisis of 2003-2006
For further information, you may wish to consult:
Howard Cohen. '"'Father of the Cuban Jewish community' Rabbi Mayer Abramowitz dies at 97"
"Home is Where the History Is," Review of Caroline Bettinger-Lopez. Cuban-Jewish Journeys: Search for Identity, Home, and History in Miami. Foreword by Ruth Behar. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2000. Published by H-FL@H-Net.msu.edu (January 2007).
Temple Menorah website
Jeff Donnelly is the Public Historian of the Miami Design Preservation League and the co-author of Miami Architecture: An AIA Guide to Downtown, Coral Gables and the Beaches. He once served as Chair of the City of Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board and regularly conducts walking tours of Miami Beach's historic districts. He and his wife, Nancy Wolcott, have lived on Miami Beach since 1986.