Recently I saw a Netflix documentary that really brought me back. “The Last Resort” focuses on two young Jewish photographers who had grown up in the Jewish retiree heyday of Miami Beach in the 1950s and ’60s and returned after college in the ’70s to capture the spirit of the community and the lives of the seniors who lived there.
The Miami Beach of their photographs is exactly as I remember it from my childhood. I grew up pretty far away, in Baltimore, MD, but my family made the trip to visit my grandmother and aunt and uncle in Miami Beach about twice a year. I clearly remember disembarking from the Eastern Airlines plane into the thick, humid air and arriving at the open-air courtyard of my grandmother’s lower Collins Avenue apartment building, with its pungent fragrance of boiled chicken, pickle juice, sea breeze, and Coppertone.
In the streets and on the benches, or sunning on beach chairs with their deeply browned skin and zinc-oxide-covered noses and lips—as far as the eye could see or the legs could walk—were old Jews. All of them lived within a few blocks of kosher markets, synagogues, and Jewish social clubs, not to mention the dozens of nearby restaurants that served the well-loved dishes they had eaten all their lives. My grandmother had dozens of Jewish friends, neighbors, and acquaintances who shared a similar background and perspective. It was a thriving enclave with a distinctly Jewish flavor.
We stopped going to Miami Beach in the late 1970s, after my grandmother died and my aunt and uncle moved a few dozen miles north to Delray Beach. By then, it was already starting to change and would soon become a different place entirely. America’s sun-drenched haven for Jewish seniors was gone for good.
Now, in our Orlando community, Jewish seniors live all over the map. At the vast majority of the independent, assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care living facilities, Jews make up a very small part of the population. Their need for connection with other Jews could so easily be overlooked.
But the Jewish Pavilion works every day to make sure that doesn’t happen. With the help of volunteers and the wonderful, caring staffs of communities such as Cascade Heights, Oakmonte Village, Savannah Court and Cove, and so many of our other sponsors, we keep Jewish culture and connection in the lives and hearts of seniors who would otherwise be isolated from other Jews.
The photos we take of our programs and events don’t aim for the level of artistry of the two Miami Beach photographers whose work was celebrated in that documentary. That work is truly special, and I highly recommend the film and a look at the photographer’s websites (GaryMonroe.net and AndySweetPhotolegacy.com). But like their photos did in long-ago Miami Beach, our photos serve to document that Jewish culture is alive and well in Orlando.