january, 2017

wed11jan11:30 AM12:30 PMBrown Bag Lunch: History of Jews in St. Augustine11:30 AM - 12:30 PM Main Branch

Event Details

In commemoration of Florida Jewish History Month, our special guest, Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, will speak about the history of the Jewish population of St. Augustine. Their presence likely spans five centuries, dating back to the very founding of the North America’s oldest European City. The question of the presence of descendants of Jews in earliest colonial times is a debate that will be shared in this presentation. There is no doubt that Abolitionist and Utopianist Moses Elias Levy lived on Charlotte Street in the 1820s and that his son, David Levy Yulee studied for the Bar on Artillery Street before assuming his place in Florida’s Territorial Government and ultimately becoming the first person of Jewish descent to serve in the U.S. Senate.

While two Jewish itinerant peddlers from the 1840s are buried in St. Augustine’s Jewish Cemetery, the Jewish Community as we know it today has its roots in the 1890s and established a synagogue on Cordova Street. That synagogue, First Congregation Sons of Israel is the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the State of Florida.

As Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Council worked to both end segregation in St. Augustine and keep the quest for justice on the front pages of northern newspapers during the U.S. Senate filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the soon-to-be-named Nobel Peace Prize winner called for assistance from members of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Sixteen Rabbis and one administrator came to St. Augustine and were soon caught up in the largest mass arrest of Rabbis in U.S. History on June 18, 1964. In the 21st century, Jews continue to play a vital role in the social, civic and business life of St. Augustine.

Rabbi Merrill Shapiro is the President of the St. Augustine Jewish Historical Society, immediate past national president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and a frequent Road Scholar (Elderhostel) educator at Stetson University and, next fall, at the OLLI program at the University of North Florida. He served congregations in Ohio, Virginia and Florida and as adjunct faculty in the Jewish Studies Program at the University of Central Florida. A former visiting scholar at Hebrew University and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial both in Jerusalem, he has been published in the Journal of Spanish, Portuguese and Italian Crypto-Jews and recently delivered a paper at the annual conference of the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies. He and his wife Robyn have two daughters and five grandchildren and currently live in Palm Coast, Florida.

This program is free and open to the public. Doors open at 11:00 and the program will begin at 11:30. Patrons are welcome to bring their lunch. Light refreshments will be provided by the Friends of the Main Library St. Augustine. For additional information, please call the Main Library at 904.827.6940.


(Wednesday) 11:30 AM - 12:30 PM


Main Branch