Before the Jews of Sarasota/Manatee: Some Thoughts on Public Memory and Florida’s Jewish Heritage–By Uzi Baram, Professor of Anthropology, New College of Florida

Public Memory
In November 2013 the rare Thanksgiving-Hanukkah convergence (the last time it occurred was 1888) led to Thanksgivukkah as neologism. For American Jews, the convergence was a fun overlap, worthy of wide-spread, even if fleeting, notice. The next time, due to the fluctuations of the calendars, is projected for thousands of years in the future, but that does not negate the celebration as a meaningful social event. Thanksgivukkah captured people’s imagination, with a meal combining latkes (fried potato pancakes) with turkey and recognition of the historic and continuing positive experience of the United States for Jews.

Typically archaeologists delve into ground to recover settlements and artifacts as the material remains of history. But standing material culture is also part of archaeology. And over the last decade archaeologists have increasingly turned their attention to monuments, commemorations, and other materializations of history that constitute public memory as objects to study. When casting the net deeper into the past, there are some traces of the Jewish presence in what is today Sarasota-Manatee. They are not part of the trajectory that created the present Jewish community, but this essay will consider two figures, both of whom left traces of their fleeting involvement with this region. The official name for a local state park makes Judah P. Benjamin a recognizable name to those who know the commemorations of the region; the other is found only in the archival record but Moses Elias Levy is intriguing for this initial exploration of a broader, more diverse heritage in the region.

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