One such scourge on our history came in the form of anti-Semitism, which was prevalent throughout South Florida. Henry Flagler, whose decision to build a station stop here on his railroad route to Miami was so influential to the growth of our fledgling settlement, did not hide his prejudice against Jews. The oil and railroad magnate, who died in 1913, prohibited land sales and hotel lodging to Jewish clients.
In the 1930s, historians tell us, there were signs on the Miami beachfront hotels, “Views But No Jews.” Others read “Gentiles Only” or the more despicable “No Jews or Dogs.” Ironically, just two decades later Jews had designed, built, owned or lived in 70 percent of the Art Deco hotels so esteemed today.
A Jewish businessman named William Horvitz came to Broward from Ohio in 1953 to help his father run his family’s real estate business. Even at that time, prejudice was still prevalent, especially in policies of yacht and country clubs, even in the hospital district. Despite that, Horvitz turned out to be one of our most prominent businessmen and philanthropists.
His father paved the way for his success. Sam Horvitz, a high school dropout from Cleveland, came to Broward in the 1920s holding a contract to build streets in Hollywood. In a few years, boom turned to bust for many, but Horvitz was able to purchase newly vacant land in the county. Over several years, he purchased enough land to establish over 25,000 lots, then built and sold single-family homes.
When Sam Horvitz died, William took the reins of his company, Hollywood Inc., and pushed Broward westward.
When Ponce de Leon claimed Florida for Spain in 1513, his baggage included the Spanish Inquisition. Only Catholics could live in Florida, but Jews who chose to convert (many of whom still practiced their faith secretly) were among the early settlers and soldiers of St. Augustine.
Then in 1763, the Treaty of Paris resulted in England acquiring Florida from Spain. Jews could now openly reside here. The first-recorded Jews to settle in Florida arrived in Pensacola.
Just 20 years later, history repeated itself: England returned Florida to Spain. Still under the Inquisition, Spain ordered a census, in part to reveal those who were Jewish. However, a decision was subsequently made to allow Jews to stay. Northern Florida needed settlers.
Florida said goodbye to the tentacles of the Inquisition when it became the 27th state in 1845. A census count at the time tallied 66,500 people, with fewer than a hundred Jews in the state. Slowly over the next century, the community expanded south to our region, primarily in what is now Miami and Miami Beach.
Fort Lauderdale’s first recorded Jewish resident was Louis Brown, who came to town in 1910. When Moe Katz, founder of the city’s first temple, arrived in 1923, there were seven Jewish families here. In starting that temple, he received a major lift from a visiting businessman, Samuel Lerner, who was in town to help set up a new dress shop, a family franchise.
A list of those who impacted our city would not be complete without pioneers like Katz, and years later, William Horvitz. As the Sun Sentinel reported when the businesman passed on in 1999, Broward charities received millions of dollars due to his efforts.
“Among them are Women in Distress, the Hollywood YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club, and the Jewish Foundation of Broward County,” the obituary read.
“He felt that Broward County had given him resources beyond anything he could ever imagine, and he wanted to give back,” according to his son, David Horvitz.
Add education to that list: Note the William and Norma Horvitz Administration Building prominent on the Nova Southeastern University campus in Davie.