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Surfside, Fla. Credit: Jerome Labouyrie/Shutterstock.
Surfside, Fla. Credit: Jerome Labouyrie/Shutterstock.
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‘Petty’ and ‘incorrect,’ Jewish mayor of Surfside says of attacks for supporting Israel

At a commission meeting of the Florida town, Shlomo Danzinger was accused of making Judaism his career ... even being told that he’s not King Solomon.

Shlomo Danzinger, the Orthodox Jewish mayor of Surfside, Fla., was reportedly under police protection last summer after receiving a neo-Nazi death threat against him and his family. Some of the town’s nearly 6,000 residents and one of its elected officials have reacted in a way that suggests that they blame him for being a target of Jew-hatred.

Surfside commissioner Marianne Meischeid wrote to Hector Gomez, the town manager, on Nov. 1, passing along concerns of residents that an Israeli flag in Town Hall “marks the building as a high safety risk,” according to an email that JNS viewed. “The FBI has announced that Jewish neighborhood communities are at high risk of being targeted.”

Meischeid also said that the police didn’t inform the public about the antisemitic threat against Danzinger in August. “This was done at the request of the mayor to the town manager, who acquiesced to his demand, thus putting the commissioners and residents in potential danger,” Meischeid wrote in the email.

“Many people were close to the mayor during the 10 days that they were uninformed. They could have made their own choices had they been informed. Instead, they learn about the antisemitic email on the local TV news, not from the town manager,” she wrote. “The residents feel that you only care about the mayor and not the safety of the rest of the town.”

In a Nov. 24 email, Meischeid wrote to Gomez that the Israeli flag in Town Hall is “illuminated at night time on taxpayers’ dollars.”

Danziger, who wears a yarmulke over his long hair and who is pictured on the town commission website alongside a boy wearing a yarmulke, told JNS that the criticism he has been facing “is extremely petty, and it’s incorrect.”

“The lighting system here is LED, so if it costs $5 a year to keep my light in my room on, that’s an overestimate,” he said. “The entire Town Hall is lit up. We don’t shut everything down because technically, it’s open 24/7. That argument is just ridiculous.”

JNS viewed an email that Kathy Imberman, wife of a former Surfside vice mayor, wrote to Meischeid on Nov. 5, thanking the commissioner for asking her opinion. Imberman wrote that Surfside should rightfully be thankful” to all those who helped in the aftermath of the Champlain Towers South collapse in June 2021 that caused the deaths of 98 people.

“It seems that only one group gets recognition by the current administration,” wrote Imberman. She noted a CNN article about Mexican rescuers, in addition to Israelis, aiding in the search for survivors.

“And yet … no mention of Mexico, ever,” she said. “There have been four significant earthquakes in Mexico during 2022. And silence from Surfside. Let’s try to return to the time when elected officials advocated on behalf of all Surfsiders.”

“I actually looked into it and I investigated because the city wasn’t actually running the rescue. [It was] the county and the state,” Danziger told JNS. “The team that came down from Mexico was Cadena. Cadena is an Israeli team based out of Mexico. I think we covered our bases. There was no team from the country of Mexico. This was an Israeli team.”

When Danziger sought to establish Israel’s Shomron region as a Surfside sister city, he met opposition that proposed Mexico, rather than a different Israeli city, he said.

“It’s really just a talking point by my opposition,” he said. “They’re trying to say how I’m all Jewish, doing everything because of Jews. That I’m forsaking everyone else. What about the Mexican people? They love to say that. Well, the Mexican team is comprised of Israelis who used to be in this rescue unit that then opened their own organization. It’s the same people.”

Shlomo Danziger
Shlomo Danziger, mayor of Surfside, Fla. Source: X/Shlomo Danziger.

‘Our worst enemies’

Of being blamed as a target of Jew-hatred and accused of endangering others in his victimhood, Danziger replied: “That they can take this and somehow turn that against me, too, that I didn’t notify them ahead of time—meanwhile, it was a federal investigation. It puts my family at risk. This is what they’re looking for, attention. You don’t want to bring attention to this. Somehow, they were the victims, and I was the aggressor in this scenario.”

In a Dec. 12 town commission meeting, Danziger mentioned Meischeid, who sat on his left, by name and noted the emails, including one that Imberman sent to her that appeared to target three Surfside synagogues Imberman called “illegal.” Meischeid and another commissioner denounced Danziger, as did members of the public who spoke.

Eliana Salzhauer told Danziger that he probably couldn’t read the Hebrew letters on her shirt, which bore a Star of David. “You made being Jewish a career here,” she charged, before telling him, “You’re not Shlomo Hamelech,” King Solomon.

In a Dec. 12 post on social media, in which she superimposed an emoji face with a large nose on Danziger, Salzhauer wrote: “Be sure to watch tonight’s Surfside commission meeting. King ScamZinger and Vice Mayor Turd were in rare form. March can’t come soon enough. Vote them out!” (History has long depicted Jews with oversized noses.)

In another post on social media, Salzhauer used a sexual term to refer to Danziger and a male Florida state representative.

“In general, Jews have always been our worst enemies throughout history,” said Danziger, noting that as a child he learned that the Jewish Temple was destroyed due to internecine hatred.

“She comes to the meetings and starts off every time, ‘Hey, I’m Jewish. My family was in Israel’ or ‘I went to Israel for school, but,’ and then come the most venomous string of sentences after that,” he said of Salzhauer, a former commissioner. “She’s been the most vocal opposition.”

Another Jewish person drives by Danziger’s office almost every day yelling expletives at him, the mayor said. “Every day. That’s his routine.”

IDF Assists in Surfside, Fla.
Members of the Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command assist in search-and-rescue efforts in Surfside, Fla., in June 2021. Credit: IDF.

‘The legacy people are upset’

The synagogues that some residents are going after and calling “illegal” began in houses during COVID-19, Danziger told JNS. “People started making these little, pocket shuls those two years, and some of them took off,” he said.

One is a Chassidic congregation. Another is a Sephardic synagogue.

“The reason why they are popping up is because there’s a need for it,” Danziger said. “Not because there are 10 people in one shul, 10 people in the other. Every single one of them is bursting at the seams. They’re all looking for buildings, but there are not a lot of places to build here.”

To Danziger, being Jewish means believing in a higher power greater than yourself. “It’s not about me. It’s about something bigger than myself, and that’s how you contribute to the world,” he said. “Being a religious person translates very well to public service. There are many things that aren’t necessarily for me but are for the greater good.”

Israel, he said, is essential as the “insurance policy” that guarantees for Jews that “we will never again go through what we did in Nazi Germany. We have a state. We have power.” He said that Jews are now fleeing antisemitism in France and the United Kingdom, and going to Israel.

“As bad as things get, it will never happen again because there will always be a place to go,” he said. “People don’t get that. We’re proud Americans. We love our country. But at the end of the day, we still have an insurance policy.”

People move to Surfside from other countries not just for the Jewish community but the “blend of all kinds of people,” Danziger said. Despite the diversity of the Jewish community—Sephardic, Chassidic, German Ashkenazi and others—Surfside Jews come together often, he added.

“There’s a l’chaim on a Friday in someone’s backyard,” he said. “It really is a warm and connected community, even though there are so many different chapters. They still all come together.”

“The broader community is upset to see the change that’s happening to Surfside. That’s a given. That’s what happens when communities change,” he said. “The legacy people are upset. They lived here, and it was quiet. Now it’s a booming town.”

“It’s a beautiful community,” he added. “I think people are going to realize that. It’s going to take a little time. If the Jewish community has a voice, which they’re not utilizing right now, it will really be able to make some changes in this town.”

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