April 13, 2021

Transplanting a Kosher Community of 80,000 in Orlando for Passover

Orlando…Rafi and Baila were in the pop-up Jewish community of Orlando for Passover. Last year, during the Covid-19 crisis, they conducted the Seder in their Brooklyn home with their 4-year-old son and 11-month-old daughter. For the past decade prior to 2019, even before marriage in 2015, Rafi had joined his parents in Jerusalem’s Citadel Hotel. With Israel still restricting entrance to foreigners, Rafi joined a group of friends who were part of a program that arranged for him to rent a beautiful home in the Encore development. The organizer provided all the food and even arranged for a tent that would serve as a synagogue.  “It was a pretty close second to the Citadel,” said Baila. “All our meals were catered and we had excellent waiters and staff.” Not everyone joined a program like Rafi.

Many participated in the Pesach in Style program or through other groups. Some made the arrangements on their own, driving down with their food or joining one of the many trucks that went South from the New York/New Jersey area. The Grove, the largest kosher supermarket in South Florida, delivered to many of the vacationers while such New York-based caterers like Batya also provided the service.

The Winn Dixie stores, which significantly upgraded their Passover selection in many of their stores in Florida, offered “Passover Meals Made Easy" with Webermans Traditional Foods and an A La Carte Passover selection at their South Orlando store. Like many stores throughout the country, the Winn Dixie ran out of some basic staples, to the frustration of many vacationers who depended on the chain to supplement their missing items. Rafi said that Orlando “was the place to be.” With pop-up pizza stores and several star-studded concerts, it could have been Lakewood or Brooklyn but it was in the toasty climate of Central Florida. There was even a pre-arranged speed dating and at least one fundraiser for a well-known charity.

Because of its excellent infra-structure for tourism, Orlando was the natural place for such an “instant” community as several people termed it. With hotel programs down by 75%, the Orlando option was a boon for the kosher food industry. Rafi is already planning for Passover 2022 and is again hoping that his parents join as they did this year. Some are also booking for Succot and even Chanukah. While Dubai may be the newest destination in the Middle East, Orlando is definitely the new charm in the kosher community in the US.