April 14, 2015

My Passover in Phoenix

Like an estimated 60,000 other American Jews, I and members of my family spent the just concluded Passover at a luxury hotel in Phoenix with nine days of perfect weather, round-the-clock gourmet food, inspiring lectures, top-rate entertainment, all in the company of 950 other guests from all over the US and Canada, largely an under 45 crowd. Unlike most of the other programs, estimated at 125 nationwide, this program at the Sheraton Crescent was sponsored by Ohr Naava, an organization that has been highly successful in working with troubled young women. Led by the charismatic, articulate and very dynamic Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein, most of the guests enjoyed a very high-end program while supporting a worthy organization. The logistics were coordinated by Rabbi Moshe Fuchs, a 22-year veteran of Passover programs, mostly at New York’s Rye Town Hilton, an experience that contributed to a seamless experience for the guests despite it being the first year for Ohr Naava. Rabbi Fuchs is the spiritual leaders of Congregation Sons of Israel in the Bronx, one of the few remaining synagogues in the borough that he preserves to honor the memory of his late father. He also runs an impressive food program for the Jewish poor in the borough.

While I marveled at the professionalism of Rabbis Wallerstein and Fuchs, I was amazed at the haute cuisine and variety and creativity of gourmet food, yes on Passover, by Rick Richter, known for his exceptional catering. I kept thinking 20,000 eggs and probably the same number of potatoes and just a guess probably an almost equal number of meals. Kudos to the kosher supervision of Rabbi Sholey Klein, who heads the Dallas Kosher with his team of approximately 12 supervisors. Experiencing such an operation gave me a close-up perspective of the Passover program industry that I have been following for almost three decades. Fittingly, in one of my lectures I focused on the history and growth of the kosher food industry and seeing the abundance of Coca Cola products couldn’t help but focus on Rabbi Tobias Gefen who in the early 1900’s convinced Coca Cola to tweak a few ingredients to be kosher for Passover and year-round.