By Larry Gordon
You are probably aware of the renewed interest in Florida for many people from far-flung locations in the U.S. but it seems that nothing has attracted more attention than the interest of Orthodox Jews in the move south. We are in Florida this week, mostly on business but also to get a sense of the allure that Florida holds for so many beyond Miami Beach.
First, a few lines about the extraordinary summertime heat here in Florida. It occurred to me this week that I was here once before about two-and-a-half decades ago. That time it was early July when it is apparently just as sizzling as it is in August. Once I walked out of the Fort Lauderdale airport and the heat hit me it all came back to me—Aha, I felt this once before, a long time ago, but I remember it well.
We are spending a few days in Boca Raton and as soon as we walked into our hotel it was not just the heat that reminded us that we were no longer subjected to the dictates of Bill de Blasio or Andrew Cuomo before his attention was diverted from the virus by one or two other problems. Here in the lobby of the hotel there is an electronic sign on the wall that says that if you are vaccinated against the coronavirus, then wearing a face mask is optional. If you are not vaccinated, the sign says, you are requested to wear a covering for your nose and mouth. There is no one here to interrogate you or pass judgement on your morality or your thought process on the matter.
Florida is a state that, unlike New York, seems to be run by adults. The governor here, Ron DeSantis, is a rising star in the Republican Party and an early frontrunner who is mentioned frequently on the subject of the 2024 Republican candidate for president. The DeSantis agenda, like that of every other governor, is to keep his people safe and protected—but not at the cost of destroying cities and ruining people’s lives. It seems that the governor chooses to treat the citizens of his state like grownups, not wayward children requiring some kind of restriction or punishment at every turn. De Blasio, whose tenure as New York City mayor will be over soon (but not soon enough), and Mr. Cuomo, who’s been shown the exit anyway, can learn a lot from the way Florida is dealing with the virus problem.
Back to our original intended storyline. There is something that has always been synonymous about Jews and Florida, and particularly Miami Beach. And it is really not such a mystery.
Most Jews live in New York or at least the Northeast, where it gets very cold in the winter. I guess it was easy for a good many people to figure out that when it is freezing up here in New York, it is pretty mild, if not very warm, here in south Florida. If you’ve read The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal lately then you saw the stories about Orthodox Jews going wild for life in Florida. In all likelihood, this massive Florida movement would never have been exercised had the leadership in New York not been so poor, disappointing, and even exploitative of frum Jews over the last 18 months.
We are still wrestling to an extent with the difficulties presented by corona, but if you think back, the struggle is a different one than it was a year ago or even more recently. In New York, there was an audacious double standard that closed our shuls and yeshivas for months at a time. A mitigation process had to be adhered to so that our healthcare systems were not more overwhelmed than they were and our pharmaceutical companies had time to develop a workable vaccine, which they did in record time. But in New York there was extreme overreach and even a display of meanness that it is still not easy to make peace with.
New York City has a wild and irresponsible mayor. And now we know what Andrew Cuomo is all about. He’s narcissistic and destructive, and for a time there he wanted to take us all down with him. But, as they say, every dog has his day and now Mr. Cuomo is done, having resigned from office on Tuesday. Hopefully, this is the beginning of things turning around in New York.
On the matter of Jews from New York heading to Florida, the WSJ reported last week on the 2,500 homes being built near Tampa, mostly for chassidishe families from areas like Brooklyn and Monsey. The leader of this movement is Rabbi Yisrael Taussig, who already resides near Tampa Bay and is developing a new community for likeminded people looking to leave the distasteful aspects of New York behind them. The plan, as you may have read, is for the construction of one-family homes to be sold for $325,000, with a down payment of just 3% required. In Florida, private school parents receive $7,500 toward private school tuition per child. That is welcome news for families and the yeshivas as well.
The fact is that these communities are growing exponentially while it has become increasingly difficult to find affordable places to live back in New York.
In Boca, the centerpiece of Orthodox life is the Boca Raton Synagogue (BRS), under the dynamic leadership of Rabbi Efrem Goldberg. Boca is an attractive, serene city here in central Florida. I davened there over the few days that I was in Boca this week, and one morning I observed a matter that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in New York. On Tuesday morning, there was no Tachanun at the Shacharis minyan. The two days prior were rosh chodesh, but this was the next day and it should have been back to business as usual at Shacharis.
There was a curious buzz in the room as people at the minyan wondered why there was no Tachanun. Someone announced that there was no Tachanun because of a bris. A few minutes later he announced that the bris would actually be at 5:30 p.m. at the Chabad shul in Boca. I heard one man ask the announcer: If the bris won’t take place for another seven hours and will be at another shul, why did our minyan not say Tachanun? The shamash said it’s because the sandek was there in the back of the room. So the question came down to whether a sandek can utilize the non-Tachanun aura that surrounds him so long as the bris is taking place sometime during that day, even in another part of the city.
I was thinking that this might not fly in New York. But then again, everything seems a bit easier and more relaxed down here.
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