By Larry Gordon
Any way you look at it, we are talking about a lot of food. Three days of the chag is not only a boon for newspapers like ours where we have people trapped at home after shul and their seudah without their cellphones or iPads; it is also quite a bonanza for our supermarkets and other food purveyors.
Last week I wrote that, according to organizers, about 88,000 yom tov celebrants are traveling to Orlando for Pesach. Several people said that this was an underestimation and that the more accurate number is 200,000. Or perhaps it will just feel and look like 200,000.
To sociologically understand what happened here, it seems that a significant number of past venues are skipping this season, which seems to have directed thousands of people in the direction of Florida.
A quick glance at the yom tov weather forecast for Orlando indicates that it will be sunny, with temperatures in the low nineties. I can already hear the post-yom-tov stories about how impossibly hot and uncomfortable it was. It’s going to be 10 degrees lower in Miami Beach and 35 degrees lower in New York, so prepare to dress accordingly.
This year, there is a special tricky challenge, as erev Pesach is on Shabbos. This means that we have to go to shul very early on Shabbos morning so that we can wash and eat our challah or pita or bagels or whatever we are going to use so that we can be done with our bread products by about 10:30 a.m.
It could very well be that by the time you read these words you’ll have already ingested at least a pound of shemurah matzah, macaroons, chocolate, some more-watery-than-usual gefilte fish, and a meat-and-potato soup impersonating a cholent dish. Man (and woman) cannot live by matzah alone, not in Orlando or anywhere else.
Sruly Wulliger and his family are flying down to Orlando on Wednesday, but a refrigerator truck with 36 boxes packed with all his family’s needs for yom tov will arrive in the Sunshine State shortly after they do. He adds, “If you think you are going to find food for Pesach down there, you’d better think again.” “You’re not going to find kosher for Pesach mayonnaise in Winn-Dixie.”
All of a sudden, the mechanics of what they call “bringing in Pesach” does not sound so easy or seamless. Of course, the boxes with frozen meats and chickens, sacks of potatoes and onions, salt and pepper and other spices, and so on are on the trucks and will get there, but someone has to unpack them and put everything away. Once that is all done, it sounds like an ideal and idyllic type of yom tov experience. But then yom tov ends and everything needs to be packed up, and at least some of what you sent down there has to be sent back.
Wulliger, who is a very-much-in-demand ba’al tefillah, got together with some of his friends and rented an additional home in which they could have their own minyan. As we mentioned last week, homes are being rented in and around this one Orlando area, and depending on the caliber of the house, the cost can run anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000. Then, of course, you have to factor in all the additional necessary expenses like food and so on.
His son, Moshe, is the administrator of a new WhatsApp group, UNITED95, named after the route that runs south from the George Washington Bridge directly into Orlando. According to the best information available, there are thousands of people making the drive which, according to Google Maps, is 1,073 miles from New York City.
I joined the WhatsApp group for a couple of days this week just to get a sense of the issues that those making the trek by car are dealing with. One inquiry the other day was whether anyone knows about a morning minyan on Thursday morning in Savannah, Georgia. The response from another participant was that the Savannah shuls that are usually open to travelers making their way by car to Florida are closed this year due to the pandemic.
As far as I can tell, many people started their trip by car last Sunday, and most who are driving left no later than Tuesday. There was a lot of banter about places to meet up for impromptu minyanim for Minchah and Ma’ariv, sprinkled in with a bunch of questions about Shacharis minyanim on Wednesday and Thursday.
So this is pretty much what I learned so far. For those leaving from New York, there are plenty of kosher food stops in Silver Spring and Baltimore. Additionally, it seems that beyond those stops in Maryland, kosher food will be rare until you hit the state of Florida. There’s also been a lot of talk about gas prices, which, so far, along the eastern corridor range from about $2.50 to $2.73 per gallon.
For those who left on Sunday, one traveler informed the several hundred others in the group that he had a sefer Torah with him and would be stopping at the Georgia Welcome Center at 6:30 a.m. on Monday. As Sunday and Monday progressed, my phone was increasingly dinging wildly from people in their cars up and down the east coast at some location between New York and Florida.
One person asked the group if anyone ever made the trip in a Tesla. Someone else responded that it is not a good idea unless you have a very long extension cord. In other words, not too many Tesla or other electric car charging stations in North Carolina, probably.
At some point, all the flying and driving will be over and everyone will be settled in their homes under a hot sun. The next big thing will be setting up the tables in the homes for Shabbos and the Sedarim. The preparation for our Sedarim everywhere are detailed and intense, but you have to admit that transporting your matzos, marror, and charoses over 1,000 miles is a bit more extensive than preparing for the Sedarim closer to home or at home.
All the preparation is somewhat reminiscent of the Seder of Reb Levi of Berditchev many years ago. After a night of taking his followers to the highest levels of the Haggadah and all the customs of the traditional Seder, the Berditchiver, as he was known, was informed from on high that there was one Seder in town that was on an even higher level and more pleasing to G-d than his.
He asked his assistant to find out what it was that Shmerel the local tailor had done at his Seder that was so pleasing and accepted. (There are different versions to this tale; this is the more abbreviated one.) Shmerel was summoned to Reb Levi who inquired of him what made his Seder so unique and special.
He explained to the Berditchiver that he was an alcoholic and had no idea that the day before was erev Pesach. When he found out, he said, he imbibed all his beer and vodka that he had at home because he knew he would not be able to enjoy his favorite beverages over the next eight days.
After he finished consuming all his alcohol, he said, he fell asleep and his wife simply could not wake him. She finally threw a bucket of water over his head, and when he opened his eyes she told him he should be ashamed of himself for not conducting a proper Seder. He then pulled himself over to the table, poured four cups of wine, and set out the matzos. Still quite inebriated, he managed to stammer out the words, “Hashem, I know You created the world and after our servitude in Egypt took us out with great miracles, and just like You took us out of that galus You will send Mashiach and take us out of this galus, too.” He then ate some matzah and drank the four cups before falling back asleep for the rest of the night.
It was Shmerel’s Seder that caught the attention of the celestial heights and was considered a Seder of an even purer level than Reb Levi of Berditchev’s.
I think there is a fairly well-known modern-day version of this type of Pesach observance. It’s simple and directly addresses the point in just a few pithy words. It’s meant to be humorous, so don’t take it all too seriously. It goes like this: “They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.”
Good yom tov.
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