Shopper at Winn Dixie in Boca Raton

Someone in shul on Monday morning overheard me saying that I was going back to New York on Tuesday. After davening, he looked at me and said, “Why are you going back to New York? You know it’s 20 degrees there.”

The person who said it to me also lives in New York, but he and his wife spend most of the winter down in Florida. There are lots of “snowbirds” like that spread all over this great state.

Actually, in a sense, it is a dream come true. The reality is that sometimes when I get up in the morning and want to know the weather forecast locally, I can’t help but also take a quick peek at what the weather is like in New York. I never took a survey, but my guess is that most people do that.

On Monday at 6 a.m. it was 72 degrees down here and 18 degrees in the part of New York where we reside. What are you supposed to say about something like that, that you like cold weather, that you’re at ease when it’s as cold as ice?

I know I’ve written extensively about Boynton Beach over the last year and the people down here appreciate the attention. One person said to me the other day that the real estate agents down here “are going to love you.”

Aside from the much warmer weather, another thing I enjoy down here is the contrast in the cultures between Florida and New York. And that is particularly true in the way the frum communities in both locations function.

There’s a Winn-Dixie supermarket in Boca Raton that has the most extensive line of kosher food items of any non-Orthodox retail food establishment I’ve ever seen or been in.

Whoever is running the Winn-Dixie is smart and woke up one day after seeing the dramatic demographic shift down here and made the corporate decision to go extensively kosher.

It kind of reminds me of the Dunkin’ Donuts in Lawrence and the story we once did on what the owner had to go through at the corporate level to make the store completely kosher with a good, reliable hashgachah. The higher ups at DD were adamantly against any change to their products and the ingredients that the other thousands of stores use. I don’t know what happened, but eventually the owner prevailed and as far as I know, he now owns three kosher Dunkin Donuts locations.

Winn-Dixie down here is really something else. The one in Boca has a fresh pizza counter as well as hot fresh take-out food like hot soup, meat, kugel, cholent, etc. A few months ago, I was perusing the take-out food display and thought I’d order a round of cucumber salad.

The young woman behind the counter took one of those plastic containers in her left hand and then one of those big spoons in her right, but before she scooped up the salad and stuffed it into the container, she looked at me and said, “You know it’s $6.99 a pound?”

I didn’t want to look aghast or surprised, nor did I want to say that in New York we pay more than double that amount, so her price was not just fair but excellent, so I told her that yes, I was aware of the price, and it was fine.

There is something gratifying in seeing Orthodox men and women wheeling their shopping carts around the store, sometimes with children in tow, picking items off the shelves in aisles with huge signs that say, “KOSHER.”

So, regardless of the significant differences in atmospheric conditions, there is this connection that exists between places like New York and South Florida that, aside from the weather, make one resemble the other on an increasingly frequent basis.

On Monday night at the Boca Raton Synagogue that I frequently mention because it is Palm Beach County’s flagship shul, Rabbi Efrem Goldberg hosted Rav Moshe Weinberger of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere. It was an inspiring farbrengen, a style that might be new to many in Boca Raton, but at the same time it was extremely well-received. In effect, it was a transmission of the warmth of the Rav’s shul in Woodmere to the double meteorological and spiritual warmth that is the hallmark of South Florida.

Last Saturday night, the BRS shul was also jammed with people who came to hear Israel’s former president, Reuven Rivlin. Aside from the former Israeli president’s appearance, what his visit here signals is that Florida is a must stop for many dignitaries from Israel and other Jewish communities around the world who wish to influence American Jewish thought.

Rivlin was a Knesset member in the Likud Party before being selected as president from 2014 to 2021. Today, he is 84 years old, and while Rabbi Goldberg had some very direct and poignant questions for Mr. Rivlin, he often went off-topic and talked about whatever else was on his mind.

President Rivlin said he is a descendant of the Vilna Gaon, and that his family emigrated to Israel from Europe in 1809, which in and of itself is quite a story. He came up through the political ranks and worked with Israel’s first leader, David Ben Gurion, among others during his decades of service.

He’s an interesting man who joked about being president of Israel and when your term is done it’s done and you’re no longer. I think he was referring to Prime Minister Netanyahu when he said that when you are a Prime Minister of Israel, you’re always prime minster. It was a nice jab, even funny.

Rivlin interestingly described himself as a “secular chareidi,” which I suppose means that he is an Israeli “everyman” if that makes any sense. He explained this by illustrating the composition of Israel today. He said that today the population is 25% chareidi, 25% Muslim, 38% secular Israelis, and 12% other, a mish mosh of all sorts of others.

The president of Israel is a mostly ceremonial position. It really has no political influence or power. Today’s president, Isaac Herzog, is trying to play a more productive and resourceful role in assisting the country through the war with Hamas and the hostage crisis.

Like the rest of Florida, Rivlin exudes a warmth that fits right in with what South Florida is all about. For now, it’s back to New York for a few weeks, iy’H, and then back down here again. After all, I’m writing these words in Florida on Tuesday morning. It’s almost 80 degrees with sparkling blue skies above us. My phone says 16 to 18 degrees later this week in the mornings. That’ll be quite a change of pace, but I’m looking forward to it.


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