By Larry Gordon
Staying warm in New York this week is presenting quite a challenge for many. More snow, blustery winds—well, it’s the heart of winter, so what else can you possibly expect? Last Shabbos in New York was particularly frigid, and once outside there was no escaping the biting cold. We tiptoed our way to shul, sometimes dancing over icy, unshoveled walkways. But then it all changed for the better.
Last Saturday night at the JetBlue terminal at JFK, about a half-hour or so after Havdallah, there seemed to be a melavehmalkah or some kind of Jewish convention taking shape at Gate 17. This was the first time I could recall attempting to skip out on a Saturday night, trying to make an 8:00 p.m. flight with Shabbos concluding at 6:00 p.m. It rapidly became apparent that we weren’t the only individuals cooking up this plan.
Generally, this part of the airport is unusually quiet at this time of Saturday night. Most of the JetBlue flights have already done their flying for the day, hence the light traffic in the terminal. That is, except for about 150 people who were observing Shabbos until 6:00 but were then determined to beat the impending ice and snow and go to South Florida.
We had never seen anything like this. People in yarmulkes and pushing baby carriages began to stream in. Since we live just a few minutes from the airport, when we got there at first I looked around and made a mental note that it was going to be an empty flight.
I had calculated our schedule so as to escape the New York cold for a few days, after what I thought would be the massive migration of city dwellers during intersession a couple of pre-snow weeks ago. So we were sitting in the airport watching what for us was an unusual phenomenon unfold.
We engaged a woman with three children sitting across from us in conversation about what was going on. As the world turns, it seems that all the Bais Yaakov schools in Brooklyn and probably elsewhere are off for most of this week. Many—it looked like almost all—of the students were headed for Miami Beach.
You might be wondering why, if I’m complaining, we did not consider some other southern locale with a warm and sunny climate. Well, first, I’m not complaining at all. I actually like the hustle and bustle of members of our tribe teeming into a specific nice-weather-in-winter area and relaxing and enjoying themselves in the sun. It’s just that when it’s not so crowded, things are a bit more laid-back.
So many thousands are down here in Florida now precisely because so many are indeed down here. That’s a circular yet accurate explanation of what it is like to be here this week.
Actually there are a lot of interesting things going on down here. Perhaps what we Northerners or New Yorkers really like about Miami Beach is that we feel at home here, as if we were back in New York with 80-degree temperatures in February. That doesn’t necessarily sit so well with the native Floridians who may see this influx a little differently than we do.
The snowbirds, as they are affectionately known, are not your simple everyday invaders. Many play an integral part in the sustainability of the Miami communities as we know them. I might be thinking about the analogous summer migration to Woodbourne and Woodridge, but the contrasts are stark. I think that the summer Catskills phenomenon is more like an invasion, with the relationship with the Miami Beach community harboring similarities to a soft landing.
Having dealt with last week’s near-miss storm of the century in New York, does it help that while it was snowing and ice-storming in New York on Monday it was 82 degrees down here? Upon reflection, the truthful answer is yes and no. Growing up and living in the Northeast all these years, the idea of outdoor temperatures in the 70s and 80s in the middle of winter is an anomaly.
My parents came down here annually and since I traveled down here 35 years ago, I always felt that, in a way, we were all cheating winter. It only felt that way, because, if that were the case, what could we say about the people who have lived down here all their lives? They certainly don’t live to cheat old man winter in New York. Do they?
And an essay about South Florida in winter for Orthodox Jewish visitors would not be complete without a comment about the abundance of shuls that nourish the soul—and restaurants that just nourish.
As we walked through the JetBlue terminal last Saturday night, there were signs of flights that had left for Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and Aruba—all great locations with Chabad Houses, warm weather, and even some kosher food if you look around enough. So I don’t know exactly what it is down here. Maybe it’s the choices, or perhaps it is just the history and the tradition.
With all the high-school kids down here this week, it is difficult to find either a parking space or a table in a restaurant. Just being an observer of the busyness is fascinating in its own right.
So even though we are parked down here this week, my mind is still very much back up at home with the family and this issue of the paper, which has to be out this weekend as usual, whether it snows again, as the forecast says it will, or not. In the meantime, I’ve been in a few stores and have not so far seen even one snow shovel for sale, though I was thinking while walking along the beach the other evening that I have more than a few at home in New York.
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