The Kosher King
By David S. Covell
Kosher events aren’t chopped liver anymore. Not even in the Caribbean.
On a recent trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands (my fourth in five years), I finally had the opportunity to visit the second-oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. I guess on other trips I was too busy sailing, eating, drinking or eating more, but this time we made it.
Meeting at the St. Thomas Synagogue with other American and foreign visitors, along with the staff and rabbi, was an experience. This historic and amazing place with beach sand on the floor of the sanctuary is a national historic landmark. Built in 1833, it is also the oldest shul in continuous use under the American flag. The small but vibrant congregation was founded in 1796 when small numbers of Jews arrived to join the first European settlers.
Most of those original Caribbean congregants were descendants of Spanish Jews who had left Spain rather than be forced to convert to Catholicism. A number of Spanish Jews also sought refuge in Portugal, where that privilege cost them a significant sum of money each year. Those Jews were later forced to convert to Catholicism and had to practice Judaism secretly, as some of the Spanish Jews who had converted were also doing.
The inquisition aimed to find those who took their Christian oaths falsely, often torturing suspected “Judaizers” and burning them at the stake in an auto-da-fe when convicted.
Where am I going with this? Well, while I was standing in the back of the sanctuary and schmoozing, the conversation immediately turned to, you guessed it, food.
Have you tried Sunset Grille, one gentleman from Maryland inquired, or Grand Cru in Charlotte Amalie, his wife chirped in.
It was all about food and wine and then the question from a man from Toronto: “What do you do for a living?”
When I said I own an upscale kosher catering company in Atlanta, they were shocked. The man from Maryland laughed and asked whether I was a magician. I knew immediately what he meant. His idea of kosher was a rubbery slab of overcooked beef and bland desserts. How could that be any good?
He seemed to lose faith in my friendship as long ago he had lost faith in kosher cuisine.
I asked him what he does for a living. He said he’s a real estate lawyer. I asked him if he was good at it. He said yes. So why did he think I would be no good at my trade?
He was confused and apologized. While I didn’t mean to put him on the defensive, I said it is fair to say Jewish people are highly skilled at their trades and are often the best in their respective industries. He agreed.
But still he had a problem understanding that kosher events could be as good as or better than nonkosher events.
I broke out my iPhone in the back of the sanctuary and showed him dozens of pictures from different events.
He and his wife were impressed, and he was starting to see the light. He noticed how beautiful the events were, and I could see that the food presentations and smiles from many of the guests in the photos and videos I showed connected with him.
At that point he mentioned his son was having his bar mitzvah celebration in the summer of 2017 and that he was considering hosting the event in the Caribbean.
I told him that if he decided to go kosher, I would fly my crew down, along with all food ingredients, plates, kitchen utensils and more, for his family’s simcha.
He would pay the normal per-person catering fees, and I would cover the travel and logistical costs, which would be significant. He said, “Wow!” and mentioned that he felt like he hit the jackpot.
Immediately after we went our separate ways, I needed a double rum and Coke. Right down the hill from the synagogue was an outside bar that served great drinks that hit the spot on a hot day.
I felt good about my offer and hoped he would take me up on it.
This is where things get even a little more interesting.
After leaving the bar, we were walking along the streets of downtown Charlotte Amalie, and I noticed a man walking a cute little puppy. The man clearly fell on hard times.
I approached him, said hello and asked him whether the dog was his. He said yes, and I then asked if he would be willing to sell the dog. Immediately he said yes and asked for a reasonable amount of money.
I handed him the money, and he gave me the puppy. We took the puppy back to the Ritz-Carlton and decided we were going to take him back to Atlanta.
That day created such a great feeling for me as a kosher caterer that I too felt like I hit the jackpot. So guess what we named the puppy?
By the way, the man from Maryland already has set the date in the Caribbean for his son’s bar mitzvah, and we will be doing our first kosher event in St. Thomas in 2017.
Don’t be afraid to host a kosher simcha. With such a great selection of Atlanta caterers and hotels, you not only will get great food and service, but also will spiritually feel like you hit the jackpot.
David S. Covell is the CEO of the Saratoga Event Group, which manages multiple event facilities, and is the president of its Avenue K certified glatt-kosher event division. He also has a background as a certified public accountant and certified financial planner and consults to the hospitality industry.
Rabbi Michael Harvey of the Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas, who was ordained this spring by the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, is available to officiate at weddings, b’nai mitzvah, baby namings and other celebrations.
To accommodate the schedules of cruise ships, the congregation allows Torah to be read every day of the week for b’nai mitzvah ceremonies.
Weddings may be held any time between sunset Saturday and noon Friday.
The fee for the use of the synagogue for a bar or bat mitzvah or a wedding is $2,500, although it rises to $3,600 during high season, according to the synagogue’s website (synagogue.vi), where you can find guidelines, application forms and other information.