On a typical spring day, baseball fan Mike Roteman might be doing one of the things he loves best: serving as the Pittsburgh Pirates Bradenton Booster Club president while staying at his Florida residence. The volunteer group provides ushers, greeters, security personnel and program salespeople during spring training, both at LECOM Park and at Pirate City.
But this isn’t a typical spring. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Major League Baseball has suspended all baseball operations, including spring training.
Roteman and his wife Ellen are like many other “snowbirds,” retirees who fly south, escaping the cold Pittsburgh winters for warmer locales. The pair normally leaves the Steel City in October for their winter home in Lakewood Ranch on the border of Sarasota and Manatee Counties, and fly home to Pittsburgh several times throughout their stay for events like Passover.
“We usually return just in time for the opening day of the baseball season and Pesach. This year, obviously, that has changed,” said Roteman.
This year, the Rotemans will be staying put in their Florida condominium rather than traveling back to Pittsburgh for a seder that would only include themselves. Ellen’s mother, a resident of Weinberg Terrace, is following Jewish Assistance on Aging protocols and is not permitted to leave the premises because of concerns related to the spread of the coronavirus. The Rotemans’ children, a son in Israel, and a daughter in New Jersey, would not be able to join them for seder either because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Life in a subtropical paradise during a pandemic can prove challenging, especially to those attempting to keep kosher, and even more so for those attempting to keep kosher for Passover.
“The closest kosher butcher shop is 35 miles away in St. Petersburg. We didn’t want to drive all the way up there. We found a place called Kosher Caddy. They deliver kosher meat for the holiday, but they don’t have the produce that we need,” Roteman explained.
He pointed out that he could go to the grocery store but is trying to limit trips out while practicing social distancing.
Roteman admitted feeling isolated, unable to be at home or near family in Pittsburgh, and apart from friends in Florida because of social distancing. The pair was going to travel to Israel in May for their son’s wedding but that has been postponed indefinitely.
One thing that has helped is online learning through the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
“It gives us a chance to stay at least a little bit in touch,” Roteman said. “One of the people taking the course has a mother in Weinberg Terrace and two of the people live in the Atrium, which is where our condo (in Pittsburgh) is.”
Like the Rotemans, Adele Sales and her husband, Edgar Snyder, travel to Florida in October each year, returning to Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving and Passover. The two also frequently fly back to the city so Snyder can film the familiar commercials for his law firm.
“We come back for Passover, then we come back down and are usually here until mid-May. This year though, there’s a question mark after every single thing,” Sales said. “We don’t know how long we’re staying; we’re definitely not coming home for Passover.”
Sales said she uses technology to keep in touch with friends and family while in Florida.
“We’ve been FaceTiming a lot with our kids,” she said. “It helps.”
Sales has also started to use Zoom to stay in touch with loved ones.
“We celebrated a birthday party on Zoom last weekend with a friend of ours. He’s also here in Sarasota and was planning a big party but that didn’t happen, so we used Zoom.”
For Passover, Sales is planning to connect with six different households virtually, using the teleconferencing program.
The couple communicates with Pittsburgh contacts often, which helps them to not feel isolated or alone.
“We’re in touch with people,” Sales said. “I speak to my sister, if not every day, every other day. We’ve been in touch with (Temple Sinai Rabbi) Jamie Gibson, doctors, friends who are back after returning from Florida. We’re still really connected.”
Those connections extend well beyond simple check-ins.
“We’re having Shabbat dinner with another couple over Zoom,” Sayles said. “We’re going to light candles, have dinner, have dessert and we’re going to kibbitz the whole time. Thank goodness for technology. In these extremely trying times to be connected like this is wonderful. It’s a lifeline we need to keep our sanity these days.”
Bernice Meyers and her husband Jack have been in Florida since January.
“We usually go in December but because of health problems, we went in January,” she said.
The Meyers typically remain in the Sunshine State for Passover, returning home in early May.
“This year,” Meyers said, the couple decided to “do something different. We decided we would go home for a wonderful family seder and then return here for another couple of weeks.”
Since the pair’s Passover plans have fallen apart, Meyers said they plan to have a seder in their home. “Our family plans to Zoom their seder. We haven’t gotten the whole word yet but hopefully we will be part of a niece’s and nephew’s larger seder.”
The Meyers’ stay may be extended much longer than other snowbirds. Jack has a long history of medical problems and was told in the beginning of March to self-quarantine for three months by his doctor.
“Some of his medical problems make him very vulnerable to coronavirus,” his wife explained.
After some probing, Jack’s doctor relented slightly and said they will evaluate the conditions on a month-by-month basis.
The Meyers do what they can to pass the time.
“We go for walks every day and it’s sunny and beautiful, but we don’t see other people on the trails. I go grocery shopping, that’s about it. We aren’t big television people, so we read, we talk on the phone and connect with friends and family.”
The pair has signed up for online courses offered by the Federation and feel the support of the Pittsburgh community.
“We’ve gotten calls from our synagogue, Beth Shalom, in Pittsburgh and from the Federation. We definitely do not feel alone,” Meyers said. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at email@example.com.