DER YIDDISH-VINKL April 4, 2003
December, inaugurating the world’s first entirely kosher Caribbean cruise. While in recent years, more and more cruise ships have specialized in trips offering frozen glatt kosher food or a separate kosher dining room, Shollar’s Chosen Voyage is to be the first luxury ship to be made entirely kosher, from bow to stern. For five weeks this winter, the 308-passenger WindStar will be transformed into an upscale frum paradise, featuring single-sex swimming, three kosher restaurants (two dairy and one meat) and an elegant lounge that will double as a synagogue on the Sabbath.
“The kosher-observant community has never been given a luxury of choice,” said Shollar. “All the dilutions we’ve taken in the past; let’s do away with that and get treated as a customer for the first time.”
The cruises are but the latest thing for a clientele that, either for lack of opportunity or by conscious choice, used to stay home. As boomers age, Jews and non-Jews alike continue to work, play and spend in manners different from those of their parents, opting for items more costly and luxurious. In the observant Jewish world, according to Menachem Lubinsky, president and CEO of Integrated Marketing, “there’s no question there’s been a dramatic increase” in high-end kosher products. In recent years Passover tours, kosher restaurants, even ritual baths, have all gone upscale.
Shollar, a small, slight man — perhaps from a lifetime of eating frozen glatt kosher meals — is a self-described “serial entrepreneur.” His favorite word is “product” and he has a tendency to revert to e-speak such as, “We’re building a luxury brand into this space.”
His passion for cruising is almost ironic. He started his first business, Ecruise, “an online cruise loyalty system,” he calls it, without ever having set foot aboard a cruise ship. In order to walk the walk, he and his wife were sent on a three-day Bahamas cruise — where a kitchen gaffe forced the couple to eat snacks brought from home for half the journey.
On a recent sailing of the WindSurf, Shollar served a dinner of frozen glatt kosher food — unidentifiable lumps of chicken, veal or turkey, paired with spinach and potatoes — to an assembled group of journalists from Jewish newspapers. Passengers aboard the Chosen Voyage, however, will be treated to the full WindStar menu — minus pork and shellfish dishes, of course — prepared in kosher kitchens.
The ship’s first-rate amenities include two swimming pools — allowing for single-sex dips — a spa and an on-board “marina” for water sports such as sailing and water skiing. The rooms are spacious, with ample storage space, and loaded with extras such as a CD player and VCR. The crew-to-passenger ratio is high: 191 crew for 308 passengers.
When the Chosen Voyage is sailing, the ship’s business center will be converted into a Judaica library and the wine list will be entirely replaced with kosher wines. Daily minyans will take place in the conference room, and on the Sabbath the lounge will be transformed into a sanctuary — with the slot machines and blackjack tables discreetly obscured, of course.
It all represents a rising trend among the Orthodox community, which is increasingly mirroring the tastes of American culture at large while staying within — or stretching, some argue — the bounds of tradition. It’s a phenomenon that Queens College sociologist Samuel Heilman calls “the theory of the leisure class, with a religious twist.”
“Among the ultra-Orthodox, leisure time is a problem,” Heilman said. “Time should be spent studying the Torah. Jewish tradition doesn’t have that concept. It’s an American concept; it comes from wealth.”
As such, kosher travel among the modern Orthodox is increasingly big business. “This year, 33,000 hotel rooms in the United States will be doing Passover programs,” said Lubinsky. “Look back 10 years ago and it was half that.”
As for cruising, the market “definitely is growing,” said Josh Post of Suite Life Kosher Cruises. Last year, he said, a single company sent 250 people on a kosher cruise to Alaska. “This year, between three companies, we have over 300 booked already. At this point last year we had 80 people booked.”
According to industry estimates, Jews constitute about 30% of cruise travel — despite being less than 3% of the American population. While more and more ships are taking steps to accommodate observant vacationers, making an entire ship kosher is no easy task — especially for a staff that has had little, if any, contact with observant Jews.
“First of all, what is kosher, hmm?” said Geert De Meyer, the WindSurf’s Belgian food and beverage manager, of the preparations for the Chosen Voyage. “I didn’t know. The staff is very eager to please. They’re looking forward to doing something different.” De Meyer has already received a manual from the Kosher Supervision of America; soon, the ship’s chefs will fly to Miami for hands-on training.
Roughly 30% of WindSurf’s business comes from charter cruises, and the crew is certainly familiar with an unusual clientele; among the specialty cruises each year are gay and lesbian cruises, musical cruises, even a nudist cruise. Nonetheless, “this one will be a challenge — there are a few challenges, actually,” said the ship’s hotel manager, Francois Birada, with a nervous laugh. “This is new for our crew. It’s something we never did before.”
Shollar is nonetheless moving ahead full throttle. The Chosen Voyage’s first cruise will be for Chabad-Lubavitchers — Shollar’s community — and with the remaining four weeks, he aims to attract varying groups of singles, young families and groups such as federations and synagogues. By 2004, he hopes to take the Chosen Voyage to other markets, such as a summertime Great Lakes cruise.
Since establishing the Chosen Voyage last summer, Shollar has spent a handful of nights aboard the ship, which he now looks upon as a second home. In spite of long working days — and a family of six to care for — last week Shollar took a brief moment to enjoy the Caribbean sun as the WindSurf docked alongside the island of Saint Martin. “It’s nice just sitting here knowing I’ll be surrounded by people who I may not know but who are my guests,” he said, motioning to the empty tables at the ship’s Compass Rose room. “That’s a powerful feeling for me.”
For more information, please visit www.chosenvoyage.com.
Regular readers of this column are likely acquainted with Al Grand’s translations of the Gilbert and Sullivan gems into Yiddish. We have run excerpts from “Pirates of Penzance,” “The Mikado” and “The HMS Pinafore” — the big three. What follows is a Yiddish version of a song from the Savoyards’ 10th work: “Ruddigore.” Grand is responsible for both the transliteration and the translation.
My Boy, You May Take It From Me
My boy, you may take it from me,
That of all the afflictions accurst
With which a man’s saddled
And hampered and addled
A diffident nature’s the worst.
Though clever as clever can be
A Crichton of early romance —
You must stir it and stump it,
And blow your own trumpet
Or, trust me, you don’t have a chance.
If you wish in this world to advance.
Your merits you’re bound to enhance
You must stir it and stump it
And blow your own trumpet
Or, trust me, you haven’t a chance.
As a poet I’m tender and quaint —
I’ve passion and fervor and grace
From Ovid and Horace
To Swinburne and Morris,
They all of them take a back place.
Then I sing and I play and I paint
Though none are accomplished as I
To say so is treason.
You ask me the reason?
I’m diffident, modest and shy!
Mayn Boychik, Her Zikh Tsu Mir
Mayn boychik, her zikh tsu mir,
Kuk glaykh in mayn oygn arayn
Ikh vil tsu dir zogn
Du darfst mer nit klogn,
Shemevdik darfstu nit zayn.
A gants fayne khukhem zayt ir
Ir hot dokh a gants sharfn kop
Ir must zikh aplodirn
Un shark proklamirn
A groyser “shlemiel” darfst nit zayn!
Oyb du vilst take matsliekh zayn
Dan, boychik, her zikh shoyn ayn
Ir must zikh aplodirn un shtark proklamirn
A groyser “shlemiel” darfst nit zayn.
Poet bin ikh dokh ful mit kheyn
Kh’hob laydnshaft un eydelkayt,
Fun Rambam, un Ashi
Akive un Rashi
Kh’bin beser fun zey un es shnayt.
Dan ikh zing un ikh shpil un ikh leyen,
S’iz nit keyner nit kliger fun mir,
Ir fregt mir di sibe
Ikh entfer dir iber
Kh’bin shemevdik, poshet, — vey’z mir!