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Last Seders Mark Closing of The Saxony

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (April 26, 2005) -- The Saxony, Miami Beach's last remaining kosher hotel, will celebrate its final Passover this weekend before a luxury resort and condominium takes its place on increasingly valuable oceanfront.

This week two dozen people in their 70s and 80s sat on the front porch in plastic chairs and chatted about the Saxony's final seders. Inside the office, proprietor Abbey Berkowitz recalled a once thriving niche market eroded away by economic forces.

In the 1970s and '80s, Miami Beach boasted at least seven full-time kosher hotels open at one time, where cooks followed Jewish law in preparing meals and elevators often stopped at every floor to free people from having to push buttons during the Sabbath. The hotels catered to Miami Beach's winter influx of Jewish vacationers.

Berkowitz's late father, Holocaust survivor Murray Berkowitz, helped create the Beach's kosher-hotel industry when he opened the Victor on Ocean Drive in 1950, and the family would go on to own five others. They bought the Saxony at 32nd Street and Collins Avenue in 1974 and sold their last one, the Crown, last year.

This week the younger Berkowitz blamed the decline on the growing options available to observant Jews. With at least 50 kosher restaurants throughout South Florida, Jewish visitors no longer were confined to their hotel's dining room between sunset Friday and sunset Saturday.

"Unfortunately the need for a strictly kosher hotel has been limited mostly to the elderly, who can't move around from restaurant to restaurant," Berkowitz said.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of hotels throughout South Florida are offering kosher service during Passover. A kosher tour operator books the entire 349-room Eden Roc every Passover, and people interested in vacationing during the eight-day holiday can choose from hotels in Puerto Rico, Venice, Aruba and South Africa.

"It's getting bigger," said Rabbi Milton Simon, who works for a New York company hired to supervise Passover preparations at the Doral Golf Resort & Spa.

Behind chicken wire dividing the temporary kosher section from the rest of the kitchen, sous chefs cut chicken breasts on cooking sheets painted red, a reminder that they should only be used for meat.

The Doral keeps kosher each year for Passover -- the tour group that books the resort is returning for its 14th time this year -- as do other hotels throughout the region. And they will do it for other Jewish holidays, Jewish weddings or any other time a large group is willing to pay for the service.

But Simon and others said the Saxony is the last South Florida hotel to keep kosher at all times.
Another factor: A wave of condominium construction that prompted many would-be guests to buy a place in South Florida for their winter retreats.

And as the Beach emerged into an expensive vacation spot, hotels found less need for such a limited market. Now a trendy Ian Schrager hotel, the Shore Club was kosher until 1997 until the Berkowitz family sold it to the current owners.

A Houston-based developer has bought the 400-room Saxony and plans a major renovation of the 15-story building and the construction of two other condominium towers. The Patrinely Group, which helped develop the Columbus Center office complex in Coral Gables and the Miami Arena, plans to sell 170 expanded rooms as condo hotel units, with another 32 condominium apartments for sale on the top floors.

Principal Dean Patrinely wouldn't discuss prices but promised the new Saxony would hold its own against the Delano, Four Seasons and other $400--and-up luxury hotels in South Florida.

He also pledged to bring the Saxony back to its original post-war glory, before the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc emerged as the most glamorous hotels on Miami Beach.

The Saxony has a reputation for offering an affordable Passover retreat. Eleven days there costs about $1,800, while stays at other resorts can easily top $4,000 (both prices include meals).

Berkowitz, who leases the Saxony space, hopes to offer his customers a Passover destination next year -- probably a hotel where he could reserve a block of rooms. But for now, he plans on closing down the hotel for the summer as usual after Passover.


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