Even in Florida, Pittsburgh snowbirds feel close to home
For the last 11 winters, Marilyn and Casey Neuman have skipped out on the cold and ice in Pittsburgh, and have headed down to Palm Beach County in Florida.
Who could blame them? With a nice home in a gated community, easy access to a golf course, a Conservative synagogue, a daughter who lives nearby and reliably decent weather, the Neumans have a lot to look forward to in the Sunshine State.
But the icing on the cake, said Marilyn Neuman, is that the couple does not even have to leave their Pittsburgh friends behind.
The Neumans, like scores of other Pittsburgh snowbirds, maintain a sense of Jewish Pittsburgh, even while in Florida for the winter months.
“Julian and Tibey Falk used to live on Ridgefield [in Mt. Lebanon], catty-corner to us,” Neuman said. “Now, they have a house catty-corner to us in Florida.”
Several other friends from their hometown congregation, Beth El of the South Hills, also live in the same gated community, within walking distance of the Neumans. Many others live just a short drive away.
Having friends with them from home is “a comfort level,” said Neuman. “It’s like that Girl Scout song, ‘make new friends, but keep the old.’”
Stanley Ruskin, who has been spending at least six months each year at his home in Naples, Fla., also makes it a point to get together with other Pittsburghers while there.
“There are a lot of good friends here from back home,” said Ruskin, adding there are about 15 or 20 couples from Pittsburgh that he regularly sees while in Florida. They often get together for cultural events and dinners.
“We have that Pittsburgh community, plus the community we live in,” Ruskin said. “It’s nice. A lot of the people we weren’t friendly with before, but we became friendly with them down here.”
One favorite activity of Jewish Pittsburgh snowbirds is to gather together to watch Steelers’ games.
“We get together at a clubhouse or at someone’s house, just like we do when we’re in Pittsburgh,” Ruskin said, adding that everyone brings their Terrible Towels down south with them for the winter.
Harry Snyder leaves Pittsburgh for Delray on Florida’s east coast each December, and doesn’t come home until March. While relaxing in the warmer clime, Snyder and his wife Patty often get together with Milt and Sarita Eisner, who have a place in Boca Raton. The wives enjoy playing mah-jongg together while the men go out to lunch.
“We try to hang out with our friends from Pittsburgh,” Snyder said. “There are quite a few here.”
Snyder particularly enjoys the snowbird programs hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. This year, the Federation is holding a brunch in Boca on Feb. 19; a cocktail party in Bonita Springs on Feb. 21; and another cocktail party in Longboat Key on Feb. 22. The programs will feature Foundation Scholar Rabbi Danny Schiff.
“I look forward to the Federation affair every year,” said Neuman. “We see a lot of people from Pittsburgh there, and friends from Beth El.”
The Federation’s Florida events are popular, said Sharon Perelman, the Federation’s director of planned giving, who organizes the programs.
What started as a Super Bowl party in Boca 21 years ago has evolved into a highly anticipated gathering typically attracting more than 100 people. The Long Boat Key and Bonita Springs/Naples events attract another 50 to 75 people each.
“Pittsburgh has a pretty tight community in Florida,” Perelman said, noting that for 10 years, the Boca program was underwritten by Charlotte Bluestone in memory of her husband, Max, and provided free transportation for anyone who did not drive.
While the Federation events present an opportunity for staff members to reconnect with Pittsburgh supporters, the events also give the snowbirds a chance to get together with each other.
“It’s nice for them to hear what’s going on in Pittsburgh, and we try to bring them a worthwhile program,” Perelman said.
“Pittsburgh is a unique place,” explained event chair Marilyn Latterman, who has been renting a place in Siesta Key for about 40 winters. “We get together for dinner, and to watch Steelers games. It makes it better to be down here with other Pittsburghers.”
Neuman reinforces her connection to Pittsburgh while in Florida by reading The Chronicle, and keeping up with Beth El’s hotline and newsletter, she said.
“We don’t feel like we’re divorced from Pittsburgh when we are down here,” she said. “We’ve got good weather and good relationships, and we don’t have to shovel snow.”
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.