A Different V.E.R.Y. Different Passover Program – Gone Wrong for All Guests



The Very Different Pesach Program that Went Awry

LM 26.4.19

The story of a Passover program gone very wrong as about 65 families who prepaid for their stay in a community of rental homes, the use of a Synagogue Tent, complete meal services and the amenities of the community who were allegedly defrauded by the program’s coordinator was covered earlier in the week in the story below.

Sources at the program “A Different Pesach Program” in Florida have told us that, as of early this week, many were locked out of their rental homes, unable to access the shul, unable to use the program amenities, without food for their families and without anywhere to go after one of the program’s directors had apparently failed to pay for the services and accommodations promised to guests and absconded with the money prepaid for services.

We have been told by others that some of those in charge of putting the packages together have tried to salvage the program by paying from their own pockets for meals and the rental homes. Additionally, it has been relayed that other guests have also tried to cover the bills so no one would be left – quite literally homeless for Pesach.

Some of the guests who brought along their own food or chose not to take the packages that included the meals have fared better, so long as their lodging was not on the list of houses that remained unpaid. The Sheriff’s officers below were apparently sent to remove families remaining in unpaid rental homes.

See the story from the New York Jewish Week below:

Let My People Stay

A Pesach program in Orlando, Fla., which attracted many guests from the New York area, descended into chaos this week after the owner of the program, Ben Atkin, failed to pay at least $75,000 for goods and services provided by the resort, workers and vendors, according to the program’s remaining staff.

Described as “a five-star hotel program without the hotel” on its website, the “A Different Pesach Program” has turned out to be quite different, indeed, from the rewarding experience promised. It offered rental of private villas with shared common areas such as a synagogue tent and clubhouse, and provisions for kosher seders and meals throughout the eight-day holiday.

The program was started 16 years ago by Atkin, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He appears to have vacated the premises, leaving his remaining staff to contend with hundreds of shocked and disgruntled patrons.

Unlike Passover programs held in hotels, at Atkin’s, and others like it, guests rent spacious, multi-bedroom houses to accommodate large and multi-generational families in popular vacation areas.

It is believed that about 65 families were staying in the resort-operated gated community in Atkin’s program.

Staff at the Passover program said they were unaware of any financial problems until last Thursday when they first learned that a housing vendor was owed $6,000.

“That turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg,” said Brian Goldberg, one of the program’s operations managers, in an interview with The Jewish Week on Tuesday.

Guests and staff found out on Sunday that money was owed to the vendors who rent out the private villas. One guest, Harriet Kahn, said that when she returned to her villa after synagogue services on Sunday morning, she found a notice on the door stating that the codes to the doors would be changed if payment was not made immediately.

“That was our first inkling that there was a problem,” she said. “And that was a big inkling.”

Eviction notices were put on 11 villas, eight occupied by staff and three by guests, Goldberg said.

There were other signs that the problems extended far beyond payments for the villas.

On Friday, the resort staff informed the Passover program staff that $50,000 was owed for use of the resort’s common areas, including a kitchen and space for a dining tent. That began, in Goldberg’s words, a “scramble.”

At that time, Atkin promised to pay the resort by check, which was due by April 1, but he had asked that the management wait until this past Monday to cash the check. When the check bounced on Monday, the resort staff called the police to remove the Passover program staff and equipment from the premises. In addition, Goldberg said he learned that the program owed $11,000 to a tent rental company for tents used for synagogue services and a dining area.

According to emails obtained by The Jewish Week, guests were informed on Monday evening that they would be barred from using certain parts of the resort. “We have been informed by the management at Windsor at Westside and the Osceola County Sheriff’s Department that we are temporarily not allowed to use the common areas at Westside,” wrote Goldberg in an email to guests. “This is an unfortunate situation for everyone involved, and we are banding together in an effort to provide the necessary essentials to our guests through the remainder of the holiday.”

With Atkin’s whereabouts unknown, Goldberg and Dennis Ratzker, his operations partner, have taken the lead in ensuring that guests have adequate food and supplies for the remainder of the holiday.

Goldberg said the guests came to a meeting on Monday evening to help plan how to get through the last days of the holiday, which ends on Saturday evening. Ratzker said several guests pledged to help cover the debts still owed by the program to vendors and workers. Goldberg and Ratzker have together paid more than $15,000 from their own pockets to cover costs.

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