A Destination Bat Mitzvah at the Ritz-Carlton Cancun
We were delighted to receive a lovely invitation to a friend’s Bat Mitzvah. This simcha indeed would be a very special treat when we realized that it was to be a destination event. The timing was perfect – right after Sukkot, when most everyone (including me!) is ready for a cooking break and a rest. So, Cancun – here we come!
Why Cancun? The young lady, our friend Rebecca, wanted to have something different to celebrate her special milestones… reaching her 12th birthday and becoming a Bat Mitzvah. She had previously been on a family trip to Cancun and stayed at the Ritz Carlton. She found it to be a happy, fun, beautiful and friendly spot. So Rebecca posed the possibility of a destination Bat Mitzvah to her parents.
After the family discussed the pros and cons (initially mostly cons) and assessed the feasibility of planning a meaningful Bat Mitzvah Shabbat and celebration in Cancun, Rebecca’s wish did become a reality. The challenges were substantial – the entire event had to be kosher; the guests had to have affordable accommodations and transportation; and the hotel had to have availability for the entire weekend. Because of her dad’s entrepreneurial “can do” attitude, and her mom’s detail-oriented skills and planning expertise, it came to be (and in my opinion, flawlessly)!
What a weekend of celebration! Services Friday night were held in a Mexican Palapa (think Gilligan’s Island) on the beach. The feel and sound of the strong winds, the sight of the sunset over the ocean, the white sand, and the stunning venue added a unique sense of serenity and certainly set the spiritual mood as we welcomed Shabbat. An Eruv had been put up around the space, thus allowing guests to carry outside on Shabbat, in what was otherwise a public domain. Following the service was a beautiful Shabbos dinner.
Services Saturday morning were followed by a delicious lunch; after sundown, the Havdalah service was performed and was followed by a gala outdoor reception Saturday evening.
A Torah was borrowed from the Cancun Chabad – arranged by Chabad Rabbi Mendel Druk, of the Cancun Jewish Center. Rabbi Druk assisted in the hiring of Benny Seren, a mashgiach (kashrut overseer) from Miami, and helped coordinate the kosher menu with the family and the hotel. The hotel had hosted a kosher Passover trip a few years previously, as well as several events for the local Chabad, but this was their first private kosher simcha weekend.
By the way, you many have heard of Rabbi Druk previously; he led the Chabad Hurricane Katrina search and rescue team and the Chabad relief effort after the Thailand Tsunami. Rabbi Adam Starr, an orthodox Rabbi from Atlanta coordinated services along with several other Atlanta community rabbis and lay leaders. With more than 90 guests attending, there was no problem forming a minyan. A highlight after services was Rebecca's sharing her beautiful words of Torah, which she based on the learning she did with her Bat Mitzvah teacher.
The hotel made everyone feel welcome and comfortable. The Ritz management asked the family to explain the significance of a Bat Mitzvah, and the needs of a Sabbath observant Jew so they could educate the hotel staff and anticipate guest needs. The staff not only complied, but also did everything graciously, respectfully and with a smile.
And now to the food – it was plentiful, luscious and served according to the Ritz Carlton’s high standards. The family asked the Ritz Carlton Executive Chef Andreas Schatzschneider and Executive Sous Chef Rene Camelo to plan a menu which would include hotel specialties, while adhering to kosher and Shabbat laws regarding food preparation and appropriate ways to keep food warm. In lieu of typical Shabbat foods like brisket, kugel and cholent, the menus were infused with Mexican flavors, used locally caught fresh fish, local fruits and vegetables, and kosher meats and poultry brought in from Mexico City.
Meals included Ritz Carlton specialties such as seared red snapper with tropical mango sauce, an array of ceviches, Veracruz style fish paella, skirt steak with chimichurri salsa, jerk style chicken, assorted, tasty salads, and of course, there was no shortage of guacamole. The food was spectacular!
To prepare kosher food, one of the hotel's kitchens was closed for several days prior to the event. Kashering started on Wednesday morning, and the kitchen had to be cleaned and unused for at least 24 hours. Kashering was performed by the mashgiach Benny Seren and a hotel team. Glass dishes, flatware and serving ware had to be kashered as well as appliances, ovens, sinks, counters, and outdoor grills (basically everything). Quite a job! Parve and meat foods were prepared in the kitchen, and much of the fish, meat and poultry were cooked on outdoors grills. Sunday breakfast, which was dairy, had to be prepared in separate fry pans set up in a dining area and served on disposables.
From a guest’s point of view, this was a dream weekend; a treat for the body and soul. I enjoyed the company of the other guests, the spectacular beach, the luxury accommodations, and the serene Shabbos enhanced by the fabulous kosher food. We were honored and happy to celebrate a sensational simcha with longtime friends. What could be better?
If you wish to contact the Ritz Carlton Cancun to explore hosting a kosher event, contact Jodi Schwartz 561-487-2324; firstname.lastname@example.org
Try these delicious recipes for the Ritz Carlton Cancun:
Guacamole – A Signature Dish of the Ritz Carlton, Cancun
Veracruz Style Fish Paella