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, the New York Jewish Week reported.
Described as “a five-star hotel program without the hotel” on its website, the “A Different Pesach Program,” 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 appears to have vacated the premises, the Jewish Week reported, 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. Guests of 11 villas, eight occupied by staff and three by guests, have received eviction notices, The Jewish Week reported.
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.”
For now, synagogue services are being held in one of the villas since the large tent that had been used is now off limits, and food is being brought in from Miami.
This is not the first time that Atkin has gotten into trouble with a Pesach program he operates. In 2003, more than 450 guests were evicted from Atkin’s program in Polk County, Iowa, after a dispute with the rental property owner over payment, according to the Orlando Sentinel.