Travel: Beat the pandemic blues with Miami Beach

Surfside on Miami Beach: Beat the pandemic blues with the art-deco haven’s sultry ocean breezes

KITE SURFING in Surfside.
 If you’ve had it up to here with corona and are longing for an easy-living escape, I’ve got a simple, two-word solution for you: Miami Beach.
You can visit Florida and in some ways never know that a pandemic is going on.
Like most red (Republican-controlled) states, rules regarding masks and social distancing are on the books but not universally obeyed. On top of that, restaurants are open, fishing boats are taking groups out into the placid waters of the Atlantic, and just a three-hour jaunt to the North, Disney awaits. Perhaps this is why New Yorkers are fleeing here in droves.
Every family has to make its own decision about the safety of traveling during this period of COVID-19. I’m not a physician or an epidemiologist, and my evidence is purely from how I’ve lived my life over the last year and what I’ve read in the papers. To me, planes look a lot cleaner than some of my local supermarkets. I haven’t heard of massive outbreaks of COVID in the coach sections of domestic airlines. I’ve flown repeatedly over the last year and have nary a sniffle to show for my bold (or reckless, depending on your point of view) choices.
I can assure you that planes today are packed, and that unlike in the earlier stages of the pandemic, pretty much everybody keeps their mask on unless they are eating or drinking at that moment. Up in the air, the rules are the rules. If there were massive outbreaks on flights, we’d all know about them.
So now let’s talk Miami Beach. How ironic that in living memory, the place with signs that said “Great views, no Jews” is home to Surfside, a neighborhood chock-a-block full with kosher restaurants, synagogues, kosher supermarkets, kosher ice cream stores, as well as the rest of the infrastructure (schools, ritual baths and so on) necessary for a Jewish community.
After a year in Boston, where dining in restaurants has been a rare and often querulous option, it’s a great pleasure to walk into a restaurant with one’s mask on, and take one’s seat at a table alongside dozens or even hundreds of other diners who are also experiencing not just a great meal but a taste of normal.
The restaurants have their own social distancing requirements to which they must adhere. Combine that with high demand and you want to make your dinner reservations as early as possible for the most desirable restaurants.
These include Fuego, a meat restaurant with a South American flair where we celebrated a few family birthdays on our trip; 26 Sushi & Tapas, offering outstanding and creative sushi with a Latin flair; and Rustiko, a dairy restaurant with food so good you won’t believe it could be kosher, all within a short walk of each other on Collins Avenue.
The joke is that Florida, like Hawaii, was for the “newlywed and nearly dead,” where people caught their early-bird dinners at 4:30 in the afternoon, after their golf and doctor’s appointments, and then went home to their apartments or condos to be in bed by 8 p.m.
That’s not Surfside today. The area is jumping with young people, families, babies in strollers, two-year-olds running away from their parents, as well as the traditional older crowd. Surfside is a mix of observant and secular Jews, non-Jews, extremely affluent types dropping large amounts at the local shopping malls, and families on a budget making their vacation dollars stretch. However you want to play it, there are opportunities for you and your pocketbook if you choose to visit Surfside.
IT’S EASY to forget that the Atlantic Ocean is just one short block away from Collins Avenue because of the magnificent steel and glass condo towers that obscure the view. But the ocean is right there, and when you’ve had your fill of food and commerce, nothing could be better than a stroll down the tree-lined path that leads to the sand, or on the beach itself.
You might even catch sight of Surfside’s newest and most famous residents: Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. They’ve just taken up residence in one of the newer, glitzier buildings on Collins Avenue while waiting for their own home to be built on Millionaire’s Row. It’s easy to spot the two of them. Just look for a tall, thin man with great abs, typically stripped to the waist, walking with a tall, leggy supermodel-type, trailed by two burly Secret Service agents and constantly being photographed by Fleet Street paparazzi. The tableau vivant is hard to miss.
Feel like going fishing? There’s really just one top choice for people who want an experience they can’t get back home, and that’s Mark the Shark, who has been the number one fishing attraction on for longer than you can imagine. Mark the Shark has been taking out groups of anglers for decades. If you want to catch a flounder or other little baby fish, Mark’s not your man. If, on the other hand, you want to go for shark, tuna or other “monsters” as he calls them, he’s your man. Mark does not pretend to be politically correct, and will pilot you and your team out to the nearby Gulf Stream, where they fish for “anything big and dumb,” in the words of his first mate.
Pro tip: Don’t tell Mark you are an “experienced fisherman.” I made the mistake of telling him that my sons fit that category, which is actually quite true. Mark took immediate affront. 
“Do you know how many times I’ve been told that people are experienced fishermen?” he asks, with mock outrage. “Not at what we do, not at going after monsters!”
To emphasize his point, Mark texted a photo to me of my sons, sound asleep as the boat made its way out to the fishing zone, with a note appended: “Ur experienced fishermen.”
So now you’ve eaten, strolled, shopped, caught a shark or two, and maybe caught a glimpse of a celebrity denizen or visitor. If you’re religiously inclined, you can catch a prayer service at The Shul, a massive Chabad edifice just south of the shopping mall. If you’ve been praying in a chilly tent in Cleveland or Chicago, it’s inexpressibly delightful to pray the afternoon Mincha service with the Miami sun in your face, since services are outside on a deck facing Collins Avenue. And if you aren’t religious but would like to see what 100 men praying together in the sunshine looks like, make your way to The Shul about a half hour before sunset, and there they’ll be.
In short, Surfside is open for business, offering a much-needed break from the dreariness of deep freeze and COVID-19 regulations. Spare me the letters that say I’m killing people with my advice; if you don’t want to go, no one’s forcing you.
Stay safe, stay warm, and even if it isn’t your birthday, tell your waiter at Fuego it is. You’ll thank me.