April 7, 2014

From generation to generation, Davie citrus family preserves Passover traditions

From generation to generation, a Davie citrus family has preserved its Passover traditions.

Head down Griffin Road in Davie, and you’ll see a big orange fruit stand and farmers market, its retro looks evoking a much earlier era.

But the past is still present for the owner of Bob Roth’s New River Groves. “We were one of the first Jews in Davie in the fruit business,” says Bob Roth, 70.

Four generations of Roths work at the grove, from Roth’s six grandchildren on up to his father, Al, now 103. A butcher in Philadelphia before moving his family to South Florida in 1945 with the dream of owning an orange grove, Al bought a 10-acre grove in Davie in the 1950s. Bob purchased five-acre New River Groves nearby in 1964 — half a century ago.

Roth shares his father’s love for work and Florida produce. “He also instilled a sense of Judaism in me,” he says. “My father was president of temple brotherhoods and was involved in the Jewish Chautauqua Society,” an interfaith program seeking to foster an understanding and appreciation of Jewish culture.

Roth also credits longtime girlfriend Maureen Barrett for giving him a sense of Jewish identity and Jewish pride. The two began dating after Roth’s wife, Terry, who created the recipe for New River Grove’s famous Key lime pie, died of cancer 12 years ago.

Barrett “was raised Catholic. I went to Catholic school,” she says. But she started attending synagogue after she and Roth began dating. “When I was exposed to the Jewish faith, I loved it.” She converted to Judaism shortly afterward, and the family joined Temple Beth Emet, a Reform congregation in Cooper City.

“She’s a big part of keeping the family together,” says Roth’s daughter-in-law, Angie. “She knows more about Judaism than the rest of us.”

Barrett also is the keeper of the flame when it comes to celebrating Jewish holidays, including Passover, which starts Monday at sundown. The family gathers for a Seder at Roth’s home. That means all four generations — Roth’s father, Roth, Barrett, Roth’s son David, daughter-in-law Angie, daughter Lisa and the grandchildren. Barrett gets the whole family involved with the Seder service. For the grandchildren, there are songs, masks and finger puppets depicting the 10 plagues.

“I want it to be fun for the kids. The whole thing with the holidays is you want the family to be together,” Barrett says. The adults “all chip in and cook,” says Angie, who’s in charge of matzoh ball soup.

Barrett makes charoset, one of the traditional foods on the Seder plate. Barrett’s version is Sephardic, made with dates and honey. “It’s outrageous,” says Roth. His daughter Lisa makes her mother’s recipe for slow-cooked brisket with apples.

“Doing it at Dad’s house is important to us, especially since Mom is gone. It’s a big hub for us,” says Angie.

That sense of family togetherness also imbues New River Groves, she says. “The store’s an extension of home.”

Angie works at New River Groves during the week, while Lisa works there on the weekends. Now Lisa’s sons Elias, 11, and recently bar mitzvahed Max, 13, work there, as well.

“The customers come in and love to see them. It’s a great experience for my boys,” says Lisa. “Working with my family is the best.”

Since Roth bought New River Groves 50 years ago, “the business has changed immensely,” he says. “Seventy-five percent of the citrus growers have gone out of business.” The citrus blight hasn’t helped, either.

“The orange trees are gone, but we have mangos, avocados,” Barrett says.

New River Groves still ships fruit and fruit baskets and sells “gallons and gallons of orange juice,” but “our pies have kept us in business — Key lime pies and fruit shakes and fudge,” Roth says.

He believes in giving back. At Purim last month, the family donated 200 signature Key lime tarts to raise money for their local food bank.

Though the business may have changed, what keeps the family together has not. Roth tries to pass on a sense of Jewish identity. Last year, he and Barrett participated in the annual March of the Living, witnessing the worst of the Holocaust in Poland from the concentration camps to the site of the Warsaw ghetto, then traveling on to Israel. “It’s so moving. It gives you a whole different view about everything, about life,” says Roth.

“I want our kids to learn from this holiday, to know terrible things are still happening today all over the world. People are still hungry, people are not free. I want them to remember all these things, to try to correct them. I want to instill in them their heritage.”

One sweet way is the family’s Passover cake. It goes back so far they can’t recall the origin of the recipe, but it contains the Roth family’s favorite Florida ingredients — oranges and honey.

Even sweeter, says Angie, “is to be at home with everybody there.” Barrett agrees. “ L’dor v’dor — that’s Hebrew for ‘from generation to generation.’ What’s important is passing the traditions down.”

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