March 22, 2001
Package vacations take the work out of Pesach preparation.
At our Ski Passover, experience the thrill of the 2002 Winter Olympics ... Ski the mogul run and view the aerial jumping hill; ride the snowboard half-pipe and ski the giant slalom course ... take a bobsled or luge ride or even try Nordic jumping ...
More than 3,000 years ago, at the season we now call Passover, the Israelites went forth into the wilderness to face 40 years of wandering and the prospect of nothing but manna to eat.
Today, descendants of the Israelites still go forth at Pesach time, but instead of wilderness, they encounter manicured lawns, tennis courts and swimming pools, and the menu includes gourmet cuisine and the finest kosher wines from around the world.
In a couple of weeks, when most Jews are stocking up on matzah and, in some cases, teasing chametz crumbs out of corners with a feather, thousands of their coreligionists will be locking up their houses and heading for posh hotels in resort areas from Florida to Hawaii.
For them, Chol ha'Moed, the intermediate days of Passover, may well include skiing or snorkeling -- and somebody else will have kashered the kitchen.
"It does literally take you out of the slavery," said Michele Harlow of Hancock Park, who has spent Passover in Palm Springs and South Florida and will check into the Biltmore in Phoenix for this year's holiday.
"My original motivation was to give my wife a break," said Rabbi Avrohom Stulberger, father of six and rosh yeshiva of Valley Torah High School in North Hollywood, who is now on the Passover resort circuit as a lecturer and supervisor of kashrut. Acknowledging that "some of the family feeling is missed," Stulberger said of his wife, who teaches full time at Emek Hebrew Academy, "I think she's willing to give up that aspect of it."
You may select to join the Community Seder led by our Rabbi & Cantor, a Semi-Private Seder where you will conduct your own Seder in the same room with other families, or a Private Seder in which the selected meeting room is exclusively yours for the evening. No need to bring your haggadah, wine goblet or matzah cover from home...
A majority of travelers to Passover resort packages are Orthodox or observant enough for Pesach preparation to be a huge project, and some have had enough. "When the kids were growing up, it was nice to make seder at home, to see what they were learning, and I had more energy," said Harlow, who made or helped make seders for the first 20 years of her marriage. "Now I'm a grandmother, and it's nice not to have to do all the cooking and cleaning."
"Preparation for Passover is part of the holiday; it connects you to previous generations," Stulberger said. "You lose that connection when you go away."
Because of that, some guests ask to assist in kashering the hotel kitchen the day before Pesach begins, said Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, director of Project Next Step of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who will go to the Westin Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage for his fifth Passover as a lecturer "on the route."
"Part of Passover is lost," acknowledged Marnin Weinreb, a member of B'nai David-Judea Congregation in Pico-Robertson who has gone away for Passover most years since 1989. "The seder itself, it's not the kind of atmosphere where you can have discussions."
But, he added, going away provides a space that accommodates his extended family, a consideration for many families in which the parents are aging and the kids don't have big enough homes to fit three or four generations under one roof. "My mom started finding it very difficult to make seder," Weinreb said. "This is one way for all of us to be together."
Dov Fischer, a rabbi who now works as an attorney and who will lecture on current events and conduct community seders in Hawaii this year, said families that are serious about the seder will spend a little extra for semiprivate or private dining rooms. The more observant the crowd at a given resort, he suggested, the smaller the community seder will be.
Not everyone who goes away for Passover is observant, however. "I see people who are nonobservant but hear about a nifty place," Fischer said. "I've got intermarried people who don't know which way to hold a haggadah."
A sumptuous display greets you each morning ... We host two spectacular barbecues ... We stock the widest variety of the finest mevushal & non-mevushal kosher wines, spirits & cordials available.
Pre-School Playroom and Day Camp ... Teen Program ... Sensational Musicians ... Bingo Night, Film Screenings, Art Exhibits, Wine Tastings, Computer Demonstrations ...
"Basically, it's about the eating," said Sari Ciment, Harlow's daughter, who lives in Beverlywood.
Besides the usual resort amenities of golf, tennis and swimming, different resorts offer special activities for the intermediate days of Pesach. At the Ventura Beach Hotel, families can sign up for excursions to Disneyland, Magic Mountain and Channel Islands National Park; an Orlando resort provides access to Walt Disney World, EPCOT, Universal Studios and Sea World. Beachside resorts offer extras such as windsurfing, kayaking, scuba diving and sailing; horseback riding and hiking turn up often as well. Many resorts also offer access to spas and shopping.
As a courtesy to Orthodox guests, some resorts will open the hotel fitness center or a swimming pool for single-sex hours once a day. However, Adlerstein said, plenty of Passover guests can be found poolside during regular hours during Chol ha'Moed.
For more sedentary guests, hotel packages often list card and game rooms, lectures by rabbis and academics on Jewish topics of historical and current interest, Torah and Talmud study, and classes in subjects like cooking and food decoration.
"They do cruise kind of things, silly things, like ice sculpting," Harlow said. "I like the Israeli dancing."
Make no mistake: all this food and fun come at a steep price. Ten-day packages begin around $1,600 per person, double occupancy, at less exotic locations and can climb into the $4,000-$5,000 range for suites and villas at the toniest resorts. Most per-adult rates fall between $2,500 and $3,000 for the 10 days, with lower prices for children.
Fischer sees the Passover-resort phenomenon as emblematic of American Jews' success. "It is reflective of a moment in time: so many people spending so much money to spend Pesach away from home," he said.
This Passover don't just settle for bitter herbs ... join us for a Passover vacation your family will surely treasure.
If the creation of a spiritually meaningful Pesach at an expensive resort seems to be an uphill climb, it's not for lack of trying on the part many rabbis involved. "We have strong davening, we have strong learning, and I think we have strong spirituality," Adlerstein said.
Fischer said he does have to conduct the community seders with an eye on the clock, but he tries to create some of the intimacy of a family seder and make the proceedings more than a pro forma lunge toward shulchan orech.
"The challenge for me is to make Judaism enjoyable, fun, educational -- to focus on enjoyment rather than pain," he said.
"I personally look forward to [the trips], despite some feelings of guilt that we would be more focused on the spiritual aspects of Pesach if we were at home," Adlerstein said.
But the pluses outweigh the negatives, he indicated. "We've really made a difference in some people's Pesach," he said. "We all get to be together as a family, and my wife gets to sit back while I do all the hard work."
These travel companies offer Passover resort packages:
Tropical Kosher Resorts/Exclusive Retreats: (323) 937-5281; www.xclusiveretreats.com. World Wide Kosher: (323) 525-0015 Adventures: (323) 933-4044 CruiseOne: (818) 865-9779; www.CruiseOne.com Vims Holidays: (800) 464-VIMS; www.Jewishroutes.com Sterling: (800) 328-6870 Kosher Travels Unlimited: (800) 832-6676; www.koshertravelsunlimited.com V.I.P. Passover: (800) 883-5702 Kosher Expeditions:(800)923-2645; www.kosherexpeditions.com Resort Classics: (323)933-4044; www.passoverresorts.com Presidential Kosher Holidays: (800) 950-1240; www.passovervacations.com