Passover is one of the most social Jewish holidays, with multiple generations getting together to celebrate. It can also be one of the most labor-intensive, for those Jews who kasher their kitchens for Passover, changing dishes, lining counters with foil, stocking up on special foods, and preparing the many festive meals for friends and relatives.
Due to this, companies offering kosher for Passover getaways, in which everything is taken care of for the eight-day festival, have become increasingly popular. Options range from stays in Arizona, Florida, California, the Catskills, and Cape Cod, to Aruba, Mexico, France, Italy, Israel, and more.
Abby Polin of Skokie, Ill., is a single parent who works two jobs, as a vice president of mortgage lending and cofounder of figvine.com, a website that brings together small service providers and users. The ease of a Passover vacation is immensely appealing. “We’ve been going away for Pesach for about 13 years. We’ve gone to the hotels in Florida, gone to Israel a few times. My family is spread out all over, and it’s such a nice time to get together,” she says. “You don’t really have to prep the house.”
That was the draw for Jillian Segal of Needham, Mass. Now the mother three, she started going away for Passover when she was in college. “It always revolved around Pesach being a tremendous amount of work, ‘let’s go away,’” she says. “That way my mother could sit and join us and not be in the kitchen the whole time.” Segal’s grandparents lived in Florida then, so she, her parents, and siblings would go to a Passover escape in the Sunshine state.
Florida is where the Passover vacations started. According to Robert Frucher, managing director of Leisure Time Tours, his father Daniel Frucher was the first to kasherize a nonkosher hotel for Passover, in 1972. Before that, the only options were kosher hotels in Miami and the Catskills. “These weren’t great hotels,” Frucher says. “Passover was their biggest piece of business all year. My father saw the need, specifically in Miami Beach. The demand was so big even for the lousy kosher hotels, they were actually housing people across the street and feeding them in the lobby, putting up tables everywhere.”
Leisure Time’s first venture was at an upscale property in Miami Beach, with spaces for about 400 people, and they sold out in six weeks. Today the company runs Passover getaways in five hotels, with programs serving 450 to 1300 people.
In the four decades since that first Florida luxury offering, the Passover getaway market has exploded. Raphi Bloom, London-based owner and sales director of the Jewish travel website TotallyJewishTravel.com, notes that this year, “there are 135 disparate Pesach hotels around the world.” He’s been running the site for a dozen years. The Passover business, he says, “has grown and grown and grown. It’s seen hard times, but this year it seems to have really weathered the economic downturn. You’re seeing far more new hotels coming in terms of Pesach.”
A typical Passover getaway is all-inclusive, for 9 nights. They are not cheap; while some start at about $1600 per adult, many are $3500 and up, depending on the accommodations. As Frucher says, “What’s happened with Passover programs, it’s the cruise ship concept on land.” They include three meals a day, plus a “tea room”—where food is always available. There are daily services (usually Orthodox), plus lectures, study sessions, day camps for kids, teen programs, and excursions.
“We went to the Hoover Dam, and to the Strip,” says Yussie Awendstern, a financial advisor from Valley Stream, N.Y. One of his daughters lives in California, and they meet in Lake Las Vegas for a program run by World Wide Kosher Tours. “What I really like is spending time with my daughter and seven grandchildren.”
A relaxed time with family is the goal for Camp Ramah Darom in Clayton, Georgia, which started offering a Passover retreat for about 300 people in 2002. The camp itself was built in 1997. CEO Fred Levick says the facility was “built to accommodate groups year-round. One of the first things we focused on was Passover. We’re primarily in the camping business, and have the experience of creating communal events, which are fun and educational. This seemed like a great opportunity for families.”
This April, Polin, her children, and parents are traveling from Chicago to Camp Ramah Darom to celebrate Passover with her brother from Israel and sister from Massachusetts. “It’s a nice time that the family could all be together, and great for all the grandkids to spend with their cousins,” she says. “It’s not just about the food and going away, it’s being able to do activities in a kosher for Passover setting. It’s not just a getaway, but incorporates the whole Jewish holiday.”
SIDEBAR: Where the Chametz Is Not
Passover getaways tend to fill up quickly these days, especially if you need blocks of rooms. Many are full already, but the following can give you an idea of the variety of programs available. Most programs offer options for the whole holiday, or for the first half or second half. Unless otherwise noted, rates are per person, and do not include tax and gratuities, which usually are about 25 percent.
TotallyJewishTravel (totallyjewishtravel.com) features descriptions of over a hundred Passover programs around the world, and is a great resource.
Afikomen Tours (afikomantours.com) is hosted by Leah and Booky Erblich, a former cantor. This year, they’re running a program at the Westin Resort & Casino in Aruba. Erblich says they’ll spend “a few years in one location, a few years in another location,” because, with a 75 percent return rate, “customers like a change.” The program is glatt kosher and halav yisroel, but Erblich says those who attend are “the rainbow collation: black hats, green berets, blue yarmulkes, no yarmulkes. Nobody is judgmental on anyone else’s denomination, if you will.” Rates start at $3299 per adult.
Camp Ramah Darom (mypassovervacation.com) has been operating at the Ramah camp in the north Georgia mountains for a decade. This is a more rustic getaway, although attendees interviewed all deem the food 5 star quality (no camp meals here). Accommodations include both weatherized cabins and hotel rooms, and services are egalitarian and participatory. Rates start at $1575 per adult.
Leisure Time Tours (leisurett.com), the grandfather of Passover escapes, has been hosting these vacations since 1972. They now offer choices in Florida (Boca Raton Resort & Spa and the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach), Arizona (the Biltmore in Phoenix), New York (Rye Town Hilton in Westchester), and Italy (Hotel Excelsior in Venice). Starting prices range from $2595 to $4299.
Pesach in New England (pesachinnewengland.com), a new kid on the getaway block, is the brainchild of Bruce Backman. This is the first year he’s offering Passover in Cape Cod, at the luxurious Ocean Edge Resort and Golf Club in Brewster, Mass., catered by Greenwald caterers. “The whole New England market is very underserved,” he says.He also wanted to offer a driving distance destination for those in the New York area. “I felt that there was a market for people who wanted to go somewhere close to home. It’s a very beautiful property.” Rates start at $6250 for two adults, gratuities included.
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