newsJewish & Israeli Holidays

Passover 2024

Missing home: Evacuees prepare to mark Passover in hotels

Tens of thousands of Israelis had left their homes near Gaza and Lebanon.

Children evacuated on Oct. 7 in a Dead Sea hotel. Photo by Oren Ben Hakoon.
Children evacuated on Oct. 7 in a Dead Sea hotel. Photo by Oren Ben Hakoon.

“Passover is a holiday when people renew the accessories in their homes, such as carpets or new dishes,” says Hadas Elimelech from Metula, who is staying at the Lakehouse Hotel in Tiberias, along with a significant number of other evacuees.

“This is exactly the time of the year when I clean my house, going from room to room. Suddenly I’m doing the cleaning in a hotel room, windows as well. It’s surreal, after all. This is not our home, but I have to do it, so we will have a Passover atmosphere,” she says.

“My whole life is in my home. It’s like a closed military zone. Now my house [near the Lebanese border] has been closed for six months. I don’t want to even think about what’s going on in there. I try not to let it get me down.

“The hardest thing is that we can’t see the end of all of this. We don’t know when we will return and where we will return to, but we still stay optimistic. In the end, we have a place to be. The staff members at the hotel are amazing and they take care of us. There is a great sense of caring between the communities that are here, and I can say that we are fine for now.

“The evacuation of residents from various cities separated families,” says Elimelech. “My older brother is in a hotel in the south, my younger brother is in the Zichron Ya’akov area [between Netanya and Haifa], my sister is in Migdal [near Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee], and my parents are with her. I am with my three children here and my husband is with his mother in Moshav Amnun [near the northern end of the Sea of Galilee]. We hope to all celebrate Passover together.”

Israeli hostages have been held captive by Hamas in Gaza for almost 200 days, and the communities of the south are still trying to heal their wounds.

“This year we are not celebrating Passover, but we are mentioning the holiday, mainly for the sake of the kibbutz children,” says Nati Lanternari, cultural coordinator at Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak, whose members have moved to the U Splash Resort Eilat, part of the Fattal hotel chain.

“It is very difficult emotionally that we have reached Passover and the hostages are still in Gaza. We are not back in our homes, and we do not know when we will be going home,” adds Lanternari. “These days we are rewording the Haggadah as befits us as a community and planning the seder together with the hotel management.

“We decided not to sing songs of freedom during the Passover seder, but to focus on songs of hope and growth, in the hope for the return of all the hostages and a better future for the Gaza-area communities and for all of Israel.”

The Jerusalem Prima Palace Hotel is in full swing with preparations for Passover. The seder will be held for tourists, together with the residents who were evacuated from their homes, without separation between them. The festive meal will be served at a buffet and will be strictly kosher.

The Passover seder will be held in a large dining room, and each family will be able to adapt the Seder according to its customs and traditions. Those who need guidance, or who are unable to hold the seder as required, can join the mashgiach‘s (kashrut supervisor’s) table.

Dennis Sokolov and Hadas Elimelech.

Sixty-year-old Bracha Cohen from Kiryat Shmona was evacuated to a hotel in Jerusalem with her husband, parents, sister and brother-in-law. They have been there since Oct. 25, and she misses her cooking the most.

“The hotel staff is amazing and gives us a warm and welcoming feeling, but it is very difficult to be without my children and grandchildren during Passover,” she says. “I miss cooking for the holiday, and especially my personal space, my home. This is not the first religious holiday that we are celebrating since the evacuation, but it is much more difficult without the seder—reading the Haggadah, and having the special meals with all our children, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren.”

Yardena Ben Hamo, on the other hand, will be able to cook her own food this Passover. She has been a resident of Sderot all her life and was evacuated already on Oct. 7, after her nephew was killed in the attack on the city.

Ben Hamo, 68, used to cook for Prime Minister Arik Sharon at his farm, and she has now been given the opportunity to cook alongside the chef of the VERT Lagoon Hotel in Netanya, where she currently resides.

“Food is comforting, and it connects people,” says Ben Hamo. “It is always there—at happy times and also when things are not so good.”

For the hotels, organizing the Passover traditions is complex. They welcomed the evacuees when needed and received a significant amount of money from the state for this, but there is also a level of criticism towards some of them. Some hotels have notified the evacuees that they will have to leave for the holiday, and there are those who have separated the evacuees from the regular guests.

This was not the case in the hotels we visited. There they say that everyone will celebrate Passover together.

“We held a meeting with the evacuees so that we could make this year’s seder night feel as comfortable as possible for them. The hotel was also cleaned as required by special kosher laws for the Passover holiday,” says Dennis Sokolov, CEO of the Lake House Kinneret Hotel in Tiberias, part of the Israel Canada hotel chain.

“Those who want their relatives to join them at the hotel can get a discounted price. Family members can join only for dinner, without accommodation,” says Sokolov. “The evacuees do not have to worry about anything—we are taking care of it all, including entertainment for all ages, food, prayers and everything else. We have been very generous in organizing the holiday that it should be the most festive and enjoyable for all participants.”

According to Sokolov, “We were the first hotel in Tiberias, and among the first in Israel, to accept evacuees from the Gaza-area communities. After a while, some evacuees left and others came, and now we have residents from Kiryat Shmona, Metula, Shlomi and other cities in the North. We have about 250 rooms, and currently about 140 of them are occupied by evacuees from the north. We are a kind of hybrid hotel – we have tourists from many countries who have come to support Israel, as well as the evacuees.”

Sharona Lahav.

Avraham Amar, CEO of the VERT Lagoon hotel in Netanya, says: “We have created a festive atmosphere in light of the circumstances so that we can provide our guests with a sense of home and family during the holiday. We want to offer a unique experience, different from the events that have happened in the last six months in our country.”

The U Splash Resort Hotel in Eilat is also preparing for a different-than-usual kind of holiday. “This year we are preparing for the holiday in collaboration with the members of Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak,” says Sharona Lahav, the hotel’s CEO. We planned the Seder night together with them, after receiving their specific requests, which stem from the difficult feelings experienced by the community members.

“They are grateful to the team members who have put in a lot of effort to give them a sense of home. But you have to remember that in the end, this is not their home. More so, it is a community that has suffered many losses, and they are still waiting for the hostages to return home. They are constantly dealing with a situation of uncertainty.”

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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