Destination Pesach: There Will be Food

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Editor’s note: This article was written prior to the spate of coronavirus-related travel cancellations, which have included Passover-related trips.

The Barron family spent Passover 2018 at a Palm Springs resort operated by Kosherica, one of the big names in luxury Passover travel.
The Barron family spent Passover 2018 at a Palm Springs resort operated by Kosherica, one of the big names in luxury Passover travel. (Courtesy of Jamie Barron)

Passover can be an ordeal. The mandate to scrub every corner of the house clean of chametz can feel like the 11th plague, the one that’s persisted unmercifully into modernity — and that’s not even taking the seders themselves into account.

For some, the burden can feel so great that flies and pestilence begin to seem like a vacation by comparison.

Vacation … now there’s an idea.

What if I told you about a place where all the cooking and cleaning and top-to-bottom koshering of everything would be taken care of for you? No flies, no pestilence, no contemplating the irony of celebrating deliverance while in thrall to a different, domestic oppressor.

All that’s required is casting the convention of the dining room seder aside in favor of a destination Pesach.

Combining Passover with a vacation isn’t a new concept, but the concept, in the spirit of American free enterprise, has gone grander — the food, the amenities, the excursions, the entertainment and, of course, the price tag.

 From left: Yoni and Shoshanna Aidman. The Aidmans spent Passover 2017 at a hotel in Lancaster as part of a program operated by the Jewish Heritage Center of New York and Greenwald Caterers of Lakewood, New Jersey.
From left: Yoni and Shoshanna Aidman. The Aidmans spent Passover 2017 at a hotel in Lancaster as part of a program operated by the Jewish Heritage Center of New York and Greenwald Caterers of Lakewood, New Jersey. (Courtesy Ayala Aidman)

But while the five-star options attract the most press — and for those who indulge in them the most Jew-on-Jew scorn — the reality is that Passover resorts are not just for the rich. Like virtually every other segment of the service sector, destination Passovers present to the consumer a system of tiered luxury.

If living your best Pesach means not only eating gourmet kosher cuisine prepared by celebrity chefs but also sharing an after-seder drink and intellectual sparring session with Alan Dershowitz, then Kosherica’s programming might be for you.

Even the most pared-down of Kosherica’s offerings for Passover 2020, at the Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve, a five-star resort on Coco Beach in Puerto Rico, includes constantly available kosher barbecue and Chinese food and as much golf as any one human could dream of playing, on not one but two championship golf courses designed by PGA legend Tom Kite.

The only thing better would be to see the look on the Pharoahs’ faces.

This, by the way, is Kosherica’s Passover package that, according to its marketing materials, dispenses of all the unnecessary fluff.

If you opt for the fluff, expect all of the above, plus a full roster of rabbis and public intellectuals with whom to ponder the unknowable and a week’s slate of entertainers including but not limited to: magicians, musicians, comedians and hypnotists, as well as the once-famous, the almost-famous and the Instagram-famous.

“I remember there was a terrible comedian that we walked out of,” said Jamie Barron, whose family spent Passover 2018 in Palm Springs, California, with Kosherica. “Which was awkward because it was in a room with lights on and there wasn’t a huge crowd…. It was rough.”

Okay, so the entertainment on these things might be a little hit-or-miss; anyone who’s been on a cruise, no matter how opulent, knows this to be a hazard of vacationing.

Entertainment notwithstanding, Barron said that the experience was a big hit with her family and that it provided a much-needed reprieve, especially for her mother.

Barron’s mother, Jackie, Passover-proofs their suburban Chicago home in an ultra-fastidious manner that’s in keeping with

Orthodox tradition, even though, while traditional, the Barrons would not classify themselves as Orthodox, illustrating that the burdens of Pesach preparation need not be denominational.

“My mom had always wanted to do something like this because she does the whole extreme cleaning-out of the whole kitchen, switching out all the silverware and plates — like we have all new utensils and cooking stuff,” Barron said. “So it’s a ton of work, plus she does the most cooking during Passover because we can’t eat out. But all of her cooking utensils are so sh—y because she says, ‘Well, I only use them a week out of the year, so I don’t get nice ones,’ and we’re like, ‘But you do the most cooking this week!’ It’s frustrating.”

For reasons to which many can probably relate, the Barrons had been wanting to treat themselves to a destination Passover for some time, but with two daughters as public school teachers, the timing never seemed to work out perfectly … until one year when it did.

They chose to go to Palm Springs with Kosherica after gaming several similarly upmarket options because it was close enough to their suburban Chicago home and also because Palm Springs is known the world over as a spa and golf destination, not as a foodie’s paradise — they wouldn’t be missing out on world-famous local cuisine while keeping kosher for Passover.

“There were a lot of places where we were like, ‘We don’t want to go there and not be able to eat the local food.’ There was one program in Spain, and I was like, ‘No, if I go to Spain, I’m eating ham,’” Barron said, laughing. “And we also wanted somewhere warm, where there’d be some stuff to do aside from just laying around, which is mostly what we did anyway.”

The Barrons did partially sit through the aforementioned underwhelming comedy show, saw some acrobats “just walking around,” and they even hit the resort’s casino night. But for all the extras these programs provide, at the end of the day, it all comes down to the food, which at nearly every tier of luxury seems to be of high quality and even higher quantity.

“I will say I was pretty impressed by a lot of it, mostly by just how much of it there was. It was just a ton of food, really,” Barron said, clarifying that the kosher for Passover dessert table was far more extensive than the candy fruit slices and assorted Manischewitz macaroons that many of us associate with nostalgic feelings instead of things that actually taste good.

Sometimes dessert stations come with fruit sculptures. The buffet at the Aidmans’ hotel included hot and cold foods, omelet stations, juice bars and caramelized banana waffles. “Much fancier than anything I would have served at home,” Ayala Aidman said.
Sometimes dessert stations come with fruit sculptures. The buffet at the Aidmans’ hotel included hot and cold foods, omelet stations, juice bars and caramelized banana waffles. “Much fancier than anything I would have served at home,” Ayala Aidman said. (Courtesy of Ayala Aidman)

And breakfast — well, breakfast was simply a whole different ballgame.

“Breakfast was awesome because they always had guys making omelets. And they had pancake and waffle stations — somehow Passover pancakes and waffles are actually good; they’ve figured that out. And for dinner, they had these stations outside where they’d have Chinese food and they’d somehow make kosher-for-Passover fried orange chicken.”

Strange as it may sound, though, the Passover resort experience can be about more than just stuffing your face — even though each and every program will offer you the opportunity to do that to an obscene degree.

Take Ayala Aidman’s experience. Aidman, a mother of four living in Bala Cynwyd, has a 5-year-old daughter Shoshanna who was born with Down syndrome. The holidays, as Aidman explained, can be a particularly arduous, and often isolating, time for children with special needs and their parents, who face challenges above and beyond the normal burdens of koshering a house for Passover.

For families like the Aidmans, Passover resorts offer not just a reprieve but a valuable socialization opportunity for both the kids and the adults.

“For families with a child who has a disability, if we’re home on a normal Shabbos or a normal yontif, it’s very difficult to get out, and we don’t get to have the kind of social interaction that other families do,” said Aidman, who, along with her family, opted for fully catered hotel Passovers in 2017 and 2018 operated by the Jewish Heritage Center, a nonprofit run out of Queens and Long Island, New York, in conjunction with Lakewood, New Jersey’s Greenwald Caterers.

“Families with children with disabilities often feel very isolated, so when you’re in a hotel setting like this, it becomes very freeing. You’re really able to go and participate in all of the community activities.”

In 2017, their Pesach hotel was in Lancaster; in 2018, it was in Stamford, Connecticut. Not quite Palm Springs or beachside in Puerto Rico, though Aidman kvelled over Jewish Heritage Center’s programming, which she called “amazing, with inspiring lectures and activities for all age groups.”

And besides, for families like the Aidmans, golf courses and water slides, round-the-clock sushi buffets and cigar-rolling stations would not have brought them the value they were looking for, anyway.

“I would not categorize the resorts I attended as ‘luxury,’ though they were definitely a necessary luxury for our family the years we chose to go,” Aidman said. “For individuals with physical and cognitive impairments, the Pesach hotel provided a safe and friendly atmosphere where the could interact and socialize. It might not have been the most luxurious, but it was accessible, and that’s how communities really should be. Maybe that’s what the real ‘luxury’ of an all-inclusive Pesach experience is all about.”

“And, of course, the food,” she added with a laugh. “It was like going to a bar mitzvah every day.”

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