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At first blush, it sounds like your typical sports celebrity meet and greet. Avi Herman, 10, and his brother, Jonah, 7, were waiting patiently for Odell Beckham, Jr. to arrive. Before the New York Giants wide receiver came, there was a football clinic where a few NFL coaches gave throwing pointers to the some 100 kids gathered around. After about two hours, Beckham—he, of the now-iconic meme catch—finally showed up and was promptly mobbed, by both children and their parents alike. The NFL pro then spent the next two hours signing footballs and posing for photos with his fans. Both got signed footballs, baseball caps and jerseys.
But Avi and Jonah weren’t at an NFL pre-game or some sort of football camp. They, along with their parents, were guests at a Passover program last year at the St. Regis hotel at Monarch Beach in California. “It was the highlight of the kids’ program and they were very excited, especially about showing their friends at home,” says the boys’ father David Herman, 39.
Jonah Herman with Odell Beckham, Jr. at St. Regis hotel in Monarch Beach, Calif., 2015. (Photo: David Herman)
The 8- to 10-day program, hosted by kosher restaurant group Prime Hospitality, is one of a growing number of high-end programs catering to observant Jews who want to make a vacation out of the Passover holiday. As Passover begins this Friday night, thousands from the Jewish community will be traveling to luxury hotels and golf resorts in Miami, Phoenix, Puerto Rico, and as far as Mexico, Ibizaand Italy. They’ll be catered to on every level – with endless food, entertainment, including everything from magic shows to concerts to carnivals for the kids, and even pro football players—and in one case presidential candidate Ted Cruz—to hang out with. And many will be doing it for upwards of $27,000 for a family of four.
The 8-day holiday of Passovercommemorates the Jewish people’s liberation from slavery in Egypt. And to observe the holiday, an increasing number of Jews will be outsourcing the whole thing by leaving home and traveling to sunnier climes.
The Passover travel market is growing: This year TotallyJewishTravel.com, a Jewish travel website, lists around 130 hotels with special Passover programs for 2016, its busiest year since launching 17 years ago. In 2010, there were just 75 such Passover programs, says Menachem Lubinsky, CEO ofLUBICOM Marketing Consulting, and publisher of koshertoday.com, a trade publication. There are now about 100,000 Jews who go away for Passover worldwide, compared with half that in 2010, he says.
So why are so many families intent on skipping town for Passover? In a word: convenience. Passover isn’t just about eating matzah and bitter herbs at the Seder. The rules of Passover require observant Jews to rid their homes of all “chametz,” which includes anything made from major grains, like wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt (more background here). This means they can’t eat it, own it or even feed it to their pets for eight days. Many households have a special set of dishes for Passover, and “turn over” their kitchens days if not weeks in advance of the holiday so it’s “kosher for Passover.” The process of cleaning one’s home of all chametz is a spring cleaning nightmare. So many folks avoid the drudgery – especially cooking for such a long holiday – and give the job to someone else.
“When I was growing up, most people stayed home for Pesach,” says Laura Rabinowitz, a lawyer in New York who is going to the Passover program at the Trump Doral Resort in Miami with her husband and two sons this week. (“Pesach” is the Hebrew term for Passover.) “My husband went to Grossinger’s in the Catskills every year. Now there are so many programs.” Back in the ‘90s when she and her family started going away for Passover, “we didn’t have the whole hotel, they didn’t have all these lectures and entertainment, it was more low-key… Now you have the chief rabbi of England [coming to these programs] and years ago that was unheard of.”
Some of the growing popularity can be attributed to a more robust economy. “It’s almost like a cyclical thing,” says Raphi Bloom, owner of TotallyJewishTravel.com. The more programs there are, the more choice there is, which means the better the pricing, and the more people are willing to go.”
Passover ‘of a lifetime’
As the number of programs increase and competition heats up, the level of extravagance is ramping up as well, and becoming a point of distinction for host companies. “For sure, everyone is trying to outdo each other in terms of their guest speakers, or having a clinic with an NFL star, a ranking senator, having the chief rabbi of the UK come,” says Bloom.
This year, Prime’s Passover program will be at the Fairmont Miramar in Santa Monica and feature Victor Espinoza, the jockey of Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh, and former Giants wide receiver — and 2007 Super Bowl champion — Plaxico Burress. Also on tap: comedian Elon Gold (10 appearances on “The Tonight Show,” starred in NBC’s “In-Laws”), and Yaakov Shwekey, a big deal on the Jewish music scene. In 2014, Politico reported that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz spoke at a Prime event in Monarch Beach. “Every year we try to do a better job than the year before,” says Joey Allaham, owner of Prime. “It’s definitely gotten more popular. People want to see new things.”
Club Kosher’s Passover program at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan, Puerto Rico — whose Facebookpage promises “10 Pesach programs worth of talent, vision & commitment” for “the Pesach of a lifetime… All the time” — will feature former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, with his wife Hadassah, and well-known mentalist The Amazing Kreskin. Perhaps the biggest draw: a concert by Jewish reggae-rap megastar Matisyahu. The PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., willbring in an ice skating rink for “carnival night.”
Since these are, at heart, vacations that revolve around a Jewish holiday, there’s a religious-minded component as well: in addition to the entertainment portion, all programs feature a set of speakers that aim to satisfy guests’ spiritual and intellectual appetites. The program hosted by VIP RAM at the Doral resort has Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Los Angeles museum focusing on history of the Holocaust, and Zvika Krieger, senior advisor for technology at the State Department, among other guest speakers.
Carnivale at Kosherica’s Passover program in 2015 at the PGA Nationa Resort & Spa in Florida. (Photo: Kosheric …
“It’s like is a cruise that never leaves port,” says Alan Berger, who heads up Grand Getaways’ program at the Waldorf-Astoria in Orlando, Fla. Among the performers the approximately 1,000 Waldorf guests will be able to see: illusionist and mind reader Alain Nu, Israeli singer Gad Elbaz, and the University of Central Florida acapella group. Says Berger: “It’s like a 10-day bar mitzvah.” (Guests typically arrive an extra day or two before the holiday starts.)
The level of service and luxury is certainly reflected in the prices. Berger’s rates at the Waldorf start at $4,400 per person for a 9-night stay, and depending on the type of room reach as high as $27,000 (for a two-bedroom suite that sleeps 4 people). A 9-night stay at Club Kosher’s San Juan program is $12,000 for a family of four. Room rates at Lasko Getaways’ program at the Turnberry Isle resort in Miami start at around $4,600 per person for 9 nights and go as high as $10,000 for an apartment suite. (Camp for the kids, golf tee times and tennis court time are extra.)
Yes, Berger says, these programs are extravagant and over the top: “If you charge someone a dollar, you have to give them a dollar’s worth of what they bought. It’s a competitive industry.”
That expense is something Rabinowitz, who has been to a number of pricey programs, is conscious of and wants to make sure her 18- and 20-year-old sons are aware of too. “This is something we discuss with our children – that this is a luxury,” she says.
Still, despite the premium amenities and often-luxe locale, not every Passover traveler is a satisfied customer. Hannah Berry, a 40-year-old mother of five on Long Island, went to a program in Costa Rica two years ago with her family. While she liked some of the dining options, the setting was no good: “I hated it, it was awful. We ate outside the whole time, and it was boiling,” she says. “It was hilly, and we had strollers so you had to schlep your stroller up the hill.”
Then there’s the food
Considering the added dietary restrictions imposed on observant Jews during Passover, the variety and quality of food provided at these programs is truly impressive.
Katsuji Tanabe, a former contestant on “Top Chef” will be cooking for guests at Club Kosher’s program in Puerto Rico. Tanabe is also executive chef at Mexikosher, a popular restaurant in Los Angeles. A couple of years ago the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort in Costa Rica brought in Israeli star chef Meir Adoni to cook for guests. Dani Klein, founder of kosher travel blogYeahThatsKosher.com, sees the greater interest in food as part of a trickle-down effect. Society in general is increasingly “caring more about better-quality food, more unique ingredients — now that’s going to the kosher community,” says Klein. “They’re now bringing in celebrity chefs, providing culinary experiences for Passover programs as they do for the rest of the year, and it’s much harder to do that on Passover…. That’s kind of part of the game now.”
The tea room at Kosherica’s PGA National program, 2015. (Photo: Kosherica)
And there is a lot of food.
“It’s kind of ridiculous in the most wonderful way,” says Helit Edelstein, head of marketing forKosherica, a Jewish travel company that’s running two Passover programs this year, at The Atlantis in the Bahamas, and the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. The breakfast schedule at the Atlantis pretty much explains it all: “We start with a pre-breakfast, which is a modified breakfast. Then full-on breakfast, then post-breakfast for people who didn’t make the first breakfast – it’s a little less food than the regular breakfast, which has an enormous variety, a zillion types of fish and cheeses. People are always amazed… it’s really exciting,” Edelstein says.
And of course there are the tearooms, an area most programs have which offer an endless supply of fruit, pastries, snacks – even a smoothie bar – and is open nearly all day. “If you’re not on the same schedule as everyone else, at midnight you can just go to the tearoom and eat whatever you want,” says Klein. A big part of what people pay for is a generous supply of food available where they are and at all times. Think barbeque stations set up poolside at the Waldorf in Orlando, food trucks traveling with the Fairmont’s guests to the Santa Monica pier, an in-house mixologist and late-night schwarma and falafel at the Doral.
Says Klein: “At the end of the program you’re going to have to roll yourself out.”
4 thoughts on “Passover for the rich: Inside the lavish getaways where you might run into Odell Beckham, Jr.”
talk about “stopping short”
1Co 5:6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?
1Co 5:7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:
I am sure this sort of behavior on a day/week when Jews (Torah Jews…Talmudic Jews would just as soon go to the Temple of Satan) are supposed to honor God pleases God a whole bunch!
“Save our Skins”, foreskins that is. Batter fried, a real Passover treat for those sick ***kers. Why do you suppose over 100 countries around the world have expelled these vile creatures. They’re sick, like rabid dogs. Infected with greed, they wet dream of tomorrow’s exploitation.
They need to be vanquished, swept from the face of the Earth. They’re like a steaming, stinking dog turd. You can’t ignore it, the smell is attention gathering. They’ve weaseled their way to the high offices they hold, all part of the plan, and yes, this $hit was all planned years ago.
Conniving, backstabbing, traitorous, bottom-feeding lowest form of humanity ever to exist, these son’s of bitches intend to enslave or kill us all. We could reciprocate and get the big fly swatter out. But noooooooooo! They own us at this moment. What we gonna do about it is the question of the century.
were being too kind, and once again our greatest ally in the middle east
just attacked a unitedstates naval vessel. thier showing the jew love
can’tya just feel it.