Passover retreats are designed to tempt the busy modern Jewish family (WASHINGTON POST) By Michelle Boorstein 04/06/12)
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Suffering is a key theme in the biblical story of Passover, and for
Orthodox Jews the concept can endure during the eight-day holiday,
when kosher rules mandate scrubbing, boiling and schlepping to exile
every crumb of anything breadlike. Every pot, pan and utensil is
replaced with a Passover set. Then starts the work of cooking the
multi-course ritual meals for friends and family.
“I like to say, ‘God freed the men, not the women,’ ” Chana Lehman of
Silver Spring said of the holiday’s narrative of Jews leaving slavery
But that classic image of Passover — onerous preparation for the
rigorously observant, seder meals around a familiar dining room
table — has been upended by a growing number of retreats designed to
tempt the busy modern Jewish family. Dozens of hotels, from the
French Riviera to the Florida coast to Pennsylvania’s Amish Country,
are being temporarily transformed into Passover getaways by armies of
Cruise ship nightclubs and hotel conference rooms have been converted
into seder spaces. Rabbis have blessed special boundary markers,
usually meant for Orthodox neighborhoods, around resorts.
The retreats, most of which have appeared over the past 15 years or
so, lure people with golf, religious singers and mentalists, along
with lectures on Israel and parenting. One retreat in Connecticut is
staffed by five matchmakers for parents seeking a nice Orthodox mate
for their child. At the same time, Passover retreats are also
cropping up among less observant Jews who are motivated not by kosher
rules — which they likely don’t follow — but by a desire to kick-
start their faith and rituals.
For Lehman, 66, the decision to ditch the conventional for hotels (in
Florida, the Poconos and the New Jersey coast) has made Passover a
richer time for her siblings, in-laws, children and grandchildren,
who are spread around the world. They hike and visit. What they don’t
do is cook or clean.
“Last year, the place in Orlando was across the street from Sea
World,” said her husband, Phil. “The kids loved it.”
On Friday, the Lehmans will drive to the Lancaster Host Resort &
Conference Center in the Amish countryside in Pennsylvania. For 10
days, the resort will be filled with 1,000 mostly Orthodox Jews
marking Passover. Promotional materials mention tennis, swimming (men
and women separately), video games and nearby outlet malls. The
Lancaster retreat, which began four years ago, is thought to be the
closest large Passover resort to the District.
A growing industry
Leaders in the small industry of Passover resorts say there are about
60 retreats across the country, about six times as many as a decade
Theories for the growth vary. Most mention an increased affluence
among modern Orthodox Jews, with two parents working in many
families. More working outside the home means less time for extensive
home preparations, which are stringent under kosher rules. Every
cupboard must be inspected. Countertops are cleaned with boiling
water or a blowtorch (depending on how porous the material is). Food
that is not kosher for Passover — containing grains that have been
allowed to ferment — is locked up or given away.
Some say parts of the Orthodox community tend to have more children
(and probably more grandchildren) than they did decades ago and find
it easier to gather their extended broods at a resort. Orthodox
families are more likely to have their children in religious schools,
so Passover means no classes — and a good time for a vacation.
The industry of kosher oversight has also become larger and more
sophisticated. In the past, people who keep strictly kosher would be
skeptical that a hotel was meeting proper standards.
Seder in the desert
It isn’t only Orthodox Jews who are rethinking Passover at home.
Retreats are also growing in popularity among less observant, or even
wayward, Jews, for different reasons.
A rabbi in Boulder, Colo., takes 260 people for a hike into the
desert near Moab, Utah, for a theatrical seder under a massive rock
arch, complete with dancing, singing and teaching. At sunset, the
group hikes to a spot next to the Colorado River, where they sit amid
the red rocks and eat brisket and matzoh ball soup on a strip of
fabric laid on the desert floor.
Rabbi Jamie Korngold said most people who go on the desert hike seek
involvement in a Jewish community. The Moab seder includes breakout
sessions based on the Passover themes of slavery and freedom; one
aims to get people involved in fighting the modern-day sex trade,
another examines self-imposed dependency.
“When you’re out in the desert with no cell service, you realize how
enslaved you are to your phone,” Korngold said.
This year, Roni Rudell will be away from her Washington area family
on Passover for the first time. For years, she’s been seeking a
Jewish community and has signed on to the Moab trip. She hopes to
find people who share her belief that God is felt most profoundly in
“What better way to celebrate a seder, to be on the river, and with
fire pits and singing and nice people camping out,” said Rudell, who
lived in the New York and Washington areas after graduate school and
for work until two years ago, when she moved to Denver. “To me, this
brings us back to our roots, to be in the desert, what Jewish people
are really about.”
While the idea of dancing in the desert or playing golf might not
sound appropriate for a religious holiday, Jewish tradition, in fact,
calls for much of Passover’s eight days to be festive. Regular work
is banned at the very start and the very end, but the days in between
are supposed to be a time of relaxation.
Rabbi Avrumy Jordan, who helps run one of the country’s largest
Passover retreats for the Orthodox, has 1,400 people coming this
year, up from 650 when he started in 1999. The Gateways program
offers 120 lectures on subjects that include helping your child read
Hebrew and the power of positive thinking. He says the vibe of an
entire hotel filled with people observing Passover feels not modern,
but more like something traditional that has been lost.
“It becomes a shtetl,” he said of the Hilton hotel in Stamford,
Conn., using the Yiddish word for a little Jewish town.
For Scott Klippel, the calculations were not complex. Five years ago,
the 61-year-old Rockville lawyer became strictly kosher, which meant
that his preparations for Passover would become more difficult, and
he began spending Passover at resorts.
“I’m single,” he said. “So at that point, I have to clean it for
Passover or leave.” (© 2010 The Washington Post Company 04/06/12)
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