In the 21st century, the good news for Jewish tradition is that the
multi-generational Seder still appears to be as much in vogue as ever. Only it
is as likely to take place in a hotel or a resort as it is in the home of a
And these specialized Passover destinations are using every
lure in the book (although not the Haggada) to attract holiday-goers: from
tropical cruises to eco-tourism and from gourmet glatt kosher food to exotic
adventures in the Far East.
“For many observant Jews, the attraction of
leaving home is twofold: getting away from the drudgery of Pessah cleaning, as
well as traveling to a fun, friendly place where food, intellectual stimulation
and even physical activity are plentiful and appealing,” says Raphi Bloom,
founder and CEO of totallyjewishtravel.
com (TJT). a popular US-based
website with headquarters in the UK, and publisher of Jewish.Travel (JT), which
has stringers in Israel as well.
“The week of Passover is the now the
busiest time of year for Jews to emulate our ancestors and pack up for a trip,”
Bloom has been tracking trends in Passover travel since he
launched his site in 2001. This year, more than 120 hotels are advertising on
TJT and JT, representing destinations located around the world.
according to Bloom, more than 90 Passover tour operators advertised with TJT
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“What we have found interesting is the expansion of French
Pessah operators,” he says. “Many of those who have traditionally marketed
themselves to the native French market – there are some 60 French Pessah
operators – have become more interested in the English-speaking Jewish market.
With the help of Google Translate, the companies advertising with TJT are now
reaching new audiences.”
Economically, this translates into big
“We have been witnessing consistent growth in Passover travel
every year,” Bloom says. “Although there is kosher travel all year round, there
are tour operators who do virtually all of their business at
Although no one officially tracks Passover travel numbers, Bloom
estimates that approximately 125,000 Jews book hotel and resort rooms for the
holiday week. The largest geographical concentrations of hotels are in the
United States, Israel and southern Europe (Italy, the French Riviera, Spain and
“Tour operators keep coming up with different destinations to
keep trips interesting,” Bloom says. “In Italy, last year’s Sardinia has made
way for this year’s Florence.”
According to Bloom, among the destinations
that have resurfaced are South Africa and Hawaii – the latter in a big way.
“Last year, the Seder was conducted by Chabad in a local synagogue; now it is a
full-scale program in house at the Sheraton Maui.”
Yet another venue has
undergone a reincarnation thanks to the Internet. “Eastbourne, in England, has
traditionally only been marketed in the UK Jewish press,” says Bloom. “This
year, in contrast, they advertised with TJT and got a huge response from the
Price is another factor influencing choice of
“In Europe,” Bloom notes, “Crete and the Greek islands have
become very popular. They are less expensive than the EU countries, Marbella or
In the Western Hemisphere, Puerto Rico had long been a leading
offshore Passover destination for American Jews; that mantle has now shifted to
Mexico in luxurious resorts on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts.
annual Passover cruise in warm waters under the kashrut supervision of
Conservative rabbis (most resorts feature Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox
supervision) often varies its ports of call in the Caribbean and Latin America
to attract repeat customers.
Bloom has detected new trends in the
continental United States as well. “Florida, Arizona and warm weather
destinations, especially this year, when Pessah falls so early in the spring,
are well-established destinations that still have not lost their appeal,” he
observes. “However, to appeal to the many Jews in the Northeast who do not wish
to travel far, more East Coast resorts in Connecticut and Maryland are being
added to the traditional upstate New York destinations.
“On the other
hand,” he notes, “an early Pessah can also attract winter sports enthusiasts:
Passover resorts in the Rockies and the Alps are offering skiing
“Jews in southern California who want to stay close to home
also have new options in Las Vegas and Palm Springs,” he adds. “These resorts
are especially convenient for Los Angelenos who find it too difficult to take
the whole week off work; the family will spend the week at the resort, while the
breadwinner shuttles back and forth for the holiday and Sabbath
The proximity of Shabbat to the Seder nights in 5733 makes the
short commute even easier this year.
Even not having to fork out money
for airfare to distant destinations, however, does not mean that Passover
getaways come cheap. Quite the contrary.
“Most resorts converting to
‘kosher for Passover’ are upscale to begin with,” says Lynda Clare of
Presidential Kosher Holidays, a veteran operator of Passover
“We are proud to feature, for example, two Fairmont resorts on
the Riviera Maya and in Scottsdale, Arizona, both boasting welcoming climates,
interesting side trips, and fun recreational pursuits. And prices are
all inclusive, covering meals, snacks and such on-site activities as spiritual
and educational enrichment programs.
“We host families of only two, up to
40, 50 and even 60 family members,” she says. “We get lots of multi-generational
families: grandparents, parents and grandchildren – even great-grandchildren.
Private Seder rooms can be arranged for large families.”
With so many
people and up to four generations involved, there is no longer the homogeneity
that once characterized the early days of vacationing families observing
Passover at hotels.
“Our guests run the gamut of religious observance,”
Clare reports. “Not everyone in the family may be observant, but they enjoy
Bloom has observed the same phenomenon. “It is not
unusual to have a case where the parents are not observant but one of the
children is newly religious; he or she is the catalyst for everyone having a
kosher Passover.” Sometimes a second generation might split off.
recent development we have noticed is an increase in ‘empty nest’ couples,” says
Clare. “Yet occasionally smaller family components do not make for diminished
Passover crowds: our attendance in Arizona has grown from 250 to 600 in the last
One big change both Clare and Bloom have noticed is that the
Internet, spearheaded by sites like TJT, has led to greater geographical
diversity “Increasingly, family reunions are becoming more and more global,”
“Moreover, we have seen lasting friendships formed among
families coming from different parts of the globe; they are coming together
again and again to celebrate Pessah. “This is not our core business,” Clare
smiles, “but once in a while a romance develops.”
“Israel is buzzing this
year,” Bloom says. “Even while the Pessah market in the US and Europe has picked
up, Eretz Yisrael is as busy as ever.”
Indeed, after years of slumping
Jewish tourism because of fears of terrorist violence, Israel is once again in
the vacation picture, especially during the pilgrimage holidays of Passover and
One of the leading Passover program organizers in Israel is Joey
Freudmann, a veteran with more than 25 years’ experience operating in the Holy
“Together with Lenny Davidman of LD events, my company, Ophir
Tours, offers some of the most exclusive programs in Israel,” Freudmann says.
“For example, 2013 is our 19th year at the Dead Sea this spring at the Daniel
Hotel & Spa, where we host the only 5- star English-speaking Pessah program
at the Dead Sea.
“One of the challenges of operating at the Dead Sea,” he
notes, “is that there is very little to do outside of the resort without
traveling a far distance away. The fact that we continue to do well here is a
testament to the quality of our educational and enrichment
"Most of our guests are drawn from the Englishspeaking Jewish
community in Israel,” he adds. “However, they are increasingly being joined by
family members from abroad, forming some very large groups.”
Freudmann and Davidman are running three programs this year: at the Sharon
Hotel, at Herzliya Pituah beach and at the Crowne Plaza Tel Aviv, in the heart
of the action along the Big Orange’s bustling boardwalk.
“All of our
programs sell out each year,” says Freudmann proudly. “Herzliya has a lovely
beach that is quite popular, although this year, with Pessah falling in March
rather than April, the warmer climate at the Dead Sea should be a major
If there is any lament he has, it is with regards to the Passover
airfares charged by all the airlines flying to Israel for the holiday – and not
just El Al. “Israel is going to price itself out the market,” he
“Clients who used to think nothing about flying a family of 20 or
30 are now reassessing; paying the fares for all these passengers can
practically double the cost of the trip.”
Most resorts offer last-minute
deals if space is available close to the holidays. If you are very flexible as
to your destination, it might be a good idea to wait as long as you are
comfortable before booking.
Keep in mind, however, that the earlier you
book your flight, the better deal you will probably get on airfare.
Transportation, of course, should always be factored in when comparing Passover
The other drawback of waiting: the risk that the hotel you want
will already be sold out.
“We have Passover operators who stop
advertising two months before the holiday,” says Bloom, “as soon as their
properties are fully booked.
There are more budget programs around for
the price-conscious,” he says. “Whilst still not cheap by normal vacation
standards, they are quite a bit cheaper than the top-end hotels.” Still, as all
observers of the Passover vacation scene have observed, this is the time of year
when families are prepared to splurge.
“There are always people on the
lookout for a bargain, especially late in the game,” notes Freudmann.
always try to give my customers the very best price I can, but rarely can this
result in a savings of more than 10%.”
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