Passover at the Waldorf

During the intermediate days of the holiday, Jerusalemites and visitors enjoyed a walk through the popular hotel.

The hotel is a talking point among locals. (photo credit: Courtesy)
The hotel is a talking point among locals.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Visitors to Jerusalem during Passover did the usual things – visit the Western Wall, explore the Old City, take guided tours of museums, splurge on cabs to Ein Kerem and take advantage of the hiking trails. But there was one other thing that many wanted to see, and that was the interior of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, which opened for business on the Thursday prior to Seder night and received its first guests on that day.
Because word had leaked out that the hotel was opening on that date, several Jerusalemites decided to have coffee there and soak in the aura of the place before it filled up.
During the intermediate days of the holiday, both Jerusalemites and visitors to the capital made a point of at least walking through the lobby, even if they didn’t stop for coffee.
At meetings during Passover with friends, acquaintances and even strangers, in coffee shops, people’s homes and hotel lobbies, I came across many visitors from different parts of Israel and from other countries who were enraptured by how the lobby looks like a street in the capital’s Old City.
The upper floors, with their arched facades, resemble the exterior of buildings typical of the Old City. There are live flowers and shrubs growing in the lobby in addition to the unusual arrangements of cut flowers displayed on a long elegant table near the entrance.
The lobby is flooded with natural light – most of it coming from the ceiling, which is actually a huge skylight. At certain times of the day, anyone sitting in the lobby, the coffee shop or the restaurant, which are all located on the ground floor, can look up and see the roof being swept. Some cannot resist photographing the three men walking across the roof, sweeping up any dust and debris that the wind may have deposited, and then polishing the glass so that the clear view of the sky remains constant.
Unless one is staying in the hotel or visiting one of its guests, one can’t get beyond the ground floor. The elevators have been programmed to respond only to special passes issued to guests, though staffers are in attendance to help visitors reach the floor on which a guest is staying. The strict security also applies to the ballroom, meeting rooms and other downstairs amenities. Thus anyone coming to a wedding, a conference or any other function can walk downstairs, but if they want to take the elevator, only a member of the staff or someone staying at the hotel can operate it.
Waldorf Astoria is the Hilton hotel chain’s luxury brand, and anyone who visits this Waldorf Astoria and examines the furniture and fittings will understand exactly what luxury means. The devil is in the details, and no expense has been spared when it comes to detail. The sofas and armchairs, for instance, are fashioned in different styles, different heights, different fabrics and different colors to suit the needs and tastes of those who will be sitting on them.
One person seen sitting in the lobby on the Thursday of the opening was Oded Lifschitz, the Jerusalem-born Hilton Worldwide area vice president for the UK and Israel. Another was fellow native Jerusalemite Motti Verses, who heads Hilton’s public relations in Israel. Verses, who now works out of the Tel Aviv Hilton, began his own hotel career at the original Jerusalem Hilton near the entrance to the city, when it was the only hotel in the immediate vicinity. It is now the Crowne Plaza.
The Waldorf is also piquing the interest of couples seeking a venue for their wedding. As of Thursday last week, according to Guy, the Waldorf Astoria’s general manager, 15 couples have made wedding reservations for this year. Engaged couples attending the first two or three weddings at the hotel may well opt to have their own weddings there as well.
Some of the couples who have already booked, says Klaiman, were delighted to hear about the hotel’s availability, not just because it was new and glamorous, but because it enabled the bride or the groom or both to follow a family tradition. Several people who have inquired about having a wedding at the hotel have said that their parents were married at the Waldorf in New York, he explains; now the next generation can get married at the Waldorf in Jerusalem.