Do non-kosher hotels pay a heavy price during Passover?

This time of the year most hoteliers feel relieved they are functioning under the umbrella of the word “kosher.” This magic word guarantees demand for accommodations during Passover.

 AN ICONIC Passover dish: beet salad by chef Tomer Tal of the Drisco Tel Aviv. (photo credit: MOTTI VERSES)
AN ICONIC Passover dish: beet salad by chef Tomer Tal of the Drisco Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: MOTTI VERSES)

Behind the scenes, the clock is quickly ticking towards the most important deadline for the hotel industry in Israel – Seder night, which falls this year on April 5. 

Passover has been the most important profit source for hotels here for decades. In Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, inbound tourism is flourishing. Room prices are at their peak and the minimum stay-requirement is a legitimate one. 

The same applies for Eilat, the Dead Sea region and rural accommodation in the North. Locals are not deterred by the high rates. Avoiding the endless shopping, demanding cooking, hosting a significant number of guests and traffic jams – going away from home is the ultimate solution. 

At the very same time, Jewish tourists, mainly from the US, are about to flock to the country after disappointing COVID-restricted Passover vacations.

This time of the year most hoteliers feel relieved they are functioning under the umbrella of the word “kosher.” This magic word guarantees demand for accommodations during Passover. A hotel’s rabbinical supervision is the sign of an organization that respects religion and tradition. Most hotels in Israel seek this umbrella, not just on Passover but all year round.

 TABLE SET for the Passover Seder. (credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90) TABLE SET for the Passover Seder. (credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)

Some might say that the growing number of non-kosher hotels here pay a heavy price during the holiday. A significant number of inbound Jewish travelers during that period rely on kosher for Passover food. Why would they make a journey to Israel and stay in a non-kosher hotel, whether it be basic or luxurious? 

The truth is, however, that numerous hotels are not promising a kosher, traditional Passover experience. None of these hotels will conduct a Seder. And their managers don’t see it as an obstacle. Furthermore, each non-kosher hotel feels free to decide what kind of a Passover experience it wants to offer its guests. The location of the hotel, either in a city or in the countryside, plays an important role. 

American Colony Jerusalem is not expecting Jewish tourists during Passover and does not offer any traditional Passover festivities. However, general manager Guy Lindt says that ever since the pandemic, the number of Israelis staying at his hotel have doubled. “Ten percent of our guests will be locals, and our hotel was already fully booked six months ago,” he says.

Hezi Talay, manager of Drisco Tel Aviv, sees no hindrance to operate his non-kosher hotel during Passover.

“Guests book with us because they wish to be free of food restrictions and enjoy a culinary experience also during Passover,” he says. Chef Tomer Tal, famous for the hotel’s George & John restaurant, inspired by modern Israeli cuisine with broader Mediterranean influences, promises a variety of upscale dishes with traditional holiday vegetables, like his iconic Passover beet salad. Spring products (as Passover is called the Holiday of the Spring) will dominate dinner. 

The Jaffa luxury hotel will provide its guests the same culinary experience in its restaurants as it does on regular, non-holiday days. “Some 85% of our guests on Passover will be American, and we don’t limit anyone for a minimum stay and rooms are still available,” says general manager Michael Schmid. As the hotel is part of the mogul Marriott brand, Schmid can feel relaxed as his hotel is offered to more than 140 million members of its global Bonvoy loyalty program. Reward points are king. Will these perks outweigh tradition? Time will tell.

WHY WOULD Jewish tourists come to Israel on Passover and book a non-kosher hotel?

David Barak-Gorodetsky, director of the Ruderman Program for American-Jewish Studies at the University of Haifa, says American Jews have a restricted identity while living in the US and they are loyal to that identity.

“However, while visiting Israel they are exposed to a variety of enormous choices of [identities],” he says. “Some even call Israel ‘The Jewish Disneyland.’ All they have to do is to temporarily choose what they prefer to be. We have to bear in mind that even the Modern Jewish American Orthodox [person] is more willing to compromise on Halacha regulations than before. Hence the liberals – the majority of American Jewry – will prefer to experience Israel while enjoying their daily familiar routine as they know it back home.”

Apparently numerous non-kosher hotels are offering a traditional Passover vacation after all. The Six Senses Shaharut Negev Desert hotel will offer a variety of culinary choices, including holiday ceremonies and traditional food like gefilte fish, horseradish or chopped liver. However, executive chef Dudu Biton will not miss an opportunity to present his upscale gastronomic delights, such as roasted lamb, ribs, beef fillet or roasted sea bass in herbs. 

General manager Alicia Graham says there has been an increase of tourists from the US and the UK for this Passover, however a lot of Israelis are expected. “There are still rooms available, however we require a three-night minimum stay,” she says.

The Golan Heights is proud of its Pereh luxury boutique hotel. It is expected to have mainly Israelis, but a lot of tourists are expected as well, says general manager Shahaf Ohana. 

“The hotel’s DNA is to keep with kosher [-style] regulations, so no seafood, pork and mixed dairy and meat dishes are to be found. Our Passover festive dinner will be traditional, however if a guest requests bread during the holiday, we will serve it to him. For the first time, this couples-only retreat will be available for families with children as well,” he reveals.

The number of hotels in Israel that do not keep kosher has increased significantly in the last decade, says Israeli tourism expert Joseph Fischer, who has 40 years of lodging experience working for leading international brands.

“It used to be unthinkable to operate non-kosher hotels here, but the entry into the market of dozens of boutique hotels and non-branded hotels opened the minds of many hoteliers. Numerous hotels contract with external operators that condition them to work seven days a week without kosher restrictions. 

“If, for example, a guest wants to order kosher food, this need can easily be fulfilled. If foreign airlines manage to handle these requests and passengers can eat side-by-side kosher and non-kosher food, it is possible and acceptable after all. Even on Passover,” he says.

Non-kosher hotels will apparently not pay a heavy price this Passover. They are smart enough to adjust to their clients’ needs. If there is no obstacle to serving non-kosher items, then they will do so. If there is one, they will follow kosher regulations, but without rabbinical supervision. 

Supposedly, the minds of the People of Israel are alway proactive, especially in what some call “The Jewish Disneyland.”

The writer is the Travel Flash Tips publisher.