By Larry Gordon
It is three weeks away, and Pesach as many once knew it might be at risk. This year seemed to be featuring a greater and more diverse panorama of Pesach programs around the globe, but that is coming to a complete halt. If there was ever an endeavor or business that had the rug pulled out from under it, so to speak, by forces beyond anyone’s control, this is it.
It’s like some of those rather amateur magic tricks: now you see it, now you don’t.
While we have addressed this subject many times — particularly at this time of year — let’s not be presumptuous. Though it may seem like many, only a minority of people pack up, pick up, and go somewhere hundreds or even thousands of miles away for Pesach.
Right now, it looks like most of us will be observing and enjoying the chag this year with our families exactly where we are now sitting and reading this article — or maybe over in the next room, a little closer to the pantry.
For the thousands of families who were planning on spending Pesach in Israel or Italy or perhaps parts of Florida or more exotic locales like Cancun and Panama, it is likely that those plans have changed and many, if not most, will be home for what will be, G-d willing, a good old-fashioned yom tov. And that does not sound too bad at all.
OK, so you want to know about the money, as most of these hotel programs require full advance payment with your reservation. While the situation is still evolving, the story at this point is that while many program administrators are refunding a majority of the money, unfortunately others have told some customers we’ve spoken to that they just cannot and there is nothing anyone can do about that.
One estimate is that the hotel industry for Pesach alone is about $100 million. There are big losses piling up here on both sides of the equation. Most entrepreneurs are trying to do the right thing and return as much money to clients as possible. An offer I saw from one hotel group was to refund about 35% of the money, with the balance being credited to next year’s program, G-d willing, long after this is all over with.
The halachic question that will most likely be dealt with down the road — probably after yom tov — is whether or not the customers have any financial liability if, for whatever reason, the Pesach program does not happen.
If the assumption is that families who choose to spend Pesach away at this or that Hilton or Sheraton can most likely absorb the loss, that is not accurate and is certainly unfair. Almost anyone in business will agree that if you cannot deliver the product you sold, then the client is certainly entitled to a full refund.
A person who was planning on going to a hotel in New Jersey asked, “But what if the program directors cannot afford to pay back in full the money they collected from people?”
I took the liberty of calling the general manager’s office of one of the New York area hotels to ask if they were refunding the money paid to them by the operators of the Pesach program.
The person who answered the phone at this particular Hilton said to me that she was not at liberty to discuss the matter and that I should be speaking to the program hosts. I told her that I would do that if it were relevant to me, but that was not my motive here. I reiterated that I just wanted to know if, considering the lack of liability here on anyone’s end and considering that there was a worldwide pandemic taking place, they would do the right thing and make people whole under the circumstances.
“I’m not at liberty to discuss that,” she said. I told her that I think I hear what she is saying loud and clear.
So while at this point I’m not sure what is going to happen. It is beginning to sound like this is the stuff that drawn-out negotiations and lawsuits are made of, though I hope that will not be the case.
I believe that if the federal government can shut down most of the country and legislate people’s movements, they should also be able to direct these hotels in the United States to painlessly make these Pesach program operators whole so that they can refund the monies paid to their customers.
It is unlikely that anything like that will happen, but when all this shakes out one of these days, after this crisis is under control or hopefully behind us, it is something that should be looked into.
So, no, Pesach itself is not at risk, but what we really need for the arrival of the chag in three weeks is a miracle of sorts that has this virus leaving us as quickly as it arrived so that, if nothing else, we will at least be able to go to shul on yom tov.
This is an unprecedented event we are living through. It is as historic as it is nerve-racking. One of the major issues in our communities is that we too often feel that matters like this somehow do not apply to us. A lesson of this ongoing crisis is that at the end of the day, we are flesh-and-blood humans just like everyone else.
The lessons we are being asked to internalize from this experience are numerous. Hopefully we will shortly be able to look back and analyze what took place here and how it might have effectively changed many of us. Perhaps we should start doing that today.
Contact Larry Gordon at email@example.com.