By Larry Gordon
Why is it that no one seems to know how much shemurah matzah they are going to need for Pesach? Year after year it is the same thing: how many pounds should we order? I think after our last Pesach at home, which was a few years ago, I had enough shemurah matzah to last until the following Rosh Hashanah.
We have the same issue when it comes to wine, though some wines improve with age, and certainly they can be used on any Shabbos or subsequent yom tov or other occasion.
Today, there are two major components to the standard preparations we make for Pesach. Mostly we are shopping for food and clothing. Yom Tovim, the upcoming one, in particular, are a boon for many businesses.
Then there is the matter of the age-old question: “Where are you going to be for yom tov? The top answer to this often-heard inquiry is “home.” Of course, you would not know that by perusing the pages of this newspaper in particular, where we have featured upwards of 24 pages a week advertising hotels and other special programs geared to Orthodox Jews observing Pesach.
By flipping through these pages over the past five months, one could easily acquire the impression that just about everyone and his uncle is traveling somewhere, either near or far, to observe the chag. But that would not be anything near accurate. I want to attach a number to what I am going to write next, so let me say that about 95% of the members of our diverse communities are home and celebrating the holiday at home with family.
If you find that difficult to fathom, just step into one of the many supermarkets we frequent either this week or next. The shoppers are out in full force, inspecting and scrutinizing the aisles dedicated to kosher-for-Passover products to enhance the celebration of the holiday that observes our national exodus from Egyptian slavery over 3,300 years ago.
I have heard it estimated that the travel business over Pesach is a $100 million industry. More than any other part of the globe, South Florida will be filled to the maximum with Pesach celebrants over the next two weeks. Hotels from Aventura to South Beach to Daytona Beach have mashgichim turning these massive hotel kitchens upside-down so you can enjoy the culinary aspect of yom tov in a right-side-up fashion.
We all know folks traveling to Florida or Arizona, Las Vegas, California, Israel, Italy, Greece, or Mexico for yom tov. I’m sure I missed a few locations — like the Catskills, where several hotels are still doing Pesach, though it is not what it once was. Some of the hotels being prepared for Pesach are quite lavish and opulent with caterers not sparing any detail. The cost per person probably averages about $4,000–$6,000 and in some instances more than that.
Yes, we are well aware that Pesach is financially challenging on many levels. When the need for more food exists, that’s when the prices spike, making the ability to observe the holiday in a respectful and enjoyable way even more challenging.
To address these issues, there are organizations like the Davis Memorial Fund here in the Five Towns, which provide funding for numerous families who need help financing yom tov. On one side of the equation, if you are spending more than usual on yom tov-related items, rest assured that part of the money you are spending is indirectly funding the holiday for those who need assistance doing so.
Even though only a small minority of our community travels to hotels in exotic locations, it seems to dominate a great deal of the pre-Pesach discussion. Oddly, at this juncture of the season, one of the dominant topics of conversation is Pesach programs that for one reason or another are unable to open. It is indeed a difficult position to be in and leaves large families scampering around trying to figure out what to do next.
One of the newer and more popular options to celebrate Pesach is to rent spacious —sometimes even palatial — homes in Orlando, Florida. There are pros and cons to the process, as I suppose there is with everything we do.
So here is the deal as it was explained to me by some who are making Pesach in Orlando. Depending on the home, how many bedrooms there are, and whether these is a private swimming pool, the cost for rental and catering for the entire yom tov can run anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000.
Nechama and Daniel Heller of North Miami Beach are in their second year of managing and running A Perfect Pesach. I spoke with Nechama on Monday about the preparations for their program, and it indeed sounds tantalizing as well as somewhat daunting. This year they are dealing with about 75 homes and a total of 550 people. I asked her about the pressure as yom tov is approaching. She said that as long as you know what you are doing, it is a pleasure to do what she and her husband do. As for the immensity of the undertaking and responsibility she says, “I just absolutely love it.”
A Perfect Pesach set-up is a series of homes in a vacation resort with one home serving as a central location for the shul and other activities. The program has its own rabbi and chazzan, our good friend, the inimitable Shloime Dachs. Shloime is also doing a show during chol ha’moed which promises to be fun and entertaining.
As for pricing, Nechama Heller says that in terms of taking a family away for yom tov, this is the most cost-effective way to go. She adds that she has a family that was considering traveling to Israel for yom tov and staying at the Waldorf-Astoria in Jerusalem. Their total cost with travel, four hotel rooms, and meals was going to be $125,000. Instead, they are renting an eight-bedroom home in Orlando with all food and related amenities for a total of $75,000.
At Pesach by Bordeaux in New York, Itzik, and Shai and their staff are in full Pesach-preparation mode, getting ready to welcome 750 guests to the Doral Arrowwood in Rye Brook, New York, less than an hour drive from the Five Towns. The hotel features a beautiful golf course and outstanding scenic walking and hiking areas. The cuisine is arranged by the Bordeaux Steak House in Brooklyn, and they have been working for months the details of every meal, Kiddush, tea room and snack.
It comes down to this. It is Pesach, and the Jewish community is on the move. Whether our ancestors who left Egypt in a hurry were the forerunners or trailblazers of these traveling traditions is probably a good topic for discussion. All this moving around and overstuffed freezers and cabinets at home can sometimes cause us to be distracted from the primary focus of what Pesach is about.
We became a nation when we left servitude in Egypt on our way to Har Sinai, the giving of the Torah, and then on to the 40-year trek to the land of Israel. The liberation from Egypt, our Sages say, was the establishment of the precedent that will be emulated upon the arrival of Mashiach and our eventual and ultimate redemption, the ingathering of the exiles, the resurrection of our loved ones who are now in the next world, in the greatest celebration in the history of the world. May it happen very soon.