Free of Chametz, Free of Guilt
By Jill Meisels
A “festival to commemorate our freedom” sounds so wonderful and relaxing. Having the extended family over for the Pesach Seder… heartwarming and priceless! Why then, is Passover the dreaded holiday for so many? Loving mothers seem to transform into Egyptian taskmasters, requiring sons to move refrigerators, ovens, washing machines and other heavy appliances to scrub areas even insects couldn’t find. Girls are asked to climb high into unreachable closets to re-fold sweaters not seen since last spring.
I am not trying to undermine or ridicule the importance of clearing out the home of all non-kosher for Passover foods. From car trunks to coat pockets, ridding your home, workplace and belongings of chametz is a biblical commandment and should not be taken lightly. However, Passover surely seems anything but enjoyable, relaxing or fun. As a child, even going to the amusement park during Chol Hamoed—the intermediate days of the holiday— had its drawback because Kosher for Passover food was not available and you had to shlep along your bag of matzah, grape juice, bananas, oranges, hard boiled eggs and home made chicken wrapped in aluminum foil. It was a bit embarrassing and not so much fun.
Then, flocking south to Florida or abroad to Israel to celebrate Pesach was suddenly en vogue. Friends returned from these trips incredibly relaxed, sporting beautiful tans and a few extra pounds, armed with tales of great adventures and unforgettable experiences. I, on the other hand, stubbornly refused to give in. (Guilt, guilt, guilt!) Although Passover always left me farbugit—totally worn out— and in need of a real vacation, tradition seemed to dictate that it was simply wrong to enjoy the holiday.
I then learned of a rabbi who once scolded an overzealous husband that he should ease up on putting the family through such backbreaking labor. “Your wife is not a Passover sacrifice, kids are not to be the slaves of the Passover story, and we’re meant to search for chametz, not shmutz.” I needed no more convincing. Goodbye, New York! For over twenty years now, our family has either celebrated Passover in the Sunshine State or the Holy Land.
Truth be told, there’s no comparison to spending Passover in Israel. It’s second to none. But if you’re unable to experience Pesach in Jerusalem, South Florida with its beautiful weather, crystal blue ocean and decorative palm trees is the place to be. There are so many options available: something for every level of observance, and catering to families of all sizes and budgets.
From luxury beachfront hotels to renting budget apartments, gebrochts and non, there’s someplace for everyone, and throughout your stay, special events and entertainment are offered with fresh Kosher for Passover food readily available. There’s no need to drag it from home.
The Joys of Passover in the Sun
Resorts vie for the myriad travelers who make their way south for the holiday by offering special kids programs, headline concerts and scrumptious late night tearooms. Popular venues sell out fast like the one being led by Kosherica at the 4-Diamond PGA Resort and Spa in Palm Beach. “We are honored that we sold out four months before Passover, but we don’t take it for granted. We strive to make each year better then the one before,” says Yehuda Shifman, CEO of Kosherica. “Our success is a perfect example of our long-established tradition of combining the best in luxurious kosher travel with unparalleled food and customer service.” Kosherica is also a leader in kosher cruises. In fact, they plan on offering a Passover cruise for 2012.
While many have joined the popular bandwagon, Sam and Arlene Lasko of Lasko Family Tours are certainly considered the pioneers of Passover getaways. They began hosting families for the eight-day holiday in 1988 and many thousands of guests have since enjoyed their southern hospitality. The Laskos are running this year’s program at the renowned, newly renovated Fontainebleau Resort on Miami Beach. Due to its beautiful large venue, space is still available. Adam Gruber, director of Special Programming for the Shelborne Hotel on South Beach, is helping launch its inaugural Pesach Program. Recently purchased by the Galbut and Menin families, the beachfront hotel recently completed a multimillion-dollar renovation. For the more budget-conscious or those desiring vacation amenities but home-cooked cuisine, renting a pre-cleaned apartment is another option. For instance, Chabad of Orlando cleans a large group of town homes and arranges all the food for families desiring their own little getaway near a shul and the Orlando theme parks. Similar arrangements can be made in South Florida as well.
For Chol Hamoed family fun, Chabad is once again organizing their ever-popular program on Thursday, April 21, at Boomers Fun Park in Hollywood-Dania. The event offers greatly discounted entry, glatt kosher BBQ, Jewish music and special entertainment, like a custom Elmo Pesach Show.
In a nutshell, I have discovered that you can have your matzah and eat it too. No matter your traditional background and family customs, Passover was meant to be a festive and joyous holiday— even in New York, especially in Florida, but hopefully in Jerusalem this Year!