A swanky exodus
Many Jews are leaving their homes and celebrating Passover at resorts.
By CANDACE RONDEAUX
Published April 22, 2005
PALM HARBOR - Rabbi Abraham Groner gives the row of industrial-sized chrome ovens an appraising look.
In a few minutes, he and two assistants will use a blowtorch to clean every one of them. And when they're done not a crumb will remain in the massive banquet hall kitchen at the Westin Innisbrook Resort.
"We can't leave anything behind," Groner says. "We have to make sure everything is ready for the Seder."
There's a lot to be done. Starting Saturday night, dozens of families will celebrate the eight-day Jewish holiday of Passover at one of the Tampa Bay area's most luxurious resorts.
An annual commemoration of the Israelites' long-ago escape from slavery in Egypt, Passover inspires Jews all over the world to travel far and wide to mark the day with their loved ones over at the dinner table for the ritual Seder.
But these days Jewish families are increasingly spending the holiday of hearth and home at ritzy hotels across the country and in Florida.
"Staying home for Passover is a very big job. In the old days, in traditional families the husband would work and the wife would be at home to take care of things," Groner said. "But now in most families both work so changing out the whole house, cleaning out the room after you work all day is not easy."
For observant Jews, preparing for Passover at home is an enormous task. The holiday is commemorated each year by removing all leavened food products from their homes. Strict observance calls for clearing out the entire home and using special dishes and utensils reserved for the occasion.
But this year thousands of Jewish families like the ones celebrating Passover at the Westin Innisbrook will pay someone else to do all the fussing. In recent years, dual-income families have fueled a boon for the travel and tourism industry during the Jewish holiday. Upscale Passover packages are expected to draw an estimated 50,000 guests to 85 hotels across the United States, according to Kosher Today, a kosher food industry trade publication. This year more than two dozen hotels across the state - many in southern Florida - are offering special Passover holiday packages.
Many of those packages are arranged by Jewish tour operators like Phillip Goodman. A North Miami Beach resident, Goodman has operated Embassy Kosher Caterers on Florida's east coast for 28 years. The increasing trend in kosher travel services inspired Goodman and his associates to launch a tour package spinoff at the Westin Innisbrook this year.
About 350 people have reserved rooms for the week at the Westin Innisbrook through the Goodman and Greenseid families' tour group. The specialized 11-day holiday tour packages cost $2,000 to nearly $2,400 a person for a double occupancy room. Packages include three kosher meals a day and access to the resort's amenities. The tour group has reserved a Westin banquet hall and kitchen for preparing kosher meals.
"This is a great way for families to kick back and relax during Passover," Goodman said.
For resort staffers it will mean a little extra work. Strictures against expending energy on holy days mean that electronic key cards for hotel rooms cannot be used. Instead Westin staffers have installed manual locks.
They have also installed a roughly 10,000-foot wire enclosure around the 1,000-acre property in keeping with strict observance of Jewish law. Orthodox Jews are prohibited from doing work on the Sabbath, including lifting and carrying things. The enclosure - called an eruv - creates a private space that permits the Orthodox to carry things and move freely.
Although it has been five years since the resort has hosted a Passover celebration, most staffers are aware and respectful of the traditions, said director of operations Jim Busch. "Most of our chefs and others have been here a long time so adapting to it is fairly simple," Busch said.
Hotels across Florida are doing their own version of adapting. About 6,000 people have booked Passover vacation packages at top-end hotels in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Phoenix, through Lasko Family Kosher Tours. The Davie-based tour group on Florida's east coast charges $6,000 to $8,000 per person for a full complement of kosher meals, accommodations and amenities. The vacation plans attract visitors to the state from around the world but are especially popular with Jewish families who live in the Northeast, said company president Sam Lasko.
"A lot of people save money every year to go away for Passover," Lasko said. "These are people where it's been a cold miserable winter and this is a great way to celebrate Passover in a warm climate with the whole family."
The trip is worth it, Goodman said. His tour group will pay Groner, 65, and four others $6,000 to work as masgiachs at the Palm Harbor resort this week. Charged with overseeing the preparation of kosher meals, the rabbi and assistants Lior Kamkar, 20, and Lavie Orenstein, 23, will scour every surface before Saturday's seder.
"It's a big responsibility," Kamkar said. "You have to know exactly what has to be done to make sure that all the guests can keep kosher."
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Candace Rondeaux can be reached at 727 771-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org
[Last modified April 24, 2005, 11:02:57]
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