Why more and more Jews are skipping town over Passover

Why more and more Jews are skipping town over Passover

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Pesach is one of the most important holidays of the year. It commemorates the Jewish People’s liberation from slavery in Egypt and our birth as a nation, it brings families together in celebration,and it gives younger generations the opportunity to connect to their ancient history.

But for all the prepping, cleaning, shopping, hosting, cooking and more cleaning, many are opting to get out of town and avoid the hassle of staying home for Passover.

“You prepare all year for this and you get anxious,” said Renat Keslassy of Toronto, who has two young children with a third  on the way.

“It’s a holiday you can’t enjoy, because you’re just so crazy cleaning and cooking and worrying about what the kids are going to eat if they’re picky eaters. It’s like, what the hell?”

She said the costs of hiring a cleaning lady, buying groceries both before and after the chag and eating out in the days prior to the holiday so as not to contaminate a kosher-for-Pesach kitchen are reason enough to take a trip out of town.

So for the first time this year, Keslassy and other members of her extended family – including her sister, brother-in-law and her three nieces – will spend Passover in rented condos overlooking a Florida beach.

“It was also the idea of the hassle of cleaning the house again. It’s just a huge responsibility. It adds up,” Keslassy said, noting that she started thinking about the cost and preparation related to the holiday well in advance.

“I had been saving my President’s Choice points to do my grocery shopping for Pesach. I have $90 worth now, because I was saving them for Pesach [for months],” Keslassy said.

Another deciding factor was the fact that her children attend Jewish day school, which closes over the course of the holiday.

‘It’s a holiday you can’t enjoy, because you’re just so crazy cleaning and cooking and worrying about what the kids are going to eat’

“So it’s either I stay home and take off work, or work from home, or we can just get away.”

For Jenn Soer and her family, who live in Vaughan, this will also be the first time they travel over the Passover holiday.

“We’ve had our friends do it, and we thought it was a great idea,” Soer said adding that her children are also enrolled in Jewish day school programs that are closed throughout Pesach.

“There is Passover camp, but it’s only open for three or four of the days, so what do we do for the rest of the time?” she said.

“I also thought, once a year we go down to Florida, so instead of going in January like we normally would, we thought, let’s push it and go for Passover. They’re not missing school, and we don’t have to do the overhaul of our house.”

For Soer, the word overhaul is appropriate when describing the way she cleans for Pesach.

“Normally, we throw out everything that has touched chametz,” Soer said.

Not only do the Soers have to buy all the kosher-for-Pesach groceries for the week, but once the holiday is over, they have to replenish their stock of food that was thrown out the week before.

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“It’s expensive. Very expensive. I think after the chag we spend another $200 or $300 easily – just for basic stuff like peanut butter, margarine and the basic staples,” Soer said.

“We buy plastic cutlery and paper plates, we buy a new cutting board, all that kind of stuff. I mean, we’re spending the money to go to Florida, but we have a place in Florida to stay, so it’s really only airfare.”

Keslassy said her in-laws weren’t thrilled that she and her family will be spending the holiday away from home.

READ: DO MEN MARRYING INTO JUDAISM HAVE AN EASIER TIME INTEGRATING?

“I told my mother-in-law that we were going, and she was not happy,” Keslassy said. “She was bummed that she wasn’t going to have her son to spend the holidays with. It was either I don’t go and the rest of my family goes, and I spend the whole holiday with his family, or he spends the whole holiday with my family.”

Although they may not be observing the holiday with their extended families, the Keslassys and the Soers will still be celebrating.

Soer said the condo where they’ll be staying for two weeks is governed by rules that stipulate whoever stays at the condo has to do a full cleaning before they leave.

“It’s clean. We’ll do a once-over for dust, but as far as everything else, we’re going to buy everything fresh,” she said.

Soer said they have access to a nearby grocery store where kosher-for-Passover food is available, so finding what to eat won’t be a challenge.

“We have friends who live in Florida, so we are doing both seder nights with them,” Soer said.

The Keslassys have rented a condo for two weeks and will have formal seders, but will be “catering some main items, making side dishes and we’re going to order salads and that’s it… The whole point of going away is to not work as hard.”

Soer said she has many friends who aren’t concerned about kashrut who have chosen to travel over Passover to regular all-inclusive resorts, but for those who are concerned about kashrut, there are many options for kosher all-inclusives, albeit at a premium.

Raphi Bloom, co-owner and co-founder of the U.K.-based TotallyJewishTravel.com, “the biggest Jewish travel website on the Internet,” said the site, which has been in existence since 1999, attracts about 5,000 people per day, mainly from North America and the United Kingdom.

There is also a Hebrew-language version that targets the religiously observant Israeli market and gets about 3,000 hits a day.

“For Pesach this year, we have 130 hotels around the world who advertise with us for Pesach. It’s incredible. It’s grown massively from all across North America to the Caribbean, to Mexico. We have one in Brazil, and you can go on safari in South Africa, completely glatt kosher,” Bloom said.

“There are all types of places people can go, there are places to suit everybody’s budget. Some of the places are quite reasonable, from $1,500 to $2,000 a person – some of them are also $5,000 to $6,000 a person, depending on the location.”

Bloom said there are a growing number of options for people who want to keep kosher while traveling, without having to compromise on the quality of the accommodations or the quality of the food.

He estimated that there are about 40,000 hotel rooms around the world that can accommodate Pesach-observant Jews.

And although these vacations do come at a significant cost, it’s a luxury that many believe is worth it.

“It’s not just a 10-day vacation for the lady of the house. It’s a two-month vacation, because there’s no cleaning, there’s no planning, there’s no cooking, there’s nothing,” Bloom said, adding that it can also be a way to bring families together.

“Pesach is traditionally a time when two or three, or if you’re lucky, four generations come together to celebrate yom tov and the seder especially,” Bloom said.

“Often what you find in some families is that a grandchild has become more religious, and for whatever, they don’t feel comfortable eating at their parents’ house, or their grandparents’ house… You find the grandparents deciding to take the whole family away for Pesach, so they can still be together, they can still have that family vacation and not compromise on the kashrut, the davening, the tfillot, all that sort of stuff.”

READ: PESACH BY NUMBERS: HOW MANY CALORIES IN THE AVERAGE SEDER?

He said although Pesach travel isn’t an entirely new concept – for example an American travel company called Leisure Time Tours has been in the business for 56 years  – the ever-growing industry has evolved.

“Rather than have to go away and open up an airline meal in a restaurant while everyone else is having steak, we can actually go to a Pesach hotel where everyone is having steak,” Bloom said.

“You can go on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship and they’ll take over one of the kitchens and completely make it kosher and they will mimic the ship’s menu so that you don’t have to sit there with your half-frozen meal.”

For Soer and Keslassy, the biggest perk to leaving town for the holiday is avoiding the headaches associated with cleaning and shopping.

Soer struggled to find one disadvantage for travelling during the chag.

“It’s pretty much all good. I’m really excited.”

  • Joe Q.

    Typically one gives the house a good cleaning and sells his or her chametz to a non-Jew. Throwing out everything that has touched chametz seems pretty extreme. At Pesach, people tend to elevate humrot to extremes, but if it is easier / cheaper to fly an entire family (including young kids) to the US for a vacation than to prepare and shop for Pesach at home, something must be amiss.