But that classic image of Passover — onerous preparation for the rigorously observant, seder meals around a familiar dining room table — has been upended by a growing number of retreats designed to tempt the busy modern Jewish family. Dozens of hotels, from the French Riviera to the Florida coast to Pennsylvania’s Amish Country, are being temporarily transformed into Passover getaways by armies of kosher experts.
Cruise ship nightclubs and hotel conference rooms have been converted into seder spaces. Rabbis have blessed special boundary markers, usually meant for Orthodox neighborhoods, around resorts.
The retreats, most of which have appeared over the past 15 years or so, lure people with golf, religious singers and mentalists, along with lectures on Israel and parenting. One retreat in Connecticut is staffed by five matchmakers for parents seeking a nice Orthodox mate for their child. At the same time, Passover retreats are also cropping up among less observant Jews who are motivated not by kosher rules — which they likely don’t follow — but by a desire to kick-start their faith and rituals.
For Lehman, 66, the decision to ditch the conventional for hotels (in Florida, the Poconos and the New Jersey coast) has made Passover a richer time for her siblings, in-laws, children and grandchildren, who are spread around the world. They hike and visit. What they don’t do is cook or clean.
“Last year, the place in Orlando was across the street from Sea World,” said her husband, Phil. “The kids loved it.”
On Friday, the Lehmans will drive to the Lancaster Host Resort & Conference Center in the Amish countryside in Pennsylvania. For 10 days, the resort will be filled with 1,000 mostly Orthodox Jews marking Passover. Promotional materials mention tennis, swimming (men and women separately), video games and nearby outlet malls. The Lancaster retreat, which began four years ago, is thought to be the closest large Passover resort to the District.
A growing industry
Leaders in the small industry of Passover resorts say there are about 60 retreats across the country, about six times as many as a decade ago.
Theories for the growth vary. Most mention an increased affluence among modern Orthodox Jews, with two parents working in many families. More working outside the home means less time for extensive home preparations, which are stringent under kosher rules. Every cupboard must be inspected. Countertops are cleaned with boiling water or a blowtorch (depending on how porous the material is). Food that is not kosher for Passover — containing grains that have been allowed to ferment — is locked up or given away.