The Ultimate Guide to Choosing A Pesach Program in Israel
Nowadays it’s possible to celebrate Pesach in exotic and far-flung destinations such as Thailand or China; or any number of destinations across Europe such as Greece, Spain, France or Italy. However for many, Pesach in Israel remains a steadfast minhag (custom), and for good reason.
Pesach is a beautiful time of year to be in Israel, and with annual record-breaking tourist levels (up to 4.2 million in 2019), Israel as a tourist destination has never been so popular. Of course, when the Jews left Mitzrayim (Egypt) they were leaving to come to Eretz Yisrael…..and not some tropical location – as nice as it may be. So, Pesach as a Chag (Festival) is inextricably linked to Israel, not to mention the Kedusha (Sanctity) and opportunity to share and show ‘only-in-Israel’ experiences with so many Jews, that is truly unique.
With continued Aliyah from English-speaking countries, often family are already living in Israel so it’s the natural place to get together (be it Bubbe and Zeide coming to visit the children, or sometimes vice versa). And with families often living around the globe, Israel is a good half-way point to get together as a family.
But with over 20 Pesach programs in Israel and hundreds of hotels – how do you choose the right option for your family? The landscape of Pesach programs includes: Kosher Travelers (Neve Ilan; Ramada Netanya; Hacienda; Inbal; Elma Zichron; Nof Ginosar); Lenny Davidman’s (Crowne Plaza Dead Sea; Crowne Plaza Jerusalem); PesachIsrael.com (The Nir Etzion Resort Hotel, Ramada Yerushalayim); Tour Plus (Ramada Hadera; David Dead Sea; Dan Carmel; Dan Panorama; Yearim; Kfar Hamacabbia; Golden Crowne’ Gordonia); Goren Tours (Carlton Tel Aviv; Kibbutz HaGoshrim); Travel Deal (Kinar); Ophir Tours (Sharon Hertzliya; Kibbutz Lavi; Daniel Herzliya); Zvi Lapian (Merom HaGalil); Lev Hairua (Ramat Rachel).
There are many different factors the affect people’s choice – let’s touch on a few of them.
For many a first question will be Kashrus. Who is giving the hechsher and is it reliable? Is it Glatt / Mehadrin – and what exactly does that mean? Is the food gebrochts or non-gebrochts? Is regular or shmurah matzah served throughout Pesach? Is it machine or hand-made? Often times in Israel we may be less familiar with a particular hashgacha and need to check-it out.
Location is also important. For many people living in Yerushalayim or nearby, such as Ramot or Beit Shemesh they will be looking for somewhere up North. Whereas for some tourists Yerushalayim is where they will want to spend some or all of their time. How far is the location from the airport? What activities is there in the local area – and what is the proximity to other areas?
Does the program/hotel cater for an English-speaking crowd? Most people want to make sure that there will be a sizable English-speaking crowd; and preferably that the organizers are providing “American-style” service. Some guests want to join an English-speaking communal Seder, particularly for the first night – is that on offer?
What about those of us keeping 2-days Yom Tov? Is there a second Seder? Does the hotel turn-back to chometz on the 8th day or are they staying Pesach-dik for their tourist guests? Will there be a minyan on the 2nd and 8th day?
What type of a crowd / program? Are you looking for a Heimshe environment with separate swimming; or are you looking for a modern Orthodox crowd with mixed swimming.
Last but not least, what facilities and program is on offer? Are there shiurim and/or talks – and are they in English? and who are the presenters? Is there an outdoor pool or beach? As the weather is not always warm enough at Pesach time is there perhaps also an indoor pool? Is there a gym? Is there a gymboree or play area for small kids? Are tours included? Is there a tea-room? Is there nightly entertainment on Chol Hamoed? Is there a day-camp for kids?
So, whatever you choose in Israel; there’s no place like being at “home” for Pesach.
Benjy Isenberg is CEO of PesachIsrael.com