By Larry Gordon
So where are you going for Pesach? Israel? Miami? San Diego? Brooklyn? It’s an oft-asked question whose frequency and rate of inquiry will be accelerated over the next few weeks. That is just the way we do things—habitually, customarily, traditionally. So Where are you for this? and Where are you for that? is essentially the way the refrain goes.
For our part, this year we are trying something new for a combination of reasons and circumstances that, just like everyone else, I will take a few moments to share. Put it this way: we already have 15 pounds of shemurah matzah sitting in our basement, and for the first time in a few years we plan to be staying home for Pesach. And I have to admit that I am excited about it.
In no particular order, here are some of the things that I am looking forward to about the coming yom tov of Pesach. The first is no suitcases or packing. If nothing else, that is a cause for celebration. And then there is packing up the car or going to the airport, both of which I have done for Pesach a considerable number of times.
There was at least one time—about five years ago—when I split my Pesach, that is half of the chag at a hotel on Long Island and the balance in Florida at another hotel. I don’t know if I would do that again.
So why travel all the way to Florida for Pesach after all is said and done? Well, first and foremost is that at least at this time of year the weather in Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale, or even Orlando is usually spectacular. And with all this climate change or global warming which manifests itself as global cooling until August, when it is going to be hot no matter what atmospheric philosophy you subscribe to, South Florida is the right place in April.
Just look back a few days ago at Purim. It was March 15 and it was freezing outside in New York. Now what exactly is up with that? You may also recall the erev Pesach snowstorm which occurred in early April and the mid-April heat wave that once had temperatures in the 90s over chol ha’moed. Meteorologically, things are rather unpredictable.
So what is it that we at least have the illusion of controlling? I believe that perhaps the only thing that is left within our domain to determine or in some fashion exercise our free choice over is where we go for Pesach.
In the interest of full disclosure, this newspaper generates a considerable amount of income from advertisements for hotels around the globe that open especially for Pesach. So the criticism, if any, is all constructive and done with love and affection, more or less. When we started going to hotels for Pesach, it was 1984, the children were very young, and our going had nothing to do with relationships based on advertising or not.
At the time, I was working for an Israel-based institution, and one of the projects they were involved in was bringing their campaign for funds to one of these hotels, which were usually populated on the yomim tovim with upscale types from the community as well as an assortment of fairly well-known philanthropists. So one of the questions I was asked before I was hired was whether I would be able to go with my family to these hotels for Pesach and Shavuos.
I thought it was an odd request and contemplated saying right away that of course I could, but then I figured I ought to discuss it with my wife first, though I could not think of any objections to the offer. So over the next few years we spent those yom tovim at these hotels, not doing that much but enjoying the service and the opulence a great deal.
I’ve heard people say—and it is not necessarily untrue—that once you’ve gone to a hotel for Pesach, there is no way of observing yom tov any other way. And I will mostly concur on that matter, but I can say that while we were home at least a half dozen times over the last three decades, speaking for myself anyway, I believe we have turned a corner and, all the preparatory work notwithstanding, we are all on the same page—we are looking forward to being home this year.
We have had some outstanding experiences going away for Pesach. I don’t want to start naming and reviewing various venues because I will have no choice but to leave out a few and that would be perceived as being unfair. Some will recall that two years ago I was overly though justifiably critical of a certain venue, and I’m still working on living that one down.
We know that the central focus of the Passover observance is our national exodus from Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. Granted that it was a great defining event in the development of the Jewish people, still with all the extraordinary miracles surrounding the people at the time, they were concerned about what they were going to eat.
Well, without going into the history that you can reference in your Haggadah, which you no doubt have handy at this time of year, all these years later it seems that while the historical and even emotional aspect of the holiday has had its ups and downs, the one thing that has been consistent is the concern about what we are going to be eating.
I suppose that’s why I have all this matzah already waiting for us in an already prepared-for-Pesach room in our basement. We also now have three cases of assorted wines. The other day I overheard a conversation that had the words duck, goose, brisket, flanken, ribs, and so on in it. I haven’t heard anything about fish yet, but either it’s a little early still or perhaps I just missed it.
But I have to add that even though it was an innocuous conversation about meal planning for just 12 to 16 people, reflecting upon overhearing that conversation about meals it struck me as being a rather personal and even intimate family yom tov type of experience. I’ve done numerous stories in the past about the procedures and formulas that caterers follow when ordering to serve 800 or more guests in a hotel for Pesach—places that order 10,000 pounds of matzah, 2,000 cases of wine, 3,000 baby-back ribs, and so on. Who orders like that aside from large ungraspable institutions?
And so it is that after realizing last year how much time we sat in the dining room—I calculated about six to seven hours a day—I had to contemplate whether that is what I wanted again. Then there is the family dynamic, which changes over the years and, without going into too much detail, now is just the right or at least the best time to be home.
But just to make it feel different than usual, I am planning on trading the places of our dining room and living room with each other. And that would be a switch, feeling like we are away from home but being very much at home at the same time. I promise to let you know if anything changes. v
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