SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Friday marks the first night of the week-long Jewish holiday Passover, which begins with the traditional Seder meal. At the Seder, many Jews have a custom of saying by the time the holiday rolls around next year, they hope they will be in Jerusalem.
But in fact, many wind up right here in Arizona.
The state is a destination for Passover-themed vacations. This year there are at least three resorts hosting such programs.
Passover tourism appeals to many observant Jews because it is a way to avoid the onerous preparations required to celebrate the holiday at home.
For those Jews that abide by kosher dietary rules, they must already have separate pots, plates and utensils for meat and dairy. But to keep Kosher on Passover, observant Jews must use completely separate sets of cookware and china, also divided for meat and dairy.
“You need double of everything, basically, for Passover” said Arlynn Bock who keeps a kosher kitchen. “And then there’s the foods that you can only eat and those that you can’t eat. So you basically close up your cupboards, you close up everything and you don’t touch anything you eat the other 51 weeks of the year.”
The holiday commemorates the Jewish people’s exodus from Egypt. Observant Jews will not eat most grains during the holiday or any leavened bread.
Instead of the hassle of making her kitchen kosher for Passover, Bock will spend the holiday at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort along with her husband, 18-year-old son and their dog. The resort is just a short drive from where they live.
“Literally it has been like 20 years that we always go somewhere,” Bock said, noting that the family only missed going on vacation once in that time. “And we just go because I got tired of staying in a kitchen really. And you go to these programs and there is food 24/7.”
This year’s menu includes rack of veal and beef short ribs.
A rabbi from New York came to the resort 10 days in advance to start the elaborate process of prepping the kitchen to make sure everything is kosher.
And Bock gets to relax.
“I load up my Kindle, and I bring books, and read,” Bock said from the sunny patio of the resort. “I swim in the morning before it gets too crazy and crowded. That is my day, I do nothing basically for nine days. That’s wonderful.”
She’ll be joined by more than 600 other Passover guests here, coming in from places like New York City, Los Angeles and even Panama.
Lynda Clare of the Brooklyn-based company Presidential Kosher Holidays heads this program.
On Thursday morning, Clare greeted the first guests arriving on golf carts loaded down with luggage.
“This is our 16th year at the Scottsdale Princess, and I would say that we probably have some guests that are with us for 16 years here,” Clare said.
Clare’s company also runs Passover vacations in Mexico’s Riviera Maya and Miami. Some guests come with their entire extended families.
“It’s like a pop-up community for 10 days,” Clare said.
Clare spends almost all year prepping for this week.
The preparation involves making each guest room kosher — including locking up hotel mini fridges full of foods that are not kosher for Passover — and accommodating observant guests who for religious reasons won’t use electricity during the holiday, including electronic hotel keys.
There’s a camp for kids, a makeshift synagogue, film screenings and book clubs.
There’s also an impressive roster of guest speakers, including Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
“I’ve been asked to address two issues,” Foxman told KJZZ by phone from New York before he arrived in town. “One is the current relationship between Israel and the United States, and the level of anti-Semitism as it exists today, globally as well as if it exists at all in the United States.”
Foxman said he’s never been to a resort for Passover before, and he is bringing his kids and grandkids.
Hotels have been hosting Passover for a long time.
But the number of people taking these Passover vacations has grown tremendously into a $140 million industry, according to estimates by Menachem Lubinsky, who does marketing research on the kosher food industry.
“It is kind of like a resort, a vacation, melded into the spirituality of Passover,” Lubinsky said.
Lubinsky did a national survey to find out the average cost of these vacations, and found they range from $1,600 per person to well over $7,000, depending on the resort.
“But remember we are talking about 10 days in a hotel, plus all meals, plus entertainment,” Lubinsky said. “There is value, but obviously for someone who comes with a large family, it is a big ticket.”
The website for the Passover vacation at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess lists the starting price at $4,550 per person.
Lubinsky said the top destinations for Passover tourism are California, Florida and Arizona. He himself has been invited to speak at the Sheraton Crescent in Phoenix, and will spend the Passover holiday there.
Different resorts cater to different denominations of Judaism. For example, the program at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess is considered Modern Orthodox.
There is also a Passover vacation listed at the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain in Marana, Ariz. A long-running Passover program at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix was discontinued this year.