Pesach or Passover is one of the most important Jewish festivals, celebrating the freedom from more than 200 yeas of slavery in Egypt. Attended by both observant and non-observant Jews, it is a family celebration, when the story of the liberation from slavery (Haggadah) is told around special foods for long hours. This year, it starts on the evening of 14 April and lasts till the 21st in the diaspora and 22 in Israel.
This holiday requires a lot of special preparations, especially for observant Jews, as for the duration of the holiday any traces of leaven (chometz) should be avoided. As Jews were leaving Egypt in a hurry, there was no time to fully prepare the bread and the restriction against consuming leaven for one week is aimed to remind of those times. On a symbolical level, eating only the crisp biscuit (matzah) instead of the puffy bread is aimed to be an exercise of humility, eliminating arrogance out of the soul. The dietary restrictions differ from a group to another, with the Jews of Oriental origin (Sephardim) having less food interdictions, being allowed to eat, for instance, rice and various types of beans, which might make their menu more rich and interesting. The Moroccan Jews organize at the end of the Pesach the Mimouna, a very joyous celebration with a delicious menu, as well as music and dance.
Besides the intensive cleaning – wondering why I did not write too often in the last days? – and the need of a long-term planing of the menu, there are also many opportunities to celebrate this week long holiday with family, old and new friends. If you want to offer yourself something special and enjoy a different ambiance, there are much more possibilities nowadays as it used to be a decade ago, due to the constant development of kosher accommodation industry, with many hotels and restaurants ready to answer even the most stringent guests.
The keyword for a successful Pesach holiday time is planning. The sooner you make a reservation, the better, especially if you plan to travel to Israel. From Europe, be ready to pay for a the two-way ticket more 1,000 Euro if you spontaneously decide to fly this week, and it seems that the prices are raising from an hour to another. As for the full Pesach package – including hotel, food and other activities (including special program for children) there is hard to find anything available right now in the big locations, but writing as soon as possible to the local synagogue or rabbi will help for fast guidance.
However, if not yet sure where to spend Pesach, here are five suggestions that if not this year, maybe the next year can help you to better plan your holiday time. For more suggestions of restaurants all over the world, here is a comprehensive travel list.
What other best place can be better for a full Pesach feeling? Religious or not, you are at the right place. During the holiday, you can see the whole diversity of the country, with people from all over the world easily communicating to each other spontaneously and, why not, inviting you for a party or just for a great glass of wine. From Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, from Haifa to Eilat, elegant resorts and museums are ready to welcome guests.
On the occasion of ITB Fair in Berlin, I had the occasion to speak with several companies that introduced me to the interesting and not yet fully explored offer from Eilat, that diversified significantly, especially in the last years, particularly for the observant travellers during Pesach time..
A lot of special activities are available for different age categories, many of them completely for free during the holidays. My best recommendations are: The Design Museum in Holon, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Haifa Zoo or the Tikotin Museum in Haifa, with an impressive collection of Asian art, or the underground exploration of the City of David in Jerusalem. Otherwise, a walk to the beach in Tel Aviv twice the day is the best free detox you can offer yourself.
2. New York City
Time for a change? New York City is the right place to forget the too much sober Europe, both in term of diversity and concentration of Pesach activities. Many synagogues and Jewish centers are full time open with special program during the holidays, especially in Brooklyn. Finding reservations for hotel is not easy right now, but don’t worry, very often you can get a lot of help locally, so try to get in touch as soon as possible with people from the area. During the chol hamoed (weekdays between the first and last days of the festival when limited activities are allowed) it’s so much to do in the city: from museums to private exhibition spaces, architecture and walks to the Zoo or parks. Otherwise, don’t forget to pay a discovery visit to Williamsburg that changed a lot in the last years and Flatbush too. Or take your kids to Coney Island for a walk.
Otherwise, there are other places in America where to spend an unforgettable kosher l’Pesach holidays among which: Los Angeles, Florida, Miami, Philadelphia and Boston. Would not say no to ‘New Orleans’ either.
On the other side of the border, think seriously about Québec and Montréal.
I instantly fell in love with Antwerp during my last year trip and would love to be back as soon as possible to test more kosher restaurants. The city has a special charm and many old Jewish communities found here refuge after the war. Hence, the diversity of Jewish learning and activities offered here during the holiday. Careful travellers made the reservation for a full holiday in a kosher all inclusive hotel months in advance and not too many places are left. But otherwise, it’s easy to find a reservation in an average hotel and eventually get your kosher breakfast.
I haven’t been in London for a while, and I am missing the city dearly. Right now, I can imagine the rush from Northern London, with people hurrying up to finish last preparations of the menus and welcoming friends and relatives from abroad. Besides Paris (which right now is unfortunately an unsafe place for Jews) London has the exquisite selection of gourmet kosher restaurants in Europe and nice welcoming small hotels, many of them situated closed to synagogues. London and Golders Green in general is child-friendly too and one can consider a lot of interesting activities among which, visiting the Aquarium, Kew Gardens, or many of the museums. It is never enough time to fully explore this beautiful city.
Another great option for spending an unforgettable seder in the UK is Manchester, where the famous Gateshead yeshiva is located. From there, driving to the beautiful Lake District is a great family.
The biggest seder – Pesach meal – in the world, with more than 1,000 attendees (even 2,000 in some years) is held in Kathmandu. I am adventurous enough to dream that one day, will do it. And ‘if you will it, it is no dream’, isn’t it? Most participants are Israeli backpackers spending time in India so expect a very lively ambiance.
If still in the rush and not enough time and money for a far away travel, other recommendations for your Pesach are: Milan, the Swiss mountains, Strasbourg. If planning to visit Central and Eastern Europe, the Jewish communities from Warsaw, Lodz and Krakow from Poland are getting ready for the hag – the holiday, as it does King Solomon restaurant in the middle of the Jewish quarter in Prague. For Germany, most Jewish travellers are going especially to Berlin and Munich.
A Happy and Kosher Holiday Everyone!/Hag kosher v’sameah!