At Aspen, wounded IDF vets learn to ski — and overcome obstacles


After Yinon Cohen lost his legs in an accident involving a rocket-propelled grenade, it wasn’t clear he’d ever be able to walk again, much less ski down a peak in the Rocky Mountains.

A fresh-faced soldier in the Israel Defense Forces’ elite Golani brigade, Cohen was in an advanced weapons training course in February 2003 when his sergeant inadvertently fired an RPG, an explosive weapon capable of piercing armored vehicles, straight into his legs.

Just moments before, Cohen had been nodding off, and his exasperated sergeant ordered him to stand for the remainder of the class. That ended up saving Cohen’s life. Had he been seated, Cohen would have been struck in the torso and almost certainly killed. Instead, he found himself dazed in the smoke-filled room, trying to piece together what was happening as soldiers around him panicked.

When he awoke a day later in the ICU unit of Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, a psychologist delivered the grim news: He had lost both legs below the knee. Cohen’s response was instinctive, he recalls. Looking at his parents’ tear-stained faces, he said, “Be thankful that I’m alive.”

Then his father recited the Kiddush — it was Friday evening — and they all cried.

Fast forward to 2014, and Cohen, a native of the Tel Aviv suburb of Petach Tikvah, found himself standing on a snowy mountain 8,000 miles away and more than 8,000 feet above sea level, insisting to his incredulous ski instructor that he didn’t need any special equipment other than his prosthetic legs to ski down.

It was Cohen’s first day on the slopes as part of Golshim L’Chaim-Ski to Live, a Colorado program that brings wounded Israeli veterans and victims of terrorism to Aspen to learn how to ski — and boost their spirits.

Now in its eighth year, Golshim is the brainchild of Aspen’s Chabad rabbi, Mendel Mintz. An avid skier himself who is on the snow about one day a week, Mintz got the idea for it from a program for wounded U.S. veterans whom he spotted one day on the slopes.

Golshim, which brings about a dozen Israelis each winter, is focused on skiing and physical activity. The group eats breakfast and dinner together at the Chabad center, and most nights local community members join the group for some kind of program or recreational activity. At a cost of about $5,000 per person, Golshim L’Chaim is supported by local donors, including the local Jewish federation, UJA Aspen Valley. The program is free for the Israeli participants.

“Imagine someone without legs coming here to ski and a week later skiing down Aspen,” Mintz told JTA. “They feel they can do anything after that. The local community gains more than we give. It’s truly inspirational.”

The logistics are daunting, starting from transporting the wounded Israelis from Israel over multiple flights. Some come with a spouse or sibling to assist in their care, and on the mountain each Israeli may be escorted by up to three or four instructors. Medications must be managed, doctors must be consulted and Golshim keeps oxygen on hand in case the altitude becomes difficult for the visitors.

For the ski instruction, Golshim L’Chaim hires Challenge Aspen, an organization that runs adaptive ski programs for people with physical and cognitive disabilities, including wounded U.S. soldiers. Many participants ski with specially equipped chairs, tethers and outriggers — poles with mini-skis on the bottoms.

“Our goal is to have the soldiers become as independent as possible,” said John Klonowski, director of Challenge Aspen’s military program and a veteran ski instructor with the Golshim L’Chaim groups.

“The learning curve is pretty quick. It doesn’t really matter if you’re in adaptive equipment,” he said. “We’ll get folks out on a ski hill, and they have an opportunity to feel like they’re just like everyone else. Especially for people in wheelchairs, this is one of very few opportunities to be out of the wheelchair. Once you’re out there, everybody’s doing the same thing — feeling the speed, the wind in their face, out in the great outdoors.”

When Cohen turned up his first day, the instructors presented him with a monoski, a chair connected by a shock to a fat ski.

“I said no, I’m doing it on my legs,” Cohen recalled. “They thought there was a language miscommunication. In the end I did it on the legs.”

Always athletic, Cohen had tried not to let his disabilities limit him. His initial rehab after the RPG explosion had lasted nearly a year. Because his knees were spared in the explosion, he was given prosthetics and slowly was able to learn to walk anew.

Cohen joined other Israelis on their post-army trips to the Far East and South America, though instead of trekking he rode horseback or on scooters. Back in Israel, he enrolled in Bar-Ilan University, studying criminology.

“Without strong faith in God, I couldn’t have gotten through it,” Cohen told JTA, noting that the part of his legs left intact were what had been covered by the tzitzit ritual fringes he wears every day. “You talk to the man upstairs and you know you’re not alone.”

But there were limitations. Cohen couldn’t run. He often found himself the subject of curious stares. And like many wounded veterans, he struggled at times to keep his spirits up.

At Aspen, Cohen says, his success skiing gave him a new boost.

“When I skied all the way down, I saw that anything is possible,” said Cohen, now 31. “I came back to Israel and it gave me strength to believe in myself. If I look at myself as handicapped, people will treat me that way. If I consider myself a healthy person, people will look at me that way.”

Ariela Alush, 37, who also was on the Golshim L’Chaim program last year, said her Aspen trip proved transformative for her.

Alush was vacationing with two friends in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in October 2004 when terrorists detonated a car bomb just a few feet from her bungalow. She suffered a spinal injury, a head fracture, a broken hand and shrapnel in her ear; one of her friends was killed.

After two years of ear surgeries and rehab, Alush eventually was given a clean bill of health. But she remained traumatized by her experience, disoriented and anxious. She was fearful of traveling overseas and never took vacations. After the bombing, she temporarily lost her sight, and she associated the idea of vacation with the darkness that had befallen her in Egypt.

“When you have post-traumatic stress disorder, you never feel safe. You’re always bothered by something,” Alush said. “But as soon as I got to Aspen I felt embraced by the Jewish community there. I felt like I was in a safe place. I experienced something primal. Just as in Sinai I had my first difficult, dark experience, Aspen was a good, positive experience of light.”

But when Alush tried skiing, her first bad fall triggered a flashback to the bombing in Egypt 10 years earlier. She couldn’t get up. Alush panicked. A ski patrol rescue team was called in to bring her down the mountain. For two days Alush sat disheartened, traumatized anew.

Then one of the program participants gave her a camera. Alush, a film student, perked up. She filmed the snow, the mountains, her friends on skis. Slowly, she says, she felt she was regaining control through the camera lens. Finally, she felt ready to try skiing again.

“I only skied for two days that week, and not even alone. But the therapeutic value of the experience was, in my eyes, worth everything,” Alush said. “In Aspen, something in my pace of life changed. I went back to Israel and I returned to work in a different way. I went back to working on my movie, I had ambition again. Something new had awakened in me.”

For Cohen, the high at Aspen soon was followed by one of the worst lows since his accident.

After several years on artificial legs, his prostheses were worn out. Cohen wanted new prostheses that would allow him to be more athletic, but his Israeli doctors told him that because he had lost his legs in a violent explosion rather than a careful amputation, that wasn’t possible — at least not without additional risky surgery.

For the first time since his rehab, Cohen was confined to a wheelchair.

After months of research, Cohen found a New York outfit called A Step Ahead Prosthetics that said it could design him an advanced prosthetic. But it would cost $150,000 and Cohen couldn’t afford it.

When his new friends in Aspen heard about his predicament, they sprang into action, within weeks raising 80 percent of the cost. An Israeli nonprofit, Dror for the Wounded, which provides medical, psychological and financial assistance to wounded Israeli soldiers, donated the balance.

“Without Golshim L’Chaim it wouldn’t have happened,” Cohen said. “They said the whole time, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll get the money.’”

Cohen was fitted with his new prostheses late last summer.

“It’s a real success,” he said. “I can walk and even run. I hadn’t run in 12 years.”

This year’s Golshim L’Chaim program, scheduled for late February, will include several soldiers injured in last summer’s Gaza war, according to Mintz.

“When you see what these people have gone through and what they’re able to do, it’s mind-boggling,” Mintz said. “It puts life in perspective.”

Snowbirds find common artistic ground


Seven years ago, Benjamin Weissman and Yutaka Sone met on a mountaintop. Rumor had it they shared a taste in skis. “There’s only one person more obsessed with snow than you,” a friend had told Weissman, “and it’s Yutaka.” And so Weissman searched Mammoth Mountain for the mercurial Japanese artist he’d heard so much about. What he didn’t know is that the meeting would change both of their lives, and that their friendship would blossom into a fruitful partnership that’s led to their joint exhibition currently at the Santa Monica Museum of Art (SMMoA). All Weissman was hoping for, at the time, after all, was to ski.

“We met mysteriously, magically, on a chairlift because I had been told that he would be up there at the same time I was, but we didn’t know each other and didn’t know what each other looked like,” Weissman said recently, sitting in the kitchen of SMMoA.  “It was a perfect snowy day after a big storm. … I was wondering where this person Yutaka would be, and I really did sort of turn around on a chairlift … and the person on the chairlift behind me was Yutaka.”

Sone and Weissman seem something of an odd couple in person. Weissman, who’s in his mid-50s, cuts the figure of a typical Los Angeles intellectual — bespectacled, a fast-talking Jewish Angeleno with strong opinions and a relaxed wardrobe. Sone, by contrast, both looks and seems younger than a man in his late 40s. Although Sone’s English isn’t perfect, he gets his points across, often through wild gestures and sound effects, a mischievous grin across his face. Odder still is the fact that the two were brought together not so much by their love of art, but by their love of hitting the slopes.

“This is a Yutaka-and-Benjamin-style ‘Endless Summer,’ ” Sone said, referencing the 1966 Bruce Brown surfing masterpiece to describe his relationship with Weissman.   

“For skiers, when the season ends in May … it’s, like, ‘Ohhh, it’s so sad,’ ” Weissman said.  “But we have another life because we took the whole summer really seriously to paint, and make art about skiing. So the summer to us was all about skiing with brushes.”

Sone and Weissman’s exhibition is unusual for a number of reasons, perhaps most of all because much of the work was still unfinished before SMMoA Executive Director Elsa Longhauser agreed to show it at the museum. Longhauser said her faith in Sone’s track record as an artist made her trust the finished work would be museum worthy.

“Kiersten,” 2007-2009, acrylic on canvas.

The artists’ colorful, vivid, collaborative paintings form the backbone of the show, which is entirely focused on skiing. Their paintings are supplemented by text and poetry written by Weissman and buoyed by Sone’s grand centerpiece, a massive ski lift sculpture that apparently moves like the real thing.

“Our first paintings were really funny,” Weissman said of their working process. “We were painting them in the kitchen. There’s a photo of us painting with a little canvas on our lap, painting on the kitchen table.”

“If we ski together, we are watching the same landscape … we can share a painting,” Sone explained. “We really know each other. We like each other when we ski.”

Sone and Weissman work so closely that they often cross arms as they share the same canvas. “One of us starts a painting, and the other is just right there to add to it and jump into it,” Weissman said. “What one sees, the other one’s going to start seeing pretty fast. I don’t think we’ve ever really planned out a painting … we don’t even talk about what we’re making.”

“Chair 23,” 2007–2009, acrylic on canvas.

“We’ve never had a disagreement about a painting,” Weissman said. “It just doesn’t happen.”

Asked how skiing inspires him artistically, Sone was quick to answer. “Every day I learn new things. New differences. Every day… I’m still discovering new things in the mountains.” And sometimes Sone even feels like a new person on the slopes. “Can you transform?”  he asked, apparently not rhetorically. “I always become a cat.  Meow, meowww, meowww.” He rose from his chair to pantomime his feline self skiing down the mountain.

“I think we see the mountain a little differently,” Weissman said. “Some of the danger is really exciting.  It’s overwhelmingly beautiful, and it’s shocking.” He paused, then added, “It’s so far removed from any city-life experience.”

“I think Ben is 30 Mammoth years old; I’m like 13 Mammoth years old,” Sone said, explaining his youthful exuberance about the subject of skiing. 

“Grandma’s Closet,” 2007, acrylic on canvas.

“I get tired, and I want to go and read and take a nap,” Weissman admitted, “but Yutaka likes to ski till 4:15 or 4:30, after the lifts close, hide in the mountain,” Weissman said. 

You get the sense, talking to them, that if Sone and Weissman had a choice, they might never come down from the mountaintop. “He wants to be there till the very, very, very end,” Weissman said of Sone, “to say goodbye, kiss the mountain goodnight.”

How lucky then, that summer exists, so that we can share in their work.

Yutaka Sone and Benjamin Weissman’s “What Every Snowflake Knows in Its Heart” is on view at the Santa Monica Museum of Art through April 5, 2014

In Europe, new kosher ski options that won’t break the bank


Skiing has always been something of a rich man’s sport.

Between the costs of travel, accommodations, lift tickets and lessons, a family with children can easily drop upward of $6,000 for a few days on the slopes. If you keep kosher, the costs can be even higher.

No longer. Over the past decade, Jewish entrepreneurs have been crafting affordable alternatives to Europe's handful of $250-per-night kosher ski lodges. The result is that nowadays, hundreds of observant middle-class families flock each winter to Europe’s Alpine slopes.

“With the financial crisis, few can afford a Jewish four-star hotel,” says Dolly Lellouche. She and her husband, Chlomo, run D'holydays, a travel agency that operates a two-star “kosherized” hotel — a regular hotel that is temporarily made kosher to accommodate an observant clientele. This year, D'holydays took over the Hotel Grand Aigle at Serre de Chevalier, a major resort in southeast France.

The newer, cheaper alternatives to all-year kosher hotels include kosherized hotels like the Grand Aigle, which are typically available to kosher travelers for just a week or two; do-it-yourself options, where agencies or groups of friends rent ski apartments and prepare food themselves; and discounted kosher trips run by Jewish nonprofits.

Ideal Tours, a Jerusalem-based travel agency, lists several kosherized ski hotels operating in world-class ski locales such as Courchevel, in France’s Tarentaise Valley, the Crans-Montana resorts in Switzerland and Pinzolo in Italy.

But nowhere are low-cost solutions and workarounds more abundant than in France, a country of more than 550,000 Jews and home to some of the largest ski resorts in the world.

Eli Club, a Nice-based kosher ski agency, will set you up at the Serre de Chevalier at Hotel La Belle Etoile, a three-star establishment, while Club J, another agency, will send you to Hotel La Ruade — both kosherized hotels. Toruman, a Belgium travel agency, and Maagalei Nofesh in Israel offer a range of hotels in which a family of four can expect to bid adieu to $3,000-$4,000 for a week of skiing, Jewish hospitality and certified glatt kosher cooking.

Though still a handsome sum, it is far less daunting than the $6,000-$8,000 price tag for a family of four to vacation at one of Europe’s four-star kosher ski hotels, like My One Kosher Hotel in Italy or Metropol Hotel Arosa in Switzerland.

That’s especially true considering that accommodation is only the beginning. Ski passes can cost an adult another $250 or more per week. Renting gear can pile on another $100 per person. Ski lessons for kids can cost $300. But there are ways to cut down on those costs as well.

“A good hotel should be able to get you a good discount on these expenses,” Lellouche said.

Still, no matter how many stars they have or what peripheral discounts they offer, kosher ski lodges tend to cost substantially more than their non-kosher equivalents, according to Pinchas Padwa, an Amsterdam-based rabbi who has been providing kosher certification to ski resorts in Europe for two decades.

“The overhead of running a kosher hotel in the Alps is overwhelming,” Padwa said. In Switzerland, where ritual slaughter is prohibited, all kosher meat and many other kosher products need to be imported. On top of that are kosher certification costs and special expenses associated with finding cooks capable of making Jewish foods.

To keep expenditures down, some skiers get together and rent non-kosher vacation units for a lower rate. The downside there is vacationers need to bring their own kitchen equipment and a taste for vegetarian home cooking, as they are likely to depend for their nourishment on the limited supply of certified kosher products available at the local supermarket.

“In renting an apartment or choosing a hotel, it’s important to check how close the locale is to the actual piste,” or slope, Lellouche said. Another complication to watch out for is that most ski apartments are rented for one week starting Saturday, an arrangement that deprives observant families of two skiing days.

Young adults or couples without children have more options — especially in Holland, where for the past two winters, Jewish organizations have subsidized a ski getaway organized by the Maccabi Skijar group for about 60 young Jews. Participants pay only $650 for flights from the Netherlands, food and accommodations for eight days in France’s Tarentaise Valley.

The Maccabi Skijar group is predominantly but not exclusively Dutch, with some participants coming from England and Israel, according to one of the group’s three leaders, Maxime van Gelder. This year, skiers will descend on two chalets, one reserved for kosher eaters.

Van Gelder plans to buy kosher meat in Lyon, some 50 miles away, and deliver it himself. “The idea is to help Jews be together and have fun together,” he says.

For Shabbat, the group will be joined by Rabbi Menachem Sebbag, the Dutch army’s top Jewish chaplain and rabbi of the popular AMOS shul near Amsterdam.

The Israeli organization Keneski runs a similar program for singles, but for more money ($1,000-$1,250, flight not included) and in more luxurious surroundings. This year the “Keneskiers” — an international group with a strong Israeli contingent — will stay at the kosherized four-star Royal Olympic Hotel in Pinzolo, Italy.

For the past two years, Keneski brought skiers to My One Kosher Hotel, a permanently kosher, four-star establishment in Canazei, Italy. The hotel owners, Avi and Belinda Netzer, opened their hotel four years ago.

“At first other hotel owners seriously resented us coming here,” Avi Netzer recalls. “They didn’t understand this kosher business and thought competition was fierce enough without our 50-room hotel. It took a while before they saw our hotel brought in clientele that would otherwise never come.”

Menachem Glik, an Israeli who participated in Keneski’s 2011 trip, said his vacation was filled with “suspense, emotions” and even “romance growing on the slopes and on the lift.” At the same time, he says, it was a chance to get in touch with “young people from all over the world, from different cultures and backgrounds and speaking different languages, but with one common denominator” — a love for skiing.

Choices Snowball for Ski Adventures


Skiers and snowboarders who want vacations with fresh powder have an avalanche of options this winter. Jewish ski trips abound for teens to 40-somethings of all skill levels.

Mammoth and Lake Tahoe will be the setting for a variety of Jewish ski trips, and teens can hit the ditch at local terrain parks through day trips being organized by Orange County’s Merage Jewish Community Center.

Other action can be found in Colorado, where three separate Jewish events are meeting over the next few months. In Europe, Alpine adventures include a French ski school for Jewish teens.

So even if you’re groomed more for the bunny hills than black-diamond thrills, you can still find excitement schmoozing with tribe members during an apr?s ski at one of the following events.

California

Big Bear

The Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County is featuring a teen trip to Bear Mountain for all skill levels of snowboarders and skiers, grades 6-12. Price includes transportation, lift tickets and snacks; equipment rental is available for an additional fee.

Dates: Monday, Jan. 16, 6 a.m.-7 p.m. (The JCC also has a trip to Mountain High in Wrightwood on Feb. 26.)

Cost: $80 (JCC members), $100 (nonmembers)

For more information, call (949) 435-3400.

Mammoth

Jski has three trips to Mammoth this season. Aimed at 20- to 40-something singles, the price tag includes roundtrip transportation via bus and two-nights lodging with a fireplace, color TV and Jacuzzi. Saturday evening features a wine and hors d’oeuvres party. Beginners welcome.

Dates: Jan. 20-22, Feb. 24-26 and March 17-19

Cost: $189

R.S.V.P. to Howard at (818) 342-9508 or JskiLa@aol.com at least two weeks before trip.

Lake Tahoe

Those who want a Jewish skiing package that includes some Texas Hold ‘Em and resort-style entertainment should consider the Lake Tahoe Jewish Singles Ski Week. Sponsored by United Jewish Singles Alliance and Travel Jewish, this trip for 20- to 40-somethings features six nights at the Embassy Suites, located in the heart of Tahoe’s casino action near the base of the Heavenly Ski Resort’s gondola.

The package also features transfers to and from Reno; a welcome reception; cooked-to-order breakfasts; daily skiing, including three days of lift tickets at Heavenly and one day at Squaw; apres ski events each evening; a lake cruise party; Shabbat service; roommate matching; and a farewell club dance party.

Date: Feb. 26-March 4.

Cost: $1,567. A $699 single supplement fee is available for guests who don’t want a roommate.

For more information, visit www.ujsa.com or www.traveljewish.com/uc07.shtml, or call (877) 900-7022.

Jski’s own Lake Tahoe trip features roundtrip airfare from Los Angeles International, John Wayne International or San Diego International to Reno/Tahoe International; transfer to and from Reno; three-nights lodging (double occupancy) at the Best Western-Timber Cove Lodge; lift tickets to Heavenly, Kirkwood and Sierra Tahoe; round-trip shuttle to and from the slopes; and breakfast.

Dates: March 9-12

Cost: $639

R.S.V.P. to Howard at (818) 342-9508 or JskiLa@aol.com at least two weeks before the trip.

Colorado

Crested Butte

Amazing Journeys and the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh are co-sponsoring the third annual National Jewish Singles Ski Week at the full-service Grand Lodge Hotel at this rustic, kitschy destination. The trip includes a seven-night stay (double occupancy), roundtrip transfers from Gunnison Aiport, five days of lift passes, a Super Bowl party, complimentary apr?s ski, dinner and pizza party, Shabbat services and a mountain tour.

Dates: Feb. 5-12

Cost: $1,249

For more information, visit www.amazingjourneys.net or call (800) 734-0493.

Steamboat Springs

Mosaic Outdoor Clubs of America brings you its sixth annual Winter Events and Ski Trip, which is expected to draw club members from across the United States and Canada. The trip features a seven-night stay at the Timber Run Condominiums (three-bedroom condos are located 500 yards from the gondola); roundtrip Hayden Airport transportation; welcome dinner/hot tub party; evening tubing; sleigh ride, rodeo demonstration and gourmet dinner at cattle ranch; catered Shabbat dinner and games night; and mountaintop Western barbecue with dancing. Five-day lift ticket package is an additional $325. Rentals not included.

Dates: Feb. 26-March 5

Cost: $999-$1,199

For more information, visit www.mosaicoutdoor.org/ski, call (703) 471-8921 or e-mail ski2006@mosaicoutdoor.org.

Canada

Jewish Heritage Tours is sponsoring the family-friendly Chanukah Glatt Kosher Ski Vacation at the Hotel Le Chantecler in Quebec. The package includes skiing on the resort’s 23 pistes, sleigh rides, snowmobiling and ice skating. The hotel features a synagogue, day camp, health and beauty center, indoor pool (with separate swimming hours) and a video arcade. Professor Elliot Wolffson and Rabbi Dr. Nosson Dovid Rabinowich will be the scholars in residence.

Dates: Dec. 27-Jan. 2

Cost: Call for rates.

For more information, call (718) 796-3199 or e-mail jewisheritagetours@hotmail.com.

Italy

Join more than 100 Jewish singles in the Italian Dolomites as the British Ski and Sun Club takes its 10th annual trip. This year marks the club’s first trip to the Val di Sole ski area, which features the resorts Madonna di Campiglio, Folgarida and Marilleva. Price includes flights and transfers from Gatwick to Verona, accommodations in a twin room, half board, lift passes and travel to the slopes.

Dates: March 4-11.

Cost: $1,225

For more information, visit www.skiandsunclub.com or call (44) 7887-710150.

Austria

Join JC-Life for Jewish Ski Week in Austria, a.k.a. Absolut Ski. More than 200 young Jews (18-35) from Europe and the United States will join this legendary weeklong ski experience at the resorts of Gerlitzen and Nassfeld in Velden am Wörthersee. Package includes lift passes, kosher food (mashgiach Rabbi Abe Reichman from Jerusalem), programs and lectures and nightly parties.

Dates: Dec. 22-29

Cost: $530 (airfare not included)

For more information, visit www.jc-life.de or e-mail info@jc-life.de.

France

Camp Espa ña Ski is the international ski camp for Jewish youth (13-20) located in Châtel on the border of France and Switzerland. Campers will spend more than 20 hours in ski instruction, studying with teachers from École du Ski Francias. The camp provides kosher French cuisine in a chalet that features its own disco. New Year’s Eve will be celebrated in the village with fireworks, Alpenhorns, torchlight ski descents and hot chocolate.

Price includes full board, ski instruction and rental, lift passes and round-trip transportation from Geneva Airport or Thonon les Bains railway station in France.

Dates: Dec. 25-Jan. 1

Cost: $1,004 (airfare not included)

For more information, visit www.campespana.com/ski.

 

Passover Escapes


At our Ski Passover, experience the thrill of the 2002 Winter Olympics … Ski the mogul run and view the aerial jumping hill; ride the snowboard half-pipe and ski the giant slalom course … take a bobsled or luge ride or even try Nordic jumping …

More than 3,000 years ago, at the season we now call Passover, the Israelites went forth into the wilderness to face 40 years of wandering and the prospect of nothing but manna to eat.

Today, descendants of the Israelites still go forth at Pesach time, but instead of wilderness, they encounter manicured lawns, tennis courts and swimming pools, and the menu includes gourmet cuisine and the finest kosher wines from around the world.

In a couple of weeks, when most Jews are stocking up on matzah and, in some cases, teasing chametz crumbs out of corners with a feather, thousands of their coreligionists will be locking up their houses and heading for posh hotels in resort areas from Florida to Hawaii.

For them, Chol ha’Moed, the intermediate days of Passover, may well include skiing or snorkeling — and somebody else will have kashered the kitchen.

“It does literally take you out of the slavery,” said Michele Harlow of Hancock Park, who has spent Passover in Palm Springs and South Florida and will check into the Biltmore in Phoenix for this year’s holiday.

“My original motivation was to give my wife a break,” said Rabbi Avrohom Stulberger, father of six and rosh yeshiva of Valley Torah High School in North Hollywood, who is now on the Passover resort circuit as a lecturer and supervisor of kashrut. Acknowledging that “some of the family feeling is missed,” Stulberger said of his wife, who teaches full time at Emek Hebrew Academy, “I think she’s willing to give up that aspect of it.”

You may select to join the Community Seder led by our Rabbi & Cantor, a Semi-Private Seder where you will conduct your own Seder in the same room with other families, or a Private Seder in which the selected meeting room is exclusively yours for the evening. No need to bring your haggadah, wine goblet or matzah cover from home…

A majority of travelers to Passover resort packages are Orthodox or observant enough for Pesach preparation to be a huge project, and some have had enough. “When the kids were growing up, it was nice to make seder at home, to see what they were learning, and I had more energy,” said Harlow, who made or helped make seders for the first 20 years of her marriage. “Now I’m a grandmother, and it’s nice not to have to do all the cooking and cleaning.”

“Preparation for Passover is part of the holiday; it connects you to previous generations,” Stulberger said. “You lose that connection when you go away.”

Because of that, some guests ask to assist in kashering the hotel kitchen the day before Pesach begins, said Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, director of Project Next Step of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who will go to the Westin Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage for his fifth Passover as a lecturer “on the route.”

“Part of Passover is lost,” acknowledged Marnin Weinreb, a member of B’nai David-Judea Congregation in Pico-Robertson who has gone away for Passover most years since 1989. “The seder itself, it’s not the kind of atmosphere where you can have discussions.”

But, he added, going away provides a space that accommodates his extended family, a consideration for many families in which the parents are aging and the kids don’t have big enough homes to fit three or four generations under one roof. “My mom started finding it very difficult to make seder,” Weinreb said. “This is one way for all of us to be together.”

Dov Fischer, a rabbi who now works as an attorney and who will lecture on current events and conduct community seders in Hawaii this year, said families that are serious about the seder will spend a little extra for semiprivate or private dining rooms. The more observant the crowd at a given resort, he suggested, the smaller the community seder will be.

Not everyone who goes away for Passover is observant, however. “I see people who are nonobservant but hear about a nifty place,” Fischer said. “I’ve got intermarried people who don’t know which way to hold a haggadah.”

A sumptuous display greets you each morning … We host two spectacular barbecues … We stock the widest variety of the finest mevushal & non-mevushal kosher wines, spirits & cordials available.

Pre-School Playroom and Day Camp … Teen Program … Sensational Musicians … Bingo Night, Film Screenings, Art Exhibits, Wine Tastings, Computer Demonstrations …

“Basically, it’s about the eating,” said Sari Ciment, Harlow’s daughter, who lives in Beverlywood.

Besides the usual resort amenities of golf, tennis and swimming, different resorts offer special activities for the intermediate days of Pesach. At the Ventura Beach Hotel, families can sign up for excursions to Disneyland, Magic Mountain and Channel Islands National Park; an Orlando resort provides access to Walt Disney World, EPCOT, Universal Studios and Sea World. Beachside resorts offer extras such as windsurfing, kayaking, scuba diving and sailing; horseback riding and hiking turn up often as well. Many resorts also offer access to spas and shopping.

As a courtesy to Orthodox guests, some resorts will open the hotel fitness center or a swimming pool for single-sex hours once a day. However, Adlerstein said, plenty of Passover guests can be found poolside during regular hours during Chol ha’Moed.

For more sedentary guests, hotel packages often list card and game rooms, lectures by rabbis and academics on Jewish topics of historical and current interest, Torah and Talmud study, and classes in subjects like cooking and food decoration.

“They do cruise kind of things, silly things, like ice sculpting,” Harlow said. “I like the Israeli dancing.”

Make no mistake: all this food and fun come at a steep price. Ten-day packages begin around $1,600 per person, double occupancy, at less exotic locations and can climb into the $4,000-$5,000 range for suites and villas at the toniest resorts. Most per-adult rates fall between $2,500 and $3,000 for the 10 days, with lower prices for children.

Fischer sees the Passover-resort phenomenon as emblematic of American Jews’ success. “It is reflective of a moment in time: so many people spending so much money to spend Pesach away from home,” he said.

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If the creation of a spiritually meaningful Pesach at an expensive resort seems to be an uphill climb, it’s not for lack of trying on the part many rabbis involved. “We have strong davening, we have strong learning, and I think we have strong spirituality,” Adlerstein said.

Fischer said he does have to conduct the community seders with an eye on the clock, but he tries to create some of the intimacy of a family seder and make the proceedings more than a pro forma lunge toward shulchan orech.

“The challenge for me is to make Judaism enjoyable, fun, educational — to focus on enjoyment rather than pain,” he said.

“I personally look forward to [the trips], despite some feelings of guilt that we would be more focused on the spiritual aspects of Pesach if we were at home,” Adlerstein said.

But the pluses outweigh the negatives, he indicated. “We’ve really made a difference in some people’s Pesach,” he said. “We all get to be together as a family, and my wife gets to sit back while I do all the hard work.”

These travel companies offer Passover
resort packages:

Tropical Kosher Resorts/Exclusive Retreats: (323)
937-5281; www.xclusiveretreats.com.

World Wide Kosher: (323) 525-0015

Adventures: (323) 933-4044

CruiseOne: (818) 865-9779; www.CruiseOne.com

Vims Holidays: (800) 464-VIMS; www.Jewishroutes.com

Sterling: (800) 328-6870

Kosher Travels Unlimited: (800) 832-6676; www.koshertravelsunlimited.com

V.I.P. Passover: (800) 883-5702

Kosher Expeditions:(800)923-2645; www.kosherexpeditions.com

Resort Classics: (323)933-4044; www.passoverresorts.com

Presidential Kosher Holidays: (800) 950-1240; www.passovervacations.com