My London Life


I have been spending a lot of time in London over the past year and I love it here. I am sitting in my room, looking out the window as the sun is desperate to break though, watching people walk past, and feeling very happy. This city is alive and hopeful and even though there is palpable stress and fear, my soul is at peace here. On many levels, and for many reasons, it feels like London is home.

To clarify, home is ultimately where my son is, so with him in London with me this week, it truly is home. We have had a terrific time and he feels the same way in London that I do. It is a great city, with great people, namely our friends J and S, who I have written about often, and call Victoria and David Beckham. They are wonderful human beings and we truly love them and their children.

We spent last night at the Beckham Castle and I slept like a baby. I have not slept well since I got to Engalnd because internal clock has been screwed up due to all my traveling. I went from Los Angeles, to London, to Los Angeles, to Las Vegas, to Los Angeles, to Toronto, to Los Angeles, to Melbourne, to Los Angeles, to London, all in 10 days. Sleep has been elusive, last night however, I slept like a baby.

I went to bed at 10:00 pm and was Sleeping Beauty for a divine 9 hours. I don’t worry about anything when I am there, and that peace invites sleep because I’m very comfortable and happy there. Today my son is at Wembley stadium with the oldest Beckham son, watching two football teams compete to get into the Premiere League. It makes me happy when these two young men hang out.

My son spent the past week on holiday in Greece and Italy. He went on his own and it was a great adventure. It takes courage to travel on your own and his bravery inspires me. (To be clear, it also scares the crap out of me!) I am seeing my son in a new light following his trip. He has grown up somehow and it is exciting. He is 21, and will always be my baby, but he is also an amazing man.

Tomorrow I am going to take my favorite person on the planet to Paris. We’ll spend a glorious day walking around, seeing the sights, and eating the perfection that is French cuisine. It has been over 30 years since I was last in Paris, and to take my son there for his first time is special. We’ll be there for 28 hours, so will jam pack as much as we can into our day and I hope it doesn’t rain!

I love my London life and being here has allowed me to have my son come over and see parts of the world he has wanted to visit since he was little. He always wanted to see the world and it is an honor to watch his face as tells me about what he has seen and done. He is a remarkable child and being even a small part of his dreams coming true is the greatest gift I can receive as his mother.

Israel is home because I was born there and it is where my parents met and fell in love. Canada is home because it is where I grew up and where my family is. Los Angeles is home because my son was born there and it is where he is building his life. London is home because it makes me comfortable and happy. I’m a lucky girl to feel connected to so many places. I’m grateful and keeping the faith.

Multi-generation trip to Israel: Who said only adults get to have all the fun?


Many parents these days are looking to give their kids an unforgettable vacation experience. A family vacation is always about spending quality time together. A family vacation in Israel means spending that quality time to not only get closer to each other, but to also build a lasting love for the land and its heritage and to create memories to cherish over the years.

The best news about traveling to Israel with your kids is that the country is very child-friendly.  Throughout the year, Israel offers dozens of nature park activities as well as museums, sports attractions, water parks, beautiful beaches, relaxing spas and great food.

The Children’s Museum offers a great opportunity for children (and adults too!) to experience the life of a blind person while traveling through a dark room with only your sense of hearing and touch to guide you.  Other museum options appropriate for both children and grownups are the Madatech, the science museum in Jerusalem, as well as the science museum in Haifa and the famous “Mini Israel,” a park located 15 minutes outside Jerusalem.

Exploring Israel’s outdoor activities and beautiful nature are always a wonderful way to spend the day. There are various parks that have waterfalls, amazing flower gardens and stunning views. Other than the cold winter months, 90% of the year family trips can be spent enjoying the outdoors. Although the summer months can be quite humid, it will give you and your kids the opportunity to put the phones down for a few hours. Choosing between different levels of difficulty, Israel offers some of the most amazing hiking trails and walks such as the Yehudia, El-Al Rainfall and David Waterfall in the Dead Sea.   

Another great option is visiting the various petting zoos at some of the many kibbutzim and moshavim, some of which also offer country-style accommodations. And kids never forget their first view of the world from high atop a camel when they visit a Bedouin tent. Some kibbutzim and moshavim also offer special activities based on their produce or special history – one has a honey museum while another shows off its pioneer past by offering a chance for kids to dress-up in costume.

Eilat, Tiberius, Tel Aviv and other major cities offer kid-friendly hotels and resorts with kids' clubs. You can send the kids there for a couple of hours so you can take time to enjoy the spa, sit with a good book at the pool or just relax. Kids’ clubs usually host arts and crafts and other activities with around the clock child care with experienced caretakers. In Eilat kids can swim with the dolphins at a beautiful private beach where the family can spend the whole day together combining water activities and rest.

We recommend making planning your daily outings part of the fun; gather around the computer screen and start building your go-to wish-list with your kids by searching “Israel + Kids”. Even if you planned the trip by yourself without the kids, spend a few moments walking through your plans with them so they will be a part of the trip and have a chance to be more involved in the activities you do together.  Look into the possibility of having your travel planner include a youth counselor on your tour who will work with the kids. Another option is a private tour, where you can communicate with your guide ahead of time and plan all the sites and experiences you and your family will love best. The possibilities are endless! The most important thing is to have fun and enjoy every minute of this beautiful country. Make it a trip to remember!

Visit Israel Ministry of Tourism for more details.

Stop pretending nothing happens in August


The headlines these days all seem to demand exclamation marks. Iraq is teetering on the brink! Russian troops are massing on the Ukranian border! Gaza lies in ruins! World’s worst Ebola epidemic afflicts Africa!  

Oh, and it is also National Goat Cheese Month.  Welcome to another quiet and peaceful August.

Yeah, right. One of the puzzles of summer is why so many of us persist in pretending that August is a month when nothing happens, when we can step back, tune out, take a break, and recharge. Europeans even think they are entitled to take the entire month off.

Perhaps there’s something about late summer, a couple months gone since school let out in June, that makes us forget our history. This year, August is full of reminders. We’re commemorating the 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s resignation and the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I.

Bellicose August also brought the Gulf of Tonkin incident that triggered our involvement in Vietnam, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the failed coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991, the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact in 1939 that enabled Hitler to invade Poland on September 1, and the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945 and ensuing Japanese surrender. Hurricane Katrina also occurred in August, but let’s leave Mother Nature out of it.

There’s a melancholic quality to August, a month nearly synonymous with “waning days of summer.”  Less acknowledged in our cultural vernacular is the extent to which the “waning” feeling is as much about the end of another year as it is about the end of summer.  

Sure, we sing “Auld Lang Syne,” kiss under the mistletoe, and wish each other a “Happy New Year” when December turns to January. But who among us doesn’t feel that the real reset moment each year, the new beginning, comes in September, the day after Labor Day? The fall is when we start school and football season and the U.S. government fiscal year, and when we get serious, if we ever do, about our work.

August, then, is about the waning not only of summer, but also of each passing year, and lost possibilities. It is about the waning of life, even.  There is a grasping, desperate quality to many of the historical events that took place in August—hence the resonance of the title of Barbara Tuchman’s historical bestseller about the outset of World War I, The Guns of August.  It’s quite fashionable to study the sequence of events that led to the so-called “Great War,” which in retrospect appear like dominoes falling as if on a predetermined course.  The rest of the war is far less fashionable to read about, as it proves too muddled a narrative.  Best to focus on the August beginning, and how it ended all that came before.

Mischief conspires with melancholia in August, the notion that mice can play while the cat’s vacationing.  It’s not clear whether Saddam Hussein thought he would get away with taking over Kuwait if he did so while the American president was summering in Maine, or whether that president’s son, when he was in office a decade later, would have taken warnings of an airborne Al Qaeda plot more seriously had he been briefed about them at some time and place other than August at his Texas ranch. 

August and the waning days of summer (and of the year, I insist) is when we let our guards down, creating an opening for those with an agenda, be it the invasion of Poland or Kuwait, or the shorting of the pound (George Soros famously bet against the British currency in August 1992, and won big).  So keep your eye on colleagues who seem especially busy and eager to stick around the office this month. Who knows what they’re up to?

Financial markets are notoriously slow in August, the month of lowest trading volumes, when bankers follow their clients to the beach. But “slow” can be a deceptive term in business as in life, given that lower volume and less liquidity in a market can make it more volatile, and more susceptible to speculation.  If you buy or sell 1,000 shares of a company, you are far more likely to influence that stock price on a day when only 5,000 shares trade hands than on a day when 100,000 shares trade hands. 

That same dynamic applies to anyone seeking to influence the outcome of any event: your influence increases the fewer people are engaged.  Which is what makes this such a dodgy month, and the current news headlines so ominous.

And now, I’m off to the beach for a week.  It’s August, after all.

Andres Martinez is editorial director of Zocalo Public Square, for which he writes the Trade Winds column.

Letters to the Editor: Berman will be missed, Fight for life, Seeking survivors


Howard Berman Will Be Missed

Last week’s election was incredibly emotional for me. With the support of my community, a kid from Pacoima won a seat in the United States House of Representatives. But I, like many others, was also very saddened to see Congress lose one of its greatest unsung heroes, and my friend and mentor (“Sherman v. Berman: Counting the Wins, Losses,” Nov. 9). Howard Berman has been the epitome of a statesman over the course of his 30-year career. He has been a dedicated public servant for the San Fernando Valley, California, our country and the world. He helped ensure that the San Fernando Valley received the federal help it needed after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake rocked our community. In good times and bad, he brought resources to our neighborhoods to meet the growing needs of our communities. He has also been an advocate for business, helping to protect crucial job creators in our state, like the entertainment and high-tech industries. And he has been an indispensable voice on foreign affairs, helping to guide our country in the right direction when it comes to international relations and policy as well as protecting our strong bond with our oldest ally in the Middle East, Israel. To say he will be missed is a huge understatement. I would not be surprised though if someone with his exceptional skill set ends up working in some other capacity in this administration. I know that I, for one, will humbly ask for his guidance whenever possible.

Thank you Howard Berman, for your unparalleled commitment, your amazing dedication and your exemplary leadership.

Congressman-elect Tony Cardenas


Forget Vacation, Fight for Life

Dr. Albert Fuchs forgets several key principles in cancer or in any terminal disease — they are faith, hope, prayer and, most importantly, the inner strength of the individual (“Telling the Truth,” Nov. 2). My wife was diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer in July 2009. If my family had followed the thinking and approach of Fuchs, our seven children would be without their most amazing mother. 

It is imperative that families pursue all avenues for life extension. My wife has undergone more than 120 rounds of chemotherapy; we are now four years later, we have seen our son finish his Army service and our daughter marry, and my wife plays with her granddaughter every day. Every member of the family has watched their mother fight and survive, through her inner strength, the force of communal prayer, hope for a cure and faith in our God. Fuchs’ suggestion that we end life with a vacation is very sad indeed; we end life only when God decides. In the meantime, each of us is responsible to go to the ends of the earth to help our loved ones fight another day.

David Rubin
Los Angeles


Support Moderate Muslim Women

It is refreshing to see a moderate Muslim in the Middle East advocating both women’s rights and peace between Israel and the Palestinians (“Palestinian Provokes Hamas,” Oct. 26). We should support Asma al-Ghoul as she is the type of person who will serve to improve our communications with the Palestinians. I applaud her courage as a woman in Gaza who stands up for women’s rights and nonviolent peace with the Israelis despite dangerous repercussions from Hamas. While she is not completely pro-Israel, we must continue to support moderate people like her if we are to hope for peace in the Middle East.

Eliana Kahan
Los Angeles 


Seeking Holocaust Train Survivors

On April 7, 1945, a train was released with 2,500 Jewish prisoners from the German concentration camp Bergen-Belsen, including some 700 children.

The train was liberated on April 13, 1945, by American soldiers from the 30th Infantry Division of the Ninth U.S. Army near the city of Magdeburg, Germany, at the town Farsleben. Most of the survivors were from Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands, Greece and elsewhere.

Two American soldiers were among the liberators of this train and now live in Florida. One of them was a tank commander and the other an infantry liaison officer who helped lead the survivors to safety and provided them with food and medical care.

Today we know of about 220 survivors who were children then, who are scattered throughout the world and who have been contacting their liberators to tell them thank you.

If you are one of these train survivors, please contact Frank Towers at towersfw@windstream.net or Varda Weisskopf at hila_64@inter.net.il.

Varda Weisskopf
Israel


Correction

A column about “Mating in Captivity” author Esther Perel reported that she attended Oxford University (“The Erotic Life,” Nov. 9). Perel holds degrees from Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Lesley College in Cambridge, Mass.

A kiss of the grape — and other adult libations — in Jerusalem


Wine bars, a new twist on an old theme, are drawing huge numbers of clientele in most metropolitan cities. What about the Holy City? Although the selection in Jerusalem doesn’t quite compare to that of its American and European rivals, there are enough choices in the Jewish capital to erase the so-called vapid reputation of kosher wine forever. Kosher vintners have long been removing the stigma, but at these establishments, with fine wines available by the bottle and the glass, it is a much more distant memory. An evening exploring these wines, savory dishes (many of them finger foods) prepared by on-site, professional chefs de cuisine, and memorable desserts that pair equally well with certain vintages or spirits, are a definite recipe for relaxation. Check them out while you traverse the spiritual center of the universe at the New Year and all year. 

ADOM

In name and spirit, Adom, Hebrew for “Red,” embodies the pleasure of fine wines and fine dining. Tucked into the hip, bustling alleyway of bars called Rivlin Street, just off Jaffa Road, guests enter the picturesque gated patio. A quick peek at its retaining wall, studded with embedded wine bottles and corks, is a not-so-subtle introduction to what’s in store. An impressive list of 160 wines is paired with three seating areas, whose stone walls and curved arches warm up by candlelight. The rotating wine of the month enables guests to sample new varieties by the glass at a discount. And a menu of international bistro cuisine, including beautifully presented salads, meats, fish dishes and more gives way to a late-night menu of finger food after 11 p.m. Adom is clustered in the only area of Jerusalem where anything close to a wine bar exists, in the tight mix of restaurants between the light-rail tracks and the Mamilla and David Citadel hotels. This restaurant is not supervised kosher but it, of course, relies on Israeli products that are certified kosher and it does offer kosher wines on its extensive list, making it a great option for a stop on your tasting tour. It is admittedly a little tricky to find, but the search is worth it for its ambience and charm. Simplify your search for Adom by entering from Jaffa Road No. 31, near the light-rail stop. Head down an intriguing path lined with many other establishments that draw huge crowds on Thursday and Saturday nights. Pass through this maze of hopping joints and heavy foot traffic to the tranquil Feingold Courtyard. 

Adom, 31 Jaffa Road, Jerusalem. 972-2-624-6242. 

THE WINERY/MIRROR BAR

The gorgeous Mamilla Hotel is one big bite of eye candy. After you enter this modernist retreat, head upstairs to its long and inviting wine bar, simply called the Winery. Sure, there are many other lovely places to sneak away for a romantic gourmet experience in and around the uber-chic Mamilla part of town, but only here will you find a massive slab of beautiful green glass atop a long wooden bar. Behind the counter, the Winery is tricked out with state-of-the art chilled, nitrogen-equipped dispensaries. Request your wine on tap or from the enticing selection along the exposed cellar, facing you along the wall behind the bar. 

The Mamilla Hotel has staffed this unique bar with trained sommeliers who offer curated tasting experiences. About 80 Israeli wines, from larger houses as well as boutiques, are on the menu. If you’re hungry late at night, take note that the Winery serves only small, cold plates of meat and fish from 3 to 8 p.m. After the Winery closes, you’re in for a treat. The green glass functions as a mere navigational device of sorts. Continue past the bar to the inviting entry point of the chic Mirror Bar. After 8 p.m., it opens up to a large, dimly lit area with comfy seats, perfect for viewing the massive flat-screen TV. Or, along small bar tables and chairs, you can take in the sounds of a live DJ working his groove at the internally lit marble bar. Take your party outside on the balcony with a view of the stone-lined pedestrian mall below or slip inside the separately enclosed glass-walled cigar lounge for more indulgence. 

The short bar menu here is heavy on meat dishes — think scrumptious mini burgers on brioche buns. But it also features delicious ceviche with fresh citrus and avocado and focaccia with herbal aioli for vegetarians and those seeking lighter fare. Every option available from the Winery menu remains available here as well. So you’ll have your pick from the fabulous menu-within-a-menu “Cellar” selections. Our favorite was a Katzav’s Merlot, aged in French oak barrels and bursting with ripe, tart fruit. Ready to indulge more? The almond sachlav with coffee truffle is one cup of steaming, hot ambrosia worth every gram of its heavy caloric cost. Kosher. 

11 King Solomon St., Jerusalem. 972-2-548-2211. mamillahotel.com. 

SCALA 

Just in case you had any doubt, this tiny neighborhood is one of Jerusalem’s key centers of gastronomy, spirituality and hospitality. You’re only minutes from the Old City and a host of other fine dining — and drinking — establishments that have long hosted tourists, foodies, gourmands and more. 

As you exit the Mamilla Hotel, head up King David Street to the massive David Citadel. Take the elevator up to the Scala Restaurant for another celebration of the senses. This high-end establishment caters to a clientele made up mostly of non-hotel guests. One taste of its menu, and you’ll understand why. 

Scala boasts the romantic night out trifecta. Its extravagant combination of cocktail bar, restaurant and wine bar all in one leaves little wanting. A stunning glass wall-to-wall wine cellar boasts 60 select Israeli wines, yours for the choosing. The labels range widely in provenance, taste and price, with nearly every imaginable kosher option, including renowned wines from the distinguished label, the Cave, to suit whatever you order for dinner, and high-end spirits, such as top-ticket Johnnie Walker Blue Label, paired with decadent chocolate desserts. 

If you’re not sure which way to proceed, ask the wait staff or Scala’s talented resident chef for their advice on the best way to enjoy whatever libations you choose. Every dish on the menu, from the tapas to the entrees, has a drink-in-waiting. Our selections ran the full spectrum, and each dish, from salad and fish to chicken and beef, was worth a return visit. Ditto for the desserts. Swoon-worthy, surprising blends of flavors included a hazelnut and coffee cream. The Dark Chocolate Delight is an artful ensemble of hot chocolate lava cake with apricot sorbet, served with additional whipped hot chocolate pudding with brandy and rich dark chocolate garnishes. It all went down smoothly with a Yatir 2007 Merlot-Shiraz-Cabernet. Definitely an experience to be repeated. Kosher. 

Scala, David Citadel Hotel, 7 King David St., Jerusalem. 972-2-621-2030. scala-rest.com.

Lisa Alcalay Klug is the author of “Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe.” Her new book, “Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe,” debuts in October. She is online at lisaklug.com.

Israeli hotels showcase a summer medley of adventures


Spurred by a record-breaking number of foreign tourists who visited the Holy Land during the first quarter of 2012, Israel’s burgeoning hotel industry is gearing up for a busy summer tourism season by sprucing up their facilities and offering a variety of titillating vacation packages.

According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, the 752,000 foreign visitors who entered the country between January and March 2012, not only eclipsed last year’s figures by 2 percent, the first-quarter figures also represent a 1 percent increase over 2010, which Israel’s Ministry of Tourism declared was Israel’s best year ever for incoming tourism.

Despite the generally optimistic picture, many hotel managers aren’t assuming that North American Jewish tourists will reflexively book a vacation to Israel when there are myriad interesting destinations to choose from. In order to attract both veteran and new foreign tourists to their facilities, some of Israel’s best-known hotels have undergone a series of physical transformations in order to broaden their appeal, while others have focused on offering newfangled experiences to both couples and families with children.

Ilan Brenner, executive assistant manager of marketing and sales at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, said that the hotel’s staff knows its clients, and in a growing number of cases they have literally grown up with entire families.

“So when a new generation emerges, we already have a good idea about their needs. Both returning and new tourists are always searching for and asking about upgrades, so we are constantly adding incentives, whether it’s a free car, a multimedia game room for youngsters, new spa treatments, trendy gastronomic experiences in the dining room,” he said. 

Rafi Beeri, the Dan Hotel’s vice president of marketing and sales, said renovations at Dan properties have included some innovations. “The King David has undergone a major makeover with a new section of rooms and suites. At the Dan Carmel, which debuted in 1962, we have completed a top-to-bottom renovation [that] includes new executive rooms, which overlook Haifa Bay and the Carmel Mountains. With the Dan Jerusalem, which we acquired in 2010, we realized that renovating this huge hotel would have to be done in phases and feature some unique aspects.”

According to Beeri, the Dan Jerusalem highlights a unique hotel-within-a-hotel concept, where both guests and groups can benefit from more personalized services and amenities.

“It can be compared to an airline’s business-class environment,” he said. “We’ve upgraded a wing of 120 rooms, where guests or groups who wish to stay in this section will enjoy a separate check-in area, separate lounge and dining facilities, as well as a special staff that will cater to them in a more personalized manner.”

The Ramada Jerusalem Hotel has acquired a stellar reputation among families who seek discounted long-term vacation packages (from seven to 21 days) with a variety of summer activities for adults and children, including its “We Love Kids” program, which features daily entertainment for children, including magicians and petting zoos.

“During weekdays, we offer complimentary shuttle bus service to the Old City, which is an attraction for the parents. And, our outdoor American-style barbecues out by the pool area during August always attracts a large audience of both adults and children,” said Yacov Shaari, general manager of the Ramada Jerusalem Hotel. The growing Rimonim chain recently rebranded four of its upscale properties to create the “Royal Collection,” which includes the Royal Dead Sea, Rimonim Eilat, Ruth Rimonim Safed and Rimonim Galei Kinnereth. Each hotel accentuates contrasting experiences for the mind, body and soul.

“During the summer months, the Royal Dead Sea will feature special spa packages that include the hotel’s new Royal Lounge,” said Anat Aharon, Rimonim’s vice president of sales and marketing. “At the Ruth Rimonim in Safed, we invite guests to let their soul breathe amid the mystic beauty of the hotel’s Galilean surroundings. The hotel also features a wine cellar, where you can sample the best Israeli wines and enjoy small talk.”

At the Sheraton Tel Aviv Hotel, where North American, British and French tourists converge during the summer months, the “accent” will be on indulging kids and parents alike.

“Last year, we opened a children’s pool. This year, we will complement it with a guarded kids’ playground with games and toys, where families can relax and enjoy the pool while their children are playing,” said Jean-Louis Ripoche, general manager of the Sheraton Tel Aviv. “During the summer, we will be extending breakfast hours in the dining room till noon, so couples and families can enjoy a longer, relaxed morning. After breakfast, we offer adults a free bicycle, so they can pedal around the seaside boardwalk area and beyond.”

It’s important to note that despite a 15 to 20 percent rise in the cost of airline tickets to Israel since last summer, many Israeli hotels have not raised their basic rates. Israeli hoteliers are cognizant of the fact that families are looking to maximize their vacation experience without blowing a hole in their budget.

Here is a guide to some of the hottest summer deals across Israel:

Inbal Jerusalem Hotel
July rates begin at $150 per person in a double room, based on a minimum five-night stay. The hotel’s Web site features several unique summer deals. Guests who book three consecutive nights in a “superior room” are entitled to a free car. Guests who book at least three consecutive nights in “executive rooms” or higher category are also entitled to a vehicle upgrade (such as Mazda 6). In August, the hotel’s popular Kids Club will feature a supervised multimedia game room and Gymboree. The Splash Bar situated poolside highlights an American-style barbecue menu as well as alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages for adults and children. The hotel’s Mediterranean-accented Sofia restaurant has received rave reviews for the unique fish and pasta dishes served up by executive chef Moti Buchbut. 
inbalhotel.com.

Ramada Jerusalem Hotel
The hotel’s “We Love Kids” rates start at $198 based on a seven- to 14-night stay, including two adults and one child in a room (including breakfast). Rates are discounted even further based on stays exceeding 14 nights. Amenities include large indoor and outdoor pools, health club and sauna, as well as supervised summer children’s camps and a teen corner during July and August. This hotel highlights OU mehadrin glatt kosher cuisine.
jerusalemramada.com.

Dan Hotels
Rates for July and August for guests who book “Golden 7 Nights” at the King David start at $480 a night per room (per couple) based on a bed and breakfast excursion. The “Golden 7” special also includes pampering amenities such as free round-trip transportation between Ben-Gurion Airport and the hotel. Guests who stay a minimum of three nights are entitled to a free voucher to the Dan Lounge at Ben Gurion Airport on the day of their departure from Israel. At the Dan Jerusalem, guests who book a minimum of three nights in “deluxe rooms” will receive a free upgrade to “executive rooms,” which includes the use of the hotel’s new King David Executive Lounge.
danhotels.com.

Sheraton Tel Aviv
Hotel & Towers

The hotel is offering an “early bird package” starting from $370 per person with a minimum booking of five nights, or three nights non-refundable. The charge for a child in the room under the age of 17 is $30 per child. There is no charge for children under 3 years old. There is a limited promotion whereby guests who stay for a minimum of five nights between Aug. 5 and Aug. 25 will receive complimentary tickets to the world famous Cirque du Soleil, which will be playing Tel Aviv during August. Rates start from $400 a night based on double occupancy. The special deal can be booked direct via the hotel’s Web site.
sheratontelaviv.com.

Rimonim Hotels
Various deals are available for guests who book directly via the Web site. Rates vary for midweek and weekend vacations. At the Royal Dead Sea
guests staying in suites and preferred room types will enjoy a separate check-in at the lounge, private breakfast and dinner, as well as snacks and drinks during the day. Galei Kinnereth’s luxurious spa highlights a “domed Jacuzzi” overlooking the Sea of Galilee. The Rimonim Eilat’s “Serenity & Action” package includes a choice of two hot attractions for the whole family: IMAX Theater/Underwater Observatory/Ice & Space, when reserving for a minimum of three nights. The hotel’s “Romantic Serenity” deal for couples features pampering amenities such as, breakfast for two in your room, one gift dinner, spa treatment for both, as well as a 45-minute pedicure and manicure.
english.rimonim.com


Rimonim Royal Dead Sea pool

At Passover, let my people go south


Passover celebrates the Exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, their wandering in the desert for 40 years, and their ultimate deliverance to the Promised Land.

But a contemporary observer might be forgiven for imagining the holiday marks a different sort of migration: Large numbers of American Jews making their annual pilgrimage from cool northern climes to southern tropics, and from major metropolitan centers to the country, in advance of one of the most celebrated Jewish observances of the year.

For decades, a dedicated — and apparently growing — cohort of Jewish families has seen Passover as an opportunity to escape not from slavery but from crummy weather, kitchen drudgery and endless house cleaning, finding their salvation in gourmet kosher vacations on white-sand beaches in Miami or Aruba. Dozens of programs around the world are now offering fully catered, kosher-for-Passover vacations at top vacation destinations, saving families the hassle and headache of ridding their homes of leavened products and preparing a succession of lavish meals for friends and relatives.

This year, Passover is being observed by visitors at beachfront hotels in Miami; on a Caribbean cruise; along the canals in Venice, Italy; at an eco-resort in Costa Rica; at an exclusive getaway in Phuket, Thailand; and steps from Niagara Falls. There are programs in Ixtapa, Mexico; Sardinia, Italy; Marbella, Spain; and the south of France.

Those of a less adventurous spirit hit the Jersey Shore, the tried-and-true kosher hotels of the Catskill Mountains and the more corporate-style hotels in Connecticut and upstate New York. And that’s not counting Israel, where virtually every city offers multiple options for the Passover traveler.

“This year has probably been the biggest year we’ve ever had,” said Laurie van Esschoten, owner of the Ontario Travel Bureau in California, a travel agency that books Passover vacations to dozens of destinations. “It looks to me like people are getting back to the idea of traveling. It’s really been phenomenal for us.”

Passover vacations have existed as long as there have been kosher hotels. For decades, the Catskills in New York state and Miami Beach were the two prime destinations. But beginning in the early 1990s, operators began to expand their offerings — Puerto Rico, Arizona, Aruba and more became the sites of fully kosher Passover programs featuring noted speakers, entertainment, children’s programs and day trips, not to mention the ever-popular 24-hour tearooms.

With the proliferation of offerings, van Esschoten has become something of a Passover consultant, helping arrange travel and other logistics for Passover travelers but also guiding them through a bewildering array of options to a venue appropriate to their needs — particularly with respect to religious nuances.

The programs are generally geared toward an Orthodox clientele, with traditional gender-segregated prayer and high standards of kashrut. But there’s a range of observance within those parameters, and van Esschoten can divine the subtle clues that hint at the particular shade of Orthodoxy at each destination.

“The most important thing is, I’m checking to see if they’re going to have separate swimming,” she said. “Some of the more modern programs do have separate swimming, but only at certain times of day. If it’s not a complete hotel takeover, that might not be possible.”

Families who succeed in identifying the right program often return year after year. And once they become accustomed to outsourcing their Passover preparations, the habit becomes hard to break. Tour operators say their repeat business each year can be upward of 70 percent.

“This population is pretty much addicted to going away for Passover,” said Stuart Vidockler, who runs Presidential Kosher Holidays.

The typical Passover traveler is generally Orthodox, lives in a major Jewish center in the northern United States (though the programs boast they draw customers from around the world) and is relatively affluent. The price tag for the programs is not for the faint of heart, generally starting at about $2,500 per person based on double occupancy for 10 days.

Presidential is operating three programs this year — in Scottsdale, Ariz.; Aventura, Fla.; and on the Mayan Riviera in Mexico — that aim for the higher end of an already high-end market, with five-star resorts featuring championship golf courses, multiple swimming pools and other luxury amenities.

At the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach — one of the largest, oldest and best-known Passover destinations in the country — prices begin at more than $4,000 per person. A two-bedroom suite in the hotel’s Versailles Building will set you back about $10,000, not including a 25 percent surcharge for tips and taxes. For families traveling with children and grandparents, total travel costs can easily run into the tens of thousands.

There are less expensive — and often colder — options as well. Among the most affordable is the Stamford Plaza hotel in Connecticut, which runs over $2,000 per person (average April high temperature: 63). Ten days in Aruba starts at $3,299, but that doesn’t include airfare, which minimally adds another $500 per person for flights from the New York area.

Perhaps not surprisingly, industry insiders say a challenging economic climate — and especially the collapse in the financial services sector in 2009 — has had a dramatic effect on business, leading to the collapse of some companies.

In 2009, Lasko Family Kosher Tours, operators of the popular Fontainebleau program, was sued for failing to pay more than $200,000 to one of its suppliers. A federal judge ruled against the company, requiring Lasko to make payments of $120,000.

Sam Lasko declined to discuss his company’s finances. But this year, the company is operating under a new name, Lasko Kosher Getaways, and is operating only two programs, in Miami and Orlando, down from seven in 2009, when it ran programs in Nevada; Arizona; and Westchester County, N.Y.

“Passover 2009 was the worst year,” Vidockler said. “About half the operators went out of business. Customers disappeared. We probably had a 20 percent decrease.”

For those who would otherwise be cleaning their homes and spending endless hours preparing meals, the appeal of Passover vacations isn’t hard to understand. But with restrictions on travel and electricity use mandated by Orthodox observance of the holidays, they can also become confining — and a bit boring.

“There’s nowhere to go,” said Lisa Rubenstein, who grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and goes away for Passover with her family almost every year. “It’s what I imagine a cruise to be. You can’t leave. There’s always some food happening in the dining room. It’s always teatime, snack time, dinner’s being served, whatever. And you’re seeing old people from your synagogue in bathing suits — you know, people you don’t want to see in bathing suits.”

Program organizers go to great lengths to pepper their itineraries with diversions. Jewish scholars are flown in to deliver lectures. Bands, comedians, mentalists, magicians and more provide entertainment. Some programs feature well-known cantors leading services and seders. The Chasidic reggae star Matisyahu performed at several Passover destinations before his celebrity profile outgrew them.

But veterans of Passover programs almost uniformly agree — it’s all about the food.

“The eating situation in general, I think back on it as pretty gluttonous,” said Jack Steinberg, who has gone away for Passover with his family about a half-dozen times. “The food is a really major aspect of the whole event. There are people storming the cafeteria the moment that it opens.”

Ellen Weiss, who also has been on numerous programs at various destinations and describes their cost as “an insane, sick amount of money,” has had more mixed experiences. At a Florida hotel one year, she enjoyed a private beach and an extremely solicitous staff. Another year, in New York, the crowd was pushy and impolite.

It was also more religious than Weiss would have liked. One gentleman upbraided her for not dressing with sufficient modesty.

“He wondered why I was wasn’t wearing stockings,” Weiss recalled. “I said, ‘Well, why are you looking at my feet?’ ”

For business or pleasure, hotels rolling out red carpets


The emergence of Israel on the global high-tech stage as a “start-up nation,” combined with the growing number of international business and Jewish organizational events held in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, has spurred a slew of major hotels to invest in upgrading their various services to discerning executives who endeavor to mix business with pleasure.

“The growth of social media, which includes business- and travel-oriented forums, has allowed our staff to engage with people who are planning business trips to Jerusalem and other points in Israel, offering them the opportunity to take advantage of the hotel’s varied services, many of which are tailored to the business tourist,” said Ilan Brenner, the Inbal Jerusalem Hotel’s executive assistant manager of sales and marketing.

The five-star hotel has regularly played host to a variety of business and organizational conferences in its various halls, including El Al, Hadassah and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

“As there are several types of business travelers — ranging from the high-powered executive who seeks a luxurious WiFi-equipped suite with a terrace that overlooks the Old City of Jerusalem, to a salesperson who might want to conduct a private meeting with a colleague in our rooftop Executive Lounge — we can provide a variety of settings based on need and budget,” Brenner said.

In metro Tel Aviv, where the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and many of the nation’s top corporations are located, a number of the city’s finest hotels regularly cater to a business clientele. However, several hotels have tweaked their interior design concepts and external marketing agendas to discourage “family tourism” and focus almost exclusively on luring upscale business travelers.

The posh Crowne Plaza Tel Aviv City Center Hotel, which has been built into the prodigious Azrieli Towers business, shopping and entertainment complex, prides itself on being a concept facility.

“We like to think of ourselves as a leader in the development of the business tourist concept,” said Michael Plesz, general manager of the Crowne Plaza Tel Aviv City Center Hotel. “Nearly 60 percent of our customers are business people, 85 percent of whom come from overseas, including, of course, North America. The upbeat design of our public areas and rooms enhances the notion of a place where one can find the right atmosphere to do business and rest between meetings.”

In addition, metro Tel Aviv’s renowned beach, bar and restaurant scene is a magnet for business tourists. 

Want to know more about who offers the most enticing business and relaxation combination packages? We’ve compiled an abridged list of hotels that offer myriad business services and pampering perks:

JERUSALEM

Inbal Jerusalem Hotel

There are dozens of beautiful suites, executive or deluxe rooms to choose from in this venerable facility. The intimate Executive Lounge features a computer station, a variety of newspapers and magazines, light meals and snacks. In order to keep the lounge as an exclusive benefit, its use is restricted to guest staying in suites, executive or deluxe rooms. There is also a 24/7 business center featuring a variety of services upon request. There are special corporate rates available to companies that commit themselves to a minimal annual turnover.

Many local and foreign business people use the spa and health club in their after-hours down time to work off the daily stress and reinvigorate body and soul. The hotel also offers all guests free tickets to local cultural attractions.

For more information, visit inbalhotel.com.

David Citadel Hotel

The Executive Lounge, located high above the city, offers a majestic view of the Old City and provides a perfect setting for business people who wish to mingle, nosh or conduct one-on-one meetings. The hotel also offers a wide range of rooms that cater to the various needs of business travelers. Special arrangements can be made for private spa treatments in guest rooms or in the hotel’s new spa and health club downstairs. Private concierge service is also available for VIPs, which includes arranging special transportation to local events and cultural attractions. Private tour guides can also be arranged. The hotel plays host to a variety of business functions in its adjustable meeting rooms and halls. The David Citadel complex also boasts the critically acclaimed Scala Chef Kitchen & Bar as well as the rooftop Mamilla Café. For more information, visit thedavidcitadel.com.

Sheraton Tel Aviv Executive Lounge

TEL AVIV

Sheraton Tel Aviv Hotel & Towers

The entire third floor has been reconfigured to meet the needs of business guests with a new business center, 12 newly designed guest rooms and meeting areas. The new guest rooms feature a work desk, ergonomic chair, WiFi and landline connectivity, flatscreen TVs, Nespresso machines, step-out balconies and soundproof windows that overlook the sea. In addition, all the new rooms feature a stall shower instead of a bathtub. “This is a new market trend, especially amongst the business travel community,” general manager Jean-Louis Ripoche said. “Most of our business guests are too busy to use a tub, or they are just not interested in it.”

The meeting rooms are complemented by a modular, multifunctional hall divisible by means of soundproof movable partitions, each with its own audiovisual equipment — LCD projectors, screens, bulletin boards — and coffee-break stations.

For more information, visit sheratontelaviv.com.

David InterContinental Tel Aviv Hotel

The David InterContinental Tel Aviv Hotel offers two new highly stylized business lounges — the Executive Lounge on the third floor and the Club InterContinental on the 24th floor. In addition, the redesigned Club InterContinental Lounge offers greater food diversity, improved décor and enhanced services. Both lounges offer WiFi and business services, including copier, printer and fax. The Club InterContinental Tel Aviv offers private check-in and check-out services as well as private concierge services with activities designed to match busy schedules, including the handling of itineraries and access to restaurants and shows at the last minute. The newly renovated Aubergine restaurant offers a business lunch specializing in Mediterranean delicacies infusing local cuisine with an international flair. The David InterContinental Tel Aviv offers a full-service spa and fitness center, as well as a ritzy sports and cigar bar called Inca.

For more information, visit intercontinental.com.

L.A. Synagogues to Take Part in Federation Israel Trip


There are as many reasons to visit Israel as there are people who make the trip. Some want to establish a deeper connection with an ancient homeland; others are excited to explore a unique modern nation.

As part of a massive trip this fall that is being coordinated by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Rabbi Don Goor wants to do even more than that. He wants to send a message.

“It … makes a statement in Israel that the Los Angeles community cares about Israel on a large scale,” said Goor, of Temple Judea in Tarzana and West Hills, who will lead one of the groups on the October trip.

The Los Angeles Community Mission to Israel will celebrate Federation’s centennial and aims to bring together hundreds of Angelenos from a variety of synagogues and organizations. It’s the first time a community trip of this size has been attempted in Los Angeles in nearly 15 years.

Federation President Jay Sanderson explained that the trip is for the entire community, in all its diverse segments. It also will provide unique access to special places and people in Israel.

People on the trip will have the chance “to have experiences that they could not normally have on their own,” Sanderson said. “There are going to be private tours of military bases; there are going to be meetings with high-level Israeli Knesset members and politicians, and VIP tours of boutique wineries. We are going to probably be having an exclusive evening at the Israel Museum where it’s closed to everybody but us.”

There are different itineraries, or tracks, to suit different interests, but all participants will share several key components. The entire group will begin in Tel Aviv, where they will enjoy a gala event at Tel Aviv University featuring a variety of performances by Israeli artists.

Next, they will reconvene in the Southern Negev, just miles from where David Ben-Gurion once lived. During a concert, bonfire and barbecue, they will peek into Israel’s future by spending time with Ayalim, a group of young activists dedicated to building new communities in the desert.

The trip will wrap up in Jerusalem with a visit to the Western Wall and a closing event with President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, schedules permitting.

Along the way, there will be opportunities to highlight Federation-funded projects such as schools and youth villages, according to Lynette and Derek Brown of Encino, vice chairs for the mission who will be co-leading the Valley Alliance Major Gifts Track.

“It’s so people can see where their money is going,” Lynette said.

But that’s only part of the reason she’d like to see people go. With hundreds expected to take part, she anticipates a powerful emotional experience.

“Can you imagine all these people … standing at the Kotel on Friday night?” she said. “It just gives me goose bumps to think about it. It’s such a wonderful thing to do together.”

There’s always a reason to visit Israel, Derek said. “For me, it’s always like a feeling of being home, of having a feeling where I belong.”

But an enormous trip like this is extra special. “The whole idea is to create a community spirit,” he said.

Howard Lesner, executive director of Sinai Temple in Westwood, said his congregation is excited about being a part of the trip.

“We feel that we want to be part of a larger community in this celebration and show our support for the work that The Federation has done and continues to do,” he said.

TRIP HIGHLIGHTS

When the Los Angeles Community Mission to Israel kicks off this fall, each group can build upon a basic itinerary to follow its unique interests. Here are some of the basic itinerary highlights:

Oct. 23: Nonstop, overnight El Al flight to Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Oct. 24: Drive through Tel Aviv. Opening dinner.

Oct. 25-26: Touring track options include the Yitzhak Rabin Center and the Palmach Museum. There will be Federation project site visits as well as a cultural event with the Tel Aviv/Los Angeles Partnership.

Oct. 27-28: In Jerusalem, visit the Western Wall and experience Kabbalat Shabbat there. Touring track options include the Jerusalem hills, the Jewish Quarter in the Old City, Mount Zion, Yad Vashem and the Mount Herzl Museum.

Oct. 29: Shabbat in Jerusalem. Optional tours to the newly renovated Israel Museum. Afternoon study or walking tour.

Oct. 30: Touring track options include Ein Avdat and digs and caves at Beit Guvrin. There will be a mega event and barbecue dinner in the Southern Negev with young people creating the new Israel in the desert. Late return to Jerusalem.

Oct. 31: Visit Federation project sites. More touring track options include Masada and the Dead Sea. Farewell dinner with dignitaries that are expected to include the president and prime minister.

Nov. 1: Arrive in the United States.

COMMUNITY PARTICIPANTS
These groups are among those taking part in the community mission: Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay; Kehillat Israel; Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue; Shomrei Torah Synagogue; Simon Wiesenthal Center; Sinai Temple; Stephen S. Wise Temple; Temple Judea; Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

Among the other groups signed up for the Oct. 23 to Nov. 1 trip are Temple Judea, Shomrei Torah Synagogue, Stephen S. Wise Temple, Wilshire Boulevard Temple and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Rabbi Eli Herscher of Stephen S. Wise Temple said taking part in a community trip like this makes a statement about the love, commitment and support for Israel that L.A. Jews have in a way that no temple mission ever could.

“The reason that I and Stephen Wise Temple responded was because of a deep sense that we are part of something greater than just our congregation,” he said. “A temple mission is meant to create a deeper experience and connection with members of the congregation to Israel. A community mission I think is meant to make a larger statement as well by virtue of the numbers who participate.”

Goor’s Reform congregation in the San Fernando Valley usually takes three trips of its own to Israel every year, but Goor thought it was important to be part of this communal one as well.

The track he will lead is inspired by his love for Jewish learning and contemporary trends. Goor expects to visit wineries, taste olive oil and spend time at Kol HaOt in Jerusalem, which looks at Jewish values through art.

Rabbi Richard Camras of Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills hopes to give participants an insider’s guide to the country, particularly in the area of technology. He said his planned itinerary will take its inspiration from the best-selling book “Start-up Nation,” which highlights Israel’s technological prowess.

“I want to give people a closer look at some of the innovation that is happening in Israel right now that is not only shaping the Jewish world but is impacting the larger world,” he said.

To that end, Camras would love to try and take visitors to places like the Intel plant in Jerusalem or Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., which is one of the largest generic drug companies in the world. Behind all of this impressive technological advancement can be found a very Jewish purpose — healing the world.

“Israel is at the center of making that happen in biotechnology, in science and in energy,” Camras said.

Among the other tracks being organized are several by The Jewish Federation Valley Alliance. Those include a men’s track, a women’s track and one for major philanthropists.

For Federation, this will be the grand culmination of a year of celebratory events.

“This community has been blessed by The Jewish Federation,” Sanderson said. “Over the last 100 years, this Federation has raised billions of dollars for work here in Los Angeles, around the world and in Israel.”

The entity began in 1911, when seven Jewish social service agencies decided to unite their fundraising efforts into a central body. The model evolved over the years into today’s organization, which has a nearly $50 million annual budget.

Of course, it’s important to look forward as much as it is to look back, Sanderson said.

“We have three focused areas that we’re looking at: caring for Jews in need here and abroad, engaging in our community, and then the area that we’re putting most of our attention in, which is ensuring the Jewish future for our children and grandchildren.”

“The focal point of the Federation going forward,” he concluded, “is to make sure that we keep having 100-year celebrations.”

Summertime Perks for Parents and Kids


What if you were able to check in at a top Israeli hotel this summer, wave goodbye to the kids at the front desk and then, minutes later, find yourself nursing a fruity Mediterranean cocktail by the sun-kissed pool?

A mirage? Nope, it’s the real deal!

A large number of quality Israeli hotels have worked diligently to perfect summertime family vacation packages that highlight a variety of perks, including indoor and outdoor activities for kids, chill-out spa and poolside amenities for parents and, last but not least, mesmerizing displays of sumptuous culinary experiences for the entire clan.

At one time, in the not-too-distant past, this summertime product was aimed at a mostly Israeli clientele. But as tourism to the Jewish state has risen dramatically during the past few years, Israeli hotel managers have tweaked their packages to appeal to American and European families.

“We have been anticipating this demand for summertime fun for the entire family from our overseas clientele for a while now. Based on the feedback that we have received, the hotel’s summer activities have become a key attraction for our guests,” said Ilan Brenner, assistant general manager for marketing and sales at the Inbal Jerusalem Hotel.

In addition to its unique locale (near the Old City) and beautiful interior and exterior architectural design, the Inbal Jerusalem Hotel has boosted its appeal by creating perks for families with children, including adjoining rooms and spacious family units, a poolside grill bar for adults and children, a kids’ club and pool, and a state-of-the-art spa and health club for parents.

Herods Tel Aviv lobby overlooks the beach.

“Because the hotel is isolated from the hustle and bustle of the city and located next to a very quiet park [Liberty Bell Park], the parents can actually sample a bit of paradise in the Holy City,” Brenner said. “We’ve tried to anticipate every detail, right down to featuring a kids’ TV channel. In other words, Mom and Dad can watch the news or a movie in peace in their room while the youngsters can enjoy ‘SpongeBob’ next door, without disturbing their parents.”

The hotel also offers a variety of family vacation packages, some of which include freebies to a number of cultural sites, such as the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, considered one of the top tourism venues in all of Israel.

Four- and five-star hotels within the larger chains invest considerable sums of money toward creating a variety of other fascinating tourism encounters. For example, the Fattal Hotel chain, which boasts 29 Israeli hotels under various brand names (Herods, Leonardo, Le Meridien), is renowned for its cultural and culinary family vacation packages.

“The Fattal chain has built a value-for-the-money concept that is based on a year-round vacation experience, not just summertime, which of course represents the height of the tourism season,” said Roni Aloni, Fattal’s vice president of marketing and sales. “At our resort hotels in Eilat, Tiberias and the Dead Sea, we offer several types of cultural happenings, from in-house entertainment troupes performing for the kids and adults, to headlining some of the top stars in Israeli pop music. All of these events are offered to guests free of charge, which has made our resort hotels a big hit with families.”

Leonardo (Fattal) Tiberias Hotel spa.

The Fattal chain also recently unveiled an ultra-chic business- and family-oriented hotel that highlights a unique time-travel experience. The new Herods Hotel Tel Aviv (the former Sheraton Moriah) has been redesigned from top to bottom to reflect the cultural grandeur of 1930s Tel Aviv, right down to the smart yesteryear uniforms worn by its entire staff. It’s akin to entering an Israeli version of a Hollywood movie set.

The Herods Tel Aviv showcases luxury accommodations with an outdoor pool, indoor spa and themed culinary offerings in the dining room and 1930s-style restaurants.

“We spent over $20 million remodeling the facility, in order to create a true theme hotel. It’s a unique property, with a unique environment located along the beautiful Tel Aviv beachfront that accentuates the best of everything,” Aloni said.

In addition to the Inbal Jerusalem and Herods Tel Aviv, the following are some top Israeli hotels currently offering special summer deals for families:

DAVID CITADEL HOTEL
The hotel’s new state-of-the-art kids’ club is a major feature at the luxury facility. The club highlights PlayStation and Wii games, a kindergarten with corners for stage performances, arts and crafts center, and a large movie screen. The Jerusalem-based hotel is also in the midst of putting the finishing touches on a series of renovations to its lobby terrace area, breakfast dining room, Executive Lounge and health club.

Danyland Kids Club at the Dan Accadia Hotel in Herzliya.

RAMADA JERUSALEM HOTEL
The hotel’s “We Love Kids” program encompasses comprehensive children’s indoor and outdoor activities as well as discounted children’s room rates. The hotel complex features a large, landscaped outdoor pool area and an indoor pool with a health club and sauna. The Ramada has also garnered a reputation for hosting lavish summertime simchas, including weddings and b’nai mitzvah in the main ballroom and out by the pool.

DAN HOTELS
The 14-hotel chain features Danyland kids’ clubs, which are run by an experienced, professionally trained staff. Each Danyland offers a variety of activities, including puppet shows, arts and crafts, sports, movies and cookery. During the evening hours, there are discos, talent contests, magic shows and other entertainment as well. In addition, each child who arrives during the summer receives a gift and vouchers that can be cashed in for a light snack. Dan Hotels hasn’t forgotten about teens and pre-teens. They have access to Danyland Teen Club, which offers sports activities, movies and more.

HOLIDAY INN/CROWNE PLAZA
Formal and informal entertainment for youngsters will be featured in almost all of the chain’s hotels during the daytime, along with nightly musical and stage shows for both adults and children. Guests who stay at hotels in Tel Aviv and Haifa receive free tickets to local attractions. Crowne Plaza Hotels in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are also renowned for their upscale kosher cuisine.

A room at the Crowne Plaza Tel Aviv Hotel.

ISLAND SUITES HOTEL
Located along Netanya’s beautiful coastline, this new hotel offers a variety of affordable family plans during the summer, highlighted by spacious suites (one and two bedrooms), family rooms, a fully equipped kitchen and a magnificent balcony overlooking the Mediterranean. The facility also boasts a large outdoor pool, kids’ pool, gym, rejuvenating spa with facial treatments, as well as wet and dry saunas. Island also offers a pool bar and a weekly poolside barbecue. During the summer, the hotel will debut its Bleecker Street coffee shop, featuring lunch and dinner menus. Some of the hotel’s other unique amenities include a shopping service and free bicycles.

SHERATON TEL AVIV
The pool deck has been adapted to children’s needs, including a pool for ages 3 and under, sports entertainment and table tennis. From Aug. 10 to Aug. 25, the hotel will feature a Children’s Arena, featuring free Internet, computer stations, PlayStation games, kid-friendly snacks and beverages. In cooperation with the award-winning Golan Heights Winery, the hotel is launching a wine stand in the lobby, where premium wines will be available for tasting and for purchase. As for entertainment, there will be a twice-weekly Jazz Night just before sunset, featuring cool music at the pool area overlooking the Mediterranean.

Israelis seek promised wave in Costa Rica


Zula is a delightful beachside restaurant where you can breathe in the salty air as Eyal Golan songs play in the background. It also advertises the best falafel in town, made with local garbanzo beans.

Only Zula, Israeli slang for “relaxation,” is not located in Tel Aviv. It’s off the dusty road of Santa Teresa, a trendy beach town near the southern tip of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula.

For Israelis who have settled here over the past decade, life in this tropical destination is sweet and natural.

The town’s molasses “strip” — the road is paved with this eco-friendly sealant to keep down dust — is lined with more than two dozen Israeli-owned businesses, including hotels, hostels (for post-army trekkers), eateries (a pizzeria, a Tel Aviv-style cafe, a bakery) and bars, clothing boutiques and surf shops.

Santa Teresa is a paradise for Israeli surfers. Almost every day, an hour before sunset, surfers flock to its sands for what one Jewish American resident calls the “chosen wave” — the best surf break.

There are about 5,000 Jews living in Costa Rica, many of whom belong to Centro Israelita Sionista de Costa Rica, the main congregation and political body in the capital city of San Jose. According to Jaime-David Tishler, a former board member of the Jewish Museum in San Jose, the country’s longstanding Jewish community has few formal ties with its burgeoning Israeli community. Most Yordim (Israelis who leave Israel) raising families in Costa Rica home school their children or send them to international schools, keeping Hebrew culture alive in the home.

Avi Avraham, 42, of Bat Yam, owner of the Zula Restaurant and Zula Inn Aparthotel in Santa Teresa, came here eight years ago “for the waves.” He has since married a tica (slang for “local”) and is raising a 10-month-old daughter.

“I’m living the dream of many people,” he said.

Avraham counts roughly 120 Israeli residents in Santa Teresa, about 5 percent of the multinational surfing community, which consists mostly of Americans, Canadians, Argentinians, Brazilians, Italians, French and Swedes. Although their presence here is small, the Israelis are notable. As Amit Londner, a former Israeli surf champ who now runs Del Soul surf school, put it, “Israelis make a lot of noise.”

Mali and Avi Tal, originally from Moshav Ganot, came to Santa Teresa seeking the great surf and pura vida — the Costa Rican slogan “pure life.”

“There was nothing here. It was a natural jungle. Nothing, nothing, nothing,” said Tal, sunbathing poolside at Luz de Vida Surf Resort, the beachfront hotel she owns with her husband.

Story continues after the jump.

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Del Soul Surf & Yoga Retreat
(506) 2640-0267
(506) 8878-0880
” title=”luzdevida-resort.com” target=”_blank”>luzdevida-resort.com

JACO

Cabinas Las Orquideas – Izu’s Place
(506) 2643-4056
” title=”tacobar.info” target=”_blank”>tacobar.info

SAN JOSE

Jabad Lubavitch de Costa Rica
20 Metros Al Norte
(506) 2296-6565

Deals on December getaways


It is so good to be a traveler during December. Whether you want a romantic escape, a girlfriends’ getaway or a family vacation, the deals are abundant as many people choose to stick closer to home through the holiday season. My family and I have traditionally hit the road and enjoyed destinations that are packed with value and are not crowded — great places for a quick winter trip. 

Here are a few places to visit that are loaded with value:

Las Vegas
December bargains and Las Vegas go hand in hand. The Mirage Hotel offers a great grown-up getaway called The Serenity Spa and Room Package. Through Dec. 24, guests can spend two nights in a deluxe room and enjoy two 50-minute Swedish body massages or opt for two nights in a deluxe room with one 50-minute massage and a manicure/pedicure at a cost of $331 for Sunday through Thursday arrivals. Friday and Saturday arrivals are available at $461. Call (800) 234-7737 and ask for the “spa weekday” or “spa weekend” package.

All-inclusive vacations have made their way to The Strip with a jam-packed offering at The Luxor. Starting at $209.99 per night through Dec. 28 (two-night minimum stay), guests can enjoy all-you-can-eat at MORE Buffet; two tickets to “Criss Angel Believe,” two tickets to “Titanic: The Artifacts Exhibition,” two Nurture Spa day passes, VIP admission for two to LAX Nightclub and CatHouse Ultra Lounge plus VIP check-in. Call (877) 386-4658 and mention promo code “PDALL1.”

Colorado
We’ve hit the slopes at the end of December several times and found that it is a terrific time to enjoy a ski/snowboard holiday. Ski.com is a great resource for planning a value-packed winter vacation, and there are a couple of terrific packages being promoted for December. Snowmass (aspensnowmass.com) is one of the best family ski destinations in the world and they are offering 30 percent off of lodging from Dec. 18 to Jan. 1. Located at the base of the mountain, The Treehouse is a massive, kid-friendly experience filled with winter activities and lots of fun.

Crested Butte Mountain Resort (skicb.com) is also running an added-value promotion with an early booking incentive of a fifth night free. These rates are subject to making your reservations by Nov. 23. Ski.com is also featuring an awesome air special with a fourth airline ticket free after the purchase of three.

Mexico
Cabo San Lucas is an easy trip by plane and The Marquis Los Cabos (marquisloscabos.com) has extended its Thanksgiving Promotion to Dec. 20, making it even more enticing. The all-suite, beachfront hotel is giving a lot of bang for your buck with a fourth night free, $300 spa credit per suite, VIP roundtrip airport transportation, up to two children (under 12) complimentary, unlimited access to the fitness center and one dinner for two (drinks included during the first hour) at the resort’s Vista Ballenas restaurant. There is also a complimentary daily continental breakfast. Nightly room rates start at $590 for a junior suite.

Bay Area
San Francisco is another ideal destination for a December escape, via a road trip or quick flight. The Hyatt at Fisherman’s Wharf and The Hyatt Regency San Francisco have designed “San Francisco on Sale” packages that are filled with added value. The Fisherman’s Wharf property (fishermanswharf.hyatt.com) has room rates that start at $161 and include a $25 food and beverage credit as well as the Shop SF/Get More savings card, which features special offers and discounts at more than 200 retailers around the city. Rates at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco (sanfranciscoregency.hyatt.com) begin at $169. There are plenty of ways to enjoy San Francisco, from hopping on board a City Lights Cruise on the Red and White Fleet or ice skating at the Embarcadero Center’s ice rink. New Year’s Eve at the Hyatt properties is value-packed as well with a great location to view the Waterfront Fireworks and enjoy all kinds of special amenities, from champagne to breakfast buffets with rates of $299 at the Hyatt at Fisherman’s Wharf and $219 at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco.

Ventura
If you want to feel like you are miles away yet stick close to home, the city of Ventura (ventura-usa.com) is a perfect option. Best-known for its cozy beachside atmosphere, Ventura bursts with activity during the month of December. The Winter Wine Walk takes place Dec. 4 with a sampling of fine wines and delicious appetizers in downtown Ventura’s restaurants and stores. Ventura Harbor’s Winter Wonderland and Carnival takes place Dec. 19 with faux snowfall, fudge tastings, ice-sculpting demonstrations and more from noon to 4 p.m. The harbor is filled with boats decked out with lights, and fireworks fill the sky during a two-day celebration on Dec. 17 and 18 with a family carnival and something for everyone.

Tel Aviv is Lonely Planet top 10 city


Tel Aviv is among the world’s top 10 cities for 2011 listed by the popular Lonely Planet travel guide website.

Lonely Planet puts Tel Aviv in third place behind Tangier, Morocco, in second and New York in first.

“Tel Aviv is the total flipside of Jerusalem, a modern Sin City on the sea rather than an ancient Holy City on a hill,” Lonely Planet writes of of Tel Aviv. “Hedonism is the one religion that unites its inhabitants. There are more bars than synagogues, God is a DJ and everyone’s body is a temple.

“Yet, scratch underneath the surface and Tel Aviv, or TLV, reveals itself as a truly diverse 21st-century Mediterranean hub. By far the most international city in Israel, Tel Aviv is also home to a large gay community, a kind of San Francisco in the Middle East. Thanks to its university and museums, it is also the greenhouse for Israel’s growing art, film and music scenes.”

The other cities on the list are Wellington, New Zealand; Valencia, Spain; Iquitos, Peru; Ghent, Belgium; Delhi, India; Newcastle, England; and Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Lonely Planet also selected its top 10 countries for 2011, ranking Syria in ninth place.

The stress-less Cote d’Azur


Everyone loves the idea of the South of France. But the reality? The crowds, the traffic, the high prices, the attitude? Not so much.

But with the summer reopening of Club Med Opio in Provence — after a $40 million renovation — it’s possible to avoid every one of those hassles. Within an hour of my arrival, I felt totally blessed rather than stressed. Call it the kinder, gentler Cote d’Azur.

Club Med Opio is a great base for exploring the famous hill towns of Grasse, St. Paul de Vence, Mougins and others. Cannes is down below at the seaside, just 10 miles away, with Nice and Monaco farther up the coast. The Club’s excursion desk organizes sightseeing trips and also works with guests to plan custom sorties.

With three pools to choose from, there’s never a shortage of lounge chairs. With multiple bars and cafes, chilly drinks are always at hand. Carefully hired and impeccably trained, the staff (employees are still known as gentils organisateurs, or GOs) is fully bilingual, young and infectiously friendly.

The 435 rooms are pristine, with cool stone floors, puffy white duvets and shiny red armoires that provide more than enough storage. (Rooms range from standard to balcony to suite.) Bathrooms have creamy stone sinks and showers big enough for two. A plasma TV picks up a few English channels and the air-conditioning blows stronger than the legendary mistral. My “Club Room” was small but filled with conveniences, such as twisty halogen spots for reading in bed, powerful hairdryers and plenty of electrical outlets (converters and adaptors are available but it’s best to bring your own).

But the Club Med concept has never been about rooms; it’s about hanging out with people from all over the world, enjoying the surroundings and public spaces, learning new skills and sports and chilling with family and friends. Communal areas are large and comfortable, with plenty of space for quiet or conversation, for curling up to read, for cool drinks in the shade. Club Med Opio offers tennis, golf, archery, trapeze, 4×4 treks, guided hikes, painting classes and other activities, either free or for a small fee. There’s a lovely spa, a well-equipped gym and a few exercise classes each day. A small but smart shop sells sparkly cover-ups, floaty linens for men and women, sunglasses and other resort essentials.

At the legendary buffet, the strategy is to blend local specialties with “safer” international cuisine, pleasing foodies and non-foodies alike. The choices were so extensive, in fact, it would be hard to imagine even the pickiest eater going hungry. While not glatt kosher, the buffet features a vareity of fish and vegetarian options. Local wines are placed on every table; beer, coffee, juice and soda you serve yourself. A second restaurant, at the golf course, offers table service and an a la carte menu.

Club Med’s all-inclusive policy is a particular treat when local restaurants are crowded. And with the dollar at its current low, the savings can be substantial: in this part of France it’s common to pay 3.50 euros for a cafe au lait and 50 euros per person for a mediocre bistro meal. The no-tipping policy is a convenience as well, as the “How much should I tip?” issue simply never comes up. Lock your wallet in your in-room safe and relax.

Club Med Opio has comprehensive facilities and activities for babies (four months and up), toddlers and teens. There’s a children’s restaurant, a circus school for kids, a baby-food buffet and more. Opio beautifully illustrates the company’s ongoing commitment to the upscale family market (seven-night all-inclusive packages start at $1,068 per person, land only).

Companywide, Club Med is in the midst of a $530 million restructuring, letting go of less desirable clubs, renovating others and building new ones from the ground up. Club Med Albion, which recently opened in Mauritius, is the first to be rated five tridents, the company’s highest rating. Three more new Clubs will open in the next two to three years.

If you’re thinking that a stay at Club Med Opio means giving up any of the pleasures of a French country vacation, that’s simply not the case. After a long day of hiking, I felt totally pampered as I kicked back on a deep terrace couch, Pastis in hand, and watched the sun set over the valley. The scent of lavender, rosemary, jasmine and pine perfumed the early evening breeze. A handsome GO played guitar while I eavesdropped on the conversations (in Dutch, Italian, French, Spanish and British English) around me. If there was anything less-than-perfect happening here, I wasn’t going to be the one to find it.

Julie Mautner is an American food and travel writer living most of the year in the South of France. Her work appears in Conde Nast Traveller UK, Food & Wine, Epicurious.com, American Way, Wine Spectator and many other publications.

Israeli spas may be just the thing for what ails you


Miracles in the Holy Land aren’t only of a spiritual nature. Israel also boasts a long list of spas with amazing healing properties.

Here’s a look at some appealing and pampering clinics. They all offer mineral-rich mud packs and other treatments to ease sore muscles, arthritis pain, asthma, psoriasis, eczema and other conditions. Of course, they also remedy ailments of the spirit.

Carmel Forest Spa Resort

Hidden among pine trees at the peak of Haifa — a northern city stretching from the Mediterranean to a mountain top — Carmel Forest Spa is a former sanitarium for Holocaust survivors. Renovated in recent years, it is now the definition of luxury.

Carmel Forest Spa is only accessible by private car or cab, but once you arrive, there is little reason to leave due to the lectures, concerts and various kinds of exercise options that include fitness walks, tai chi, yoga, meditation, aerobics and even swimming lessons. Rooms all have a view of the sea or the forest and are stocked with plush robes that cam be worn everywhere. Meals include options for low-fat and low-sodium dishes and dining on a verandah overlooking the Mediterranean.

Nearly every imaginable treatment, such as mud wraps, cranio-sacral balance and body peeling with water jets, are available. But the pinnacle is a 75-minute, four-handed ayurvedic massage ($115), an Indian treatment intended to calm the mind and eliminate toxins from the body.

The spa also boasts a beautiful mosaic on the floor of an Olympic-size swimming pool and an adjacent Jacuzzi. In the coed marble Turkish bath, visitors — clad in bathing suits — scrub down with complimentary disposable loofas or enjoy a massage.

In the afternoons, guests munch on complimentary cakes and blend their own herbal infusions in the lounge upstairs. The evenings feature lectures and concerts, or you can enjoy dinner on the veranda and then relax in the lounge.
For more information, call (011) 972-4-8307888 or visit ” target=”_blank”>http://www.mizpe-hayamim.com.

Dead Sea

The shores of the lowest place on earth are stocked with spas. And the Dead Sea, at 1,378 feet below sea level, fills the spas’ pools with unique, mineral-rich waters that are calming and curative for skin disorders, arthritis and respiratory ailments. You can also give yourself a do-it-yourself spa treatment by spending a few hours at the separate beaches for men and women south of the hotel strip.

At the women’s beach, for example, the “sand” inside the seawater is actually consistently clean salt. While standing in low water, you can relax as if sitting in a recliner. Because of the incredibly high salt content, guests float with great ease. Tiny cuts in your skin sting, but if you can, try to remain in the water for at least 20 minutes to soothe achy muscles and joints.

If you’re up for it, scoop up the salt sand in your hands and rub it over your skin for a “salt glow.” This is the same kind of exfoliating treatment offered at local spas.

If you’d like to try the classic mud of the Dead Sea, stop at any of the local shops, where you can pick up a package of smooth and creamy mud for a few dollars. Place it in the sun while you soak to warm it up.

After you emerge from your first dunk, rinse off in freshwate
r at a beachside shower, then smooth on the mud. After it dries completely, return to the sea to rinse off, rubbing your skin clean with a second round of exfoliation. Rinse once more in the freshwater and your skin will be remarkably soft. Wrap yourself up in towels and relax in the sun.

Because the Dead Sea is at the lowest point on earth, you can stay much longer in the sun without burning than at any other place on the planet.

Barbados’ Nidhe Israel: Torah on a tropical isle


When I tell people that we are members of Congregation Nidhe Israel, the Jewish community in Barbados, I get the most incredulous stares.

Barbados is, of course, well known as a “sun, sand and sea” island in the Caribbean, but it has many more attractions than these. Jewish visitors, in particular, are drawn to downtown Bridgetown, the island’s capital city, to visit the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere.

Unlike most Caribbean islands, Barbados is more than a mere resort. It is a parliamentary democracy patterned on the British Westminster system. While it was “discovered” and named by the Portuguese, it was settled by the British in 1625 and remained a Crown colony until Nov. 30, 1966, when it became an independent member of the British Commonwealth, a status similar to that of Canada. Today, its principal industry is tourism, although it also has a vibrant industrial sector, particularly in the area of information technology, due largely to its high education standards.

Barbados is the easternmost island in the Caribbean, some 1,600 miles from Miami. It is pear-shaped, just 21 miles long and 14 miles or, as it said in one of its ads, “a smile wide.” English is the primary language among 300,000 of the warmest, most welcoming people we have found anywhere.

The island receives close to 1 million visitors annually, about half of whom arrive by cruise ship and spend just a few hours there. Of the rest, about 50 percent are British and Irish. Americans and Canadians make up the majority of the rest, although there is a goodly smattering of Continental Europeans and residents of neighboring Caribbean islands.

Accommodations in Barbados run the gamut from super-luxurious resort hotels to modest bed and breakfasts, and there are also a vast number of villas and condominiums available for long- and short-term rental. Possibly the best known of the hotels is Sandy Lane with daily rates starting at more than $1,000 per day. Other leading hotels include the intimate 40-suite Cobblers Cove, Treasure Beach, which has a reputation for attracting famous writers, and the ubiquitous Hilton, with extensive facilities for meetings and conventions.

In addition to every imaginable water sport, the island offers several world-class golf courses, tennis, polo, horseback riding, hiking trails and biking, as well as the national passion, cricket. In fact, its brand new, state-of-the-art stadium hosted the 2007 Cricket World Cup finals.

Barbados has a wealth of historic attractions, including the recently renovated plantation great house, St. Nicholas Abbey, built in 1650 and one of only three Jacobean mansions in the Western Hemisphere (a second, Drax Hall, is also in Barbados; the third is in South Carolina). For Jewish visitors, however, the Bridgetown Synagogue and the surrounding cemetery is of supreme interest.

Jews first arrived in Barbados in the 1654 as refugees from the Inquisition in Brazil.

They introduced sugar to the island, and their community soon grew and prospered. Their first synagogue was destroyed by a hurricane in 1831, and a new synagogue was subsequently built on the same site. Due to intermarriage, a devastating hurricane and emigration, the original Sephardic community dwindled and had died out by 1929, after which the synagogue building was sold and used for a variety of purposes, lastly as a warehouse.

Jews began to arrive in Barbados once again as the situation in Europe deteriorated prior to World War II. The first of today’s Ashkenazic community to arrive was Moses Altman, who came from Poland in 1931. He was followed by his son, Henry, who today, at age 94, is the senior member of the island’s small but influential Jewish community of some 30 families numbering more than 100 permanent residents. They built their first synagogue and community center, Shaare Tzedek, in a residential neighborhood. That building, which is air-conditioned and has a kitchen, continues to be used during the warmer summer months for Shabbat services and throughout the year for holiday celebrations.

When it became known in 1983 that the abandoned synagogue in Bridgetown was to be demolished, Henry’s son, Paul, who was born in Barbados and is one of the island’s most prominent businessmen, approached then-Prime Minister Tom Adams and persuaded him to allow the Jewish community to restore the building and consecrate it once again as a synagogue.

After a major fundraising drive and with the assistance of architects and historians from England, the Bridgetown Synagogue was restored to its former glory. Friday night services, conducted by local lay leaders, are held there throughout the winter months. During major holidays they attract as many as 100 worshippers from the world over. The synagogue is patterned after the famous Bevis Marks Sephardic synagogue in London, with a magnificent ark, a reader’s table in the center and superb reproductions of the exquisite chandeliers and locally crafted mahogany benches. The synagogue’s Tablets of the Law and a large wall clock are originals.

The surrounding cemetery contains the graves of many of the original Jewish settlers, with inscriptions in both Hebrew and Ladino. An adjoining historic building is currently being renovated and will be used as a museum highlighting the history of the Jews in Barbados.

In the early 1990s, Barbados’ government issued a set of postage stamps to commemorate the re-dedication of the synagogue, and in 2004 it issued a commemorative $100 gold coin to mark the 350th anniversary of the establishment of the Jewish community in Barbados.

Of the many tourists we have met there, Ben Omessi, a recent visitor from Northridge, summed up the reactions typical of most describing the Bridgetown Synagogue, calling it “yofi m’od.”

I Was Kid Free and Guilt Free! For A Week!


My children were unexpectedly away for a week this summer, and I didn’t miss them a bit. Apparently, that’s grounds for expulsion from the Good Mommy Club.

My husband, 8-year-old son, 14-year-old daughter and I were on our way back to Los Angeles from a trip to Squaw Valley, and we’d stopped in the Bay Area to stay with family friends overnight. As we were packing the car the next morning and getting set for the long ride home, our hosts suddenly invited our two children to stay for the week.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “That’s way too much work for you.”
But they insisted that it was the perfect week for such spontaneity. Their own two kids, who are very close with ours, had nothing to do: no school, no camp, no anything.

“Let them all be together and have one last summer fling,” the mom said.
After a bit more requisite protesting on our part, my husband and I fished our children’s bags out of the trunk, went online to buy a pair of one-way airplane tickets for the following Saturday and found ourselves headed back to Los Angeles in a most unfamiliar position: just the two of us, alone.

At first, we felt more strange than giddy.

“Miss them yet?” my husband said after we had been rolling for, oh, three or four miles. But about halfway down I-5, it started to sink in: We realized that we’d been talking for hours and that no one had interrupted us to ask that we turn up the music (if it was theirs) or turn down the music (if it was ours). Or to tell us he was hungry. Or she was thirsty. Or had to go to the bathroom. Or to ask us when we would be arriving home — over and over and over again.

The next day I wasn’t even unpacked before I boasted to a friend — a bit smugly I admit — that we were child-free. She answered back: “You must miss them, though.”

“No,” I replied, “I don’t miss them at all.”

“Oh,” she said. “Wait a few days. You will.”

But I didn’t. Not then, not in a few days and not even on my last day of freedom. Frankly, I enjoyed every moment of it.

My husband and I dined out all but one night — and without the slightest consideration that my daughter doesn’t like Thai food or that my son won’t try Indian. We ate late, lingered over our last sips of wine and took long evening walks.

I slept in for a solid week, drank coffee and read my morning newspapers uninterrupted. When I sat down at my desk to work, my computer was not set on RuneScape, my son’s favorite online game. And my scissors, pencils and pens, pencil sharpener, dictionary, notepads and Scotch tape were exactly where I had left them the last time I used them. Miracle of miracles!

When I went to take a shower, no wet towels littered the floor, and I didn’t have to step over my daughter’s housecoat, blue jeans or discarded shoes to get there.

And every time I looked in the refrigerator or freezer for some juice, a piece of fruit, a bowl of ice cream, whatever, it was there because the hordes of teenagers that usually hang out at my house had not emptied it out five minutes after I’d returned from a $200 grocery store run.

I spent no time on the phone arranging carpools for my daughter or schlepping her to sleepovers, the mall or movies. My son did not noodge me for countless play dates, complain of being bored or pester me to buy him comic books or a Game Boy for his next birthday (still six months away). It was heaven.

I bragged to just about everyone I ran into that we were without our children for the week. Almost all of them asked if I missed them and almost all of them seemed surprised — some even slightly horrified — when I said no.

My husband asked me several times, as well, if I missed the kids, though he seemed more amused than shocked by my response: “Not even a little.”

Now, before you get your knickers in twist, know this: I love my kids deeply. And I was thrilled to see their sweet faces when they arrived home. But for goodness sake, they were gone for a blink. Next summer, I think I’ll try to convince them to go away for two weeks. Or maybe even three.

By then, after 51 weeks of togetherness, my Good Mommy credentials should be reinstated, my membership in the club renewed.


Randye Hoder is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles magazine, The Wall Street Journal and others.

No Vacation


The Israeli woman in the hot tub was feeling terrible.

She saw me wearing a T-shirt with Hebrew writing, and I heard her speaking to her daughter inHebrew, so naturally, amid the hundreds of sunbathers crowding the pool area of the Squaw Valley Resort, we found each other.

“It feels good to find someone to talk to about it,” she said.

By “it” she meant the situation her parents and extended family, who live on a kibbutz in the middle of the country, are facing.

The snow-capped Sierras jutted into a deeply blue sky. The hot tub bubbled away.”Israelis don’t want to run away when there’s a war,” the woman explained. “We want to run home.”

The night before, a relative from a northern kibbutz had e-mailed her a slide show of the after-effects of a Hezbollah rocket attack, and she had stayed awake playing it over and over in her hotel room.

All around us kids splashed, adults sipped pastel-colored rum drinks, the sunlight bounced off distant glaciers — and the Israeli woman told me she couldn’t relax.

What a week to vacation.

My wife and kids and I drove up U.S. Highway 395, crossed the Monitor Pass through a remote and perfect alpine landscape. But I am a subscriber to Sirius satellite radio, so as we descended through Markleeville, population 52, we heard CNN’s report on Israel’s gathering momentum for a ground invasion of Lebanon.

There was no cell phone reception at our little rented cabin near the west shore of Lake Tahoe, no Internet hot spots. But DISH network saucers grew at the base of the tall pines like forest mushrooms. By day we joined vacationers in serious pursuit of escape — tubing down the Truckee River, leaping off the dock into the deep, cold lake. At night, we watched missiles rain down on northern Israel and air strikes in Beirut. I turned away from the TV after realizing I was spending more time with CNN correspondent John Roberts, “reporting from the Israel-Lebanon border” than I was with my kids.

But the news kept coming. After a day at Sugar Pine Point State Park, an idyllic spot where Isaiah W. Hellman built a fine mansion on a quiet stretch of beach, I logged on to my e-mail to find that a deranged man had shot his way into the Seattle Federation building, killing Pamela Waechter, 58, and wounding four others.

At the gym at Squaw Creek, two men argued over Israel’s new war.

“At least we’re out of this one,” said one.

“Are you kidding?” his friend countered.

On cue, images of demonstrators in the streets of Beirut filled the flat screen mounted to his Stairmaster. “We get blamed for everything Israel does.”It’s a truism that technology has shrunk the globe and brought the tribulations of distant lands to our doorstep, or to our vacations. As much as we try to pretend there’s a faraway “they” and a safe and sheltered “we,” there are precious few places left to hide for long.

That goes double, triple for Jews. History has shown that world events have a way of catching up to Jews to us quickly, sometimes brutally. Until they do, each one of us chooses our place on the sliding scale from they to we. We can luxuriate in selecting the extent of our identity, the depth of our involvement — until we can’t.

The we-ness of our world came home to me as we dropped our son off for a stay at Camp Tawonga, a venerable Jewish camp tucked into a Tuolumne River valley. I noticed the roster listed several campers from towns in northern Israel — Kiryat Shemona, Metulla.

Camp director Ann B. Gonski told me that, for several years now, Tawonga has hosted Israeli children and counselors from northern Israel — Kiryat Shemona is a sister city to San Francisco’s Jewish community. This year there are 34 Israelis at the camp, sponsored largely by the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Foundation.

For these kids, Gonski said, camp will be a special respite from the violence. In the past the rules were one phone call home per week per Israeli.”This year,” she said, “we’re open to a lot more communication”As for counselors, Gonski said the Americans have received special training to deal with their Israeli counterparts: “We’ve told them, remember that your colleagues are really stressed. Be there for them, they’re a long way from home.”

As for my wife, daughter and me, we drove home, straight into the brouhaha about Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic rant. Now firmly ensconced behind my desk, I asked my friend Bryan, a television director, what accounted for the public silence from so many Hollywood Jews. Where was the sense of identity, of a communal fate that transcends business? Can’t they see a direct correction between those who hate Jews and those, like the Seattle shooter, who act on their hatred? Why don’t they choose to identify, like the people in Camp Tawonga, with a larger, communal need?

“Everybody has their head in the Garden of Finzi Contini and wants this all to go away,” Bryan said, citing the movie about Italian Jews oblivious to the impending Holocaust. “It’s actually the Garden of Malibu Contini — everybody’s playing tennis and golf and refusing to accept that hatred of this magnitude exists at the exclusive sushi table next to them.”

That is, until the vacation is over.

Gear Up for an Israel Vacation


With summer travel to Israel around the corner, now’s the time to plan your packing strategy. From new high-tech gadgets to easy-care clothing, from hybrid shoes to crushable sun hats, there’s plenty to choose from as gifts for loved ones and must-haves for your own comfort. We’ve identified select products to help with common travel dilemmas. Peruse our list for solutions to help you pack light, avoid sunburns, save on batteries and more. An added bonus: nearly everything — except for new prescription contact lenses — is available online or by phone.

Threads
Women visiting Meah Shearim and other religious sites need cool clothes for modest cover-ups. The hip, Pack-N-Go Cotton Crinkle Skirt ($59) stores in its own pouch and welcomes wrinkles; ” target=”_blank”>Sahalie.com, (800) 547-1160.

A convenient handbag is a woman’s travel must. The Space Saver Bag ($29.50) offers plenty of pockets to tuck it away with outdoor style; Sahalie. A microfiber Convertible Bag ($50) doubles as a compact backpack; Travelsmith.

For him, a Pre-Wrinkled Shirt ($45) works for daily and Shabbat wear; Sahalie. Cotton Kenya Convertible Pants ($69.50) double as shorts by zipping off the lower portion; Travelsmith. And the Intrepid Travel Hat ($52), a lightweight fedora, breathes, bends and repels water. Wrap it into itself for travel and then pop it back into shape upon arrival; Travelsmith.

For him and her, breathable CoolMax blended with cotton wicks away moisture while providing sun protection. A variety of styles, polos, tees, long sleeve shirts and undies, are available. Travelsmith ($40 and up). Avoid insect bites and sunburns with Buzz Off Convertible Pants with UV30+ protection for him or her ($79); Sahalie.

Footwear
Multipurpose sandals for hiking, touring and synagogue are the ticket. Chacos offer great support (even for those who usually wear orthotics) and come in a variety of designs. New thin-strap styles better conform to your foot. Lug soles offer great traction; ” target=”_blank”>REI.com ($60 and up).

Cool Mesh Low Quarter Socks ($9) keep tootsies cooler, drier and blister-free; Sahalie. And for shower wear and beach duty, Adidas ClimaCool Slides ($30) offer air mesh screening underfoot. Ventilated running shoes, warm weather sports tops and other products in the ClimaCool line are also available; ” target=”_blank”>Magellans.com, (800) 962-4943. And prevent carry-on security problems by packing the TSA-approved Personal Travel Kit ($70); Sharper Image.

For in-flight comfort, consider collapsible MP3-Enhanced Headphones ($35) and the ultra-cozy Nap Travel U-Pillow with Eye Mask ($25); Brookstone. Breathe in cleaner, fresher air with a personal Ionic Breeze Air Purifier ($30); Sharper Image. To relieve motion sickness, the watch-like ReliefBand ($89) sends gentle electrical pulses to interfere with nausea messages from the brain. Flight Spray ($15) helps relieve nasal dryness. And for bad backs and skinny tushies, select specially designed pillows and pads; Magellan’s.

In Israel, cool off Aussie-style with a Cobber Neck Cooler ($15), which features lightweight nontoxic crystals that stay cool for up to three days; Travelsmith. A Mini Misting Fan ($13) simulates playing in sprinklers — even in the back of the bus. The even larger Personal Cooling System ($30) fans the neck; Sharper Image.

Forget the need for constant batteries with electronic devices that you can crank up by hand. You “churn on” the Freeplay EyeMax Radio/Flashlight ($50) or juice up its solar cells in the sun; Sharper Image.Volunteering on kibbutz or studying abroad? Tune in with the AM/FM Grundig Emergency Hand Crank Radio ($50), complete with built-in flashlight and cell phone charger. ” target=”_blank”>rhythmfusion.zoovy.com, (831) 423-2048. Bird-watch with Micro-Zoom Binoculars ($99); Magellan’s. And take home memories with the Canon Powershot SD600 ($349), an economical solution for super high resolution in one tiny package.

Snow Job


Maybe I’m crazy, but each winter I plan a family vacation that is fraught with danger. To reach our destination, we must drive up a perilous mountain road studded with hairpin turns. Oddly, during our ascent, this NASCAR-approved artery is usually choked with fog or hail.

But this is only the hors d’oeuvre: The entrée is when everyone except for me straps themselves to bulky planks of wood before hurtling at 50 mph down icy slopes with names like “Surrender Isle.” I drop everyone off at the ski resort and then hightail it back to the cabin, where Ken waits for me, wagging his tail.

Like me, Ken is risk-averse and agrees that skiing is sheer madness and folly. We cuddle on the couch, I pop in a DVD and wrap my cold hands around a cup of hot cocoa.

This is not laziness. It is a necessary mental health exercise to banish images of my next of kin putting themselves in harm’s way on triple-black diamond slopes. Oh sure, I tried skiing — once. It was a disaster.

My husband had summoned every ounce of perseverance and patience in his DNA to try to teach me this skill, but we were not on speaking terms by the end of the lesson. Falling down repeatedly like a rag doll and getting tangled in skis is not my idea of fun, and I concluded that only fools or suicidal thrill seekers could embrace skiing as a sport.

By my reckoning, a Boggle tournament with serious players ought to be enough excitement for anyone. It is a tacit understanding between my husband and me that he is never to attempt to teach me any other athletic skill ever again.

Our mountain jaunts usually last for three days, but for the life of me, I can’t manage to prepare for them in under a week. I need at least a day to dig up mismatched gloves, hats and mufflers, which otherwise have no purpose in Southern California; two days to shop and cook; and at least three days to closely study the available accommodations advertised on the Internet.

Cabins in our price range are kindly referred to as “rustic.” Last year, we agreed that Casa de Pine Cone, equipped with a miniature pool table and dusty dining room lamp etched with the Budweiser logo, was a touch too rustic for our taste.

This year, I carefully avoided any cabin with the word “Kozy” in the name, because anyone who thinks it’s cute to further degrade our language won’t get a dime out of me. Besides, “cozy” (no matter how you spell it) is code for “so tiny even short people will have to bend over when taking a shower.” I also learned to be wary of cabins with French names, since a “chateau” where we once stayed should really have been called “La Hovel.”

But this year, I succumbed to temptation and booked Bear’s Détente, hoping that the kids might fight less around a dining table where the grizzlies and the black bears finally signed a truce. Bear’s Détente didn’t really do much to engender greater sibling love, but it was definitely a classier joint than Casa de Pine Cone. It had a thick stack of Family Circle magazines dating from 1999 and, in keeping with the European theme, a table lamp etched with the Heinekin logo.

Unfortunately, these trips are working vacations for me. As shlepper-in-chief, I am forced to tramp around in the snow half the day delivering snacks at 10:30 a.m., lunch at 1 p.m. and hand lotion and dry socks at 3 p.m.

For some reason, our designated meeting place is always on the top level of the slope’s multitiered eating areas. Believe me, trudging up all those stairs at an altitude of 6,500 feet should be more exercise than anyone seemingly on vacation should have to endure.

At the end of the day, I collect the entire freezing crew and shuttle them back to our cabin, while the kids clamor for dinner immediately. Despite the multiple snack deliveries, everyone is starving.

All this personal valet service I provide cuts pretty deeply into my DVD watching and hot chocolate sipping time, but I am the mother, and this is my job. In fact, my life on vacation is pretty much just like my life at home, only with pine trees.

One night by popular demand, my husband kindled a fire. This seemed like the perfect cozy finish to a tiring day.

“I’ll just make sure the flue is open,” he said, fiddling around in the fire pit.

“Why is it so smoky in here?” coughed one of the kids, as a haze quickly billowed through the room and the smoke detector beeped in alarm. They say where there’s smoke, there’s fire but not at Bear’s Détente.

By the time my husband found the flue opening, we had smoked out every last bear left in those mountains, while also failing to stoke any meaningful flames. On a happier note, I discovered that one can avoid deadly smoke inhalation by flinging open the front and back cabin doors and allowing the bracing, 20 degree air to clear the place out. I promise you that after an hour and a half, the smoke will be gone and so will the kids, who will be huddled in the car with the heater on.

Still, I consider the trip a success. Even though one son went missing one day, no one ended up in the resort’s mini-hospital, either from skiing accidents or too much family togetherness. Two trips to the local supermarket assured that we had enough to eat, the dog only got sick once and I finally got to finish my movie after only six sittings.

We left in the evening, and I drove us down that harrowing road, trying to think of safer destinations for next year. But I think I am too late. All the kids consider themselves ski bums. But with this designation, they can rent their own locker for snacks and dry socks during the day. There’s only so many times a woman can be asked to interrupt her movie marathon and hot chocolate sipping.

Isn’t that what vacations are all about?

Judy Gruen is the author of two award-winning humor books. Read more of her columns on www.judygruen.com.

 

Sondheim Knows How to Book ‘Em


Some people begin collecting because they’ve coveted certain objects for as long as they can remember. Others collect as an investment. And, of course, there are poseurs who hire prestige dealers to buy them trendy art because they want to be viewed as taste mavens.

Harry Sondheim, a retired criminal prosecutor for the L.A. County D.A.’s office, started to collect Judaica for none of those reasons. He was traveling in Holland when he simply noticed an artifact that appealed to him: “They had a museum, Der Weg, which means the Weighing House. They had an artist named Bicart. I bought some postcards with depictions of Jewish ceremonies on them. You can’t buy those postcards any longer.”

Reflecting his legal training, Sondheim answers questions methodically. Even his decision to focus on rare books, as opposed to art, shows a judicious attitude.

“It’s pretty hard to falsify a book,” he said, adding, “they’re not as likely to be stolen. If you have a thief in the house, they’re more likely to steal a silver menorah.”

Maybe it matters, too, that Sondheim attended the University of Chicago in the era when that institution still featured the Great Books courses.

Sondheim will be speaking at the 39th California International Antiquarian Book Fair’s “Collecting Your Roots” panel on Sunday, Feb. 19.

He especially likes rare manuscripts that include illustrations or, as he says, “depictions” of Jewish ceremonies and customs.

Sondheim has never taken a vacation specifically to collect books, but has purchased manuscripts at synagogues, museums and bookstores around the world, including Germany, where he can trace his genealogy back to around 1760. His family fled Germany in 1938, several months before Kristallnacht. The tomes he favors are typically printed in German, their existence all the more remarkable because of the Nazis’ program of burning Jewish books.

The best deal he ever got was a work by Arthur Szyk, a Polish Jewish artist from the first half of the 20th century who specialized in political caricatures and miniature painting. Given Sondheim’s background in the law, it is not surprising that he bought the “Statut of Kalisz.” The book is Szyk’s interpretation of a 13th-century manuscript that has been called the “Jewish Magna Carta,” a decree by which a Polish king gave Jews civil rights. Szyk illustrated the manuscript while also relating the statute to some other events in Jewish history.

“One page shows different occupations a Jew might have had, weaving, baking, a cobbler,” Sondheim said. “I acquired that at a reasonable price, around $17,000. Someone else’s copy was recently auctioned off for $64,000.”

Sondheim does not use eBay though he’ll search through an auction house’s Web site, which he calls “the equivalent of having their catalog.”

Collecting, he says, is “a sort of continuum. There are pictures of chuppahs from hundreds of years ago, and you have chuppahs today. You live the present through the past.”

The 39th California International Antiquarian Book Fair will be held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel, 2025 Avenue of the Stars, from Friday, Feb. 17 through Sunday, Feb. 19. Harry Sondheim will speak at the “Collecting Your Roots” panel, a free seminar, on Sunday at 2 p.m. For information, call (800) 454-6401.

 

Taking Winter Break on Jewish Time


Francis Bilak and her extended family are taking a cruise this week, but to do so, Bilak’s son, Michael, is missing a week of preschool at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy.

Hillel, like two-dozen other Orthodox schools in Los Angeles, doesn’t have the last two weeks in December off. Instead, yeshiva day schools take their winter break during the last week of January — the end of the first semester. Families like the Bilak’s have to adjust their schedule to a calendar that is a beat or two off from the rest of the world’s rhythm.

The current schedule was adopted by Orthodox schools in the last two decades, when the Orthodox community made a collective decision to follow a halachic ruling by the great contemporary sage, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, according to Rabbi Avrohom Stulberger, dean of Valley Torah High School in Valley Village and president of the Bureau of Jewish Education’s Yeshiva Principal’s Council.

Feinstein ruled that Jewish schools must be open on Dec. 25 to avoid giving any impression of Jews observing Christmas. He said that it was not appropriate for Jewish schools to be closed on Christian holidays, regardless of their status as national or legal holidays. Most schools offer a two-day Chanukah break, and some of them close for New Year’s Day (this year the two calendars coincide).

Although Feinstein’s work was published in 1956, the Los Angeles Orthodox community did not institute the policy until the 1980s, perhaps because the community was not as large, observant and as unified as it is now, Stulberger explained.

“As a community, it was time to make a stand,” Stulberger said.

Ruthie Gluck, whose daughter is in nursery school at Hillel, agreed with that reasoning.

“Children always have a happy, positive feeling associated with breaks from school, and I don’t think Jewish children should connect that feeling with Christmas,” she said.

While many Orthodox parents don’t see any threat or problem with having Christmas off, they still must adjust to the school calendar. For some, the schedule is a nuisance, disrupting family vacation plans. On the other hand, some couples enjoy the opportunity to drop the children off at school and spend a day off together.

Rabbi Moshe Dear, headmaster of Yavneh Hebrew Academy, is happy to take advantage of the late-January break, when popular vacation spots and local attractions are less crowded and sometimes less expensive than during the holiday season.

Many decry the fact that while the school is technically in session Dec. 25 (or this year Dec. 26), the day is often wasted, because non-Jewish teachers and support staff are given the day off. Some schools have special programs on that day, but that is little consolation for day school parents who suspect their kids have too many days off.

While Los Angeles public schools require 180 days of instruction, Jewish day schools — Orthodox and non-Orthodox — tend to have fewer school days. Day schools aim to provide between 175 and 180 days of instruction, but often don’t hit that mark, according to Gil Graf, executive director of the Bureau of Jewish Education.

This year, for example, Rabbi Jacob Pressman Academy, a Conservative day school, has 162 days of instruction, while students at the Reform Brawermen Elementary School of Wilshire Boulevard Temple attend school for 164.5 days. Yeshivat Yavneh, an Orthodox day school, has 170.5 days of classes, plus Sundays for boys in Grades 5 to 8.

This year was particularly hard on the calendar as all the High Holidays fell in the middle of the week, and some schools had as few as five days of classes during October.

Even so, Graff pointed out, school days at most Jewish schools are longer than at public or secular private schools, so students might be getting more hours in the classroom. A sixth-grader in day school, for instance, has anywhere from 10 minutes to more than an hour longer of school daily than a sixth-grader in public school. While most Jewish schools let out early on Fridays, most public schools have weekly or biweekly early dismissals for staff development.

Still, day school parents often complain that their children seem to be home too much — for parent teacher conferences, for teacher training days — given the workload students are expected to master and the tuition parents pay.

Another change in the Orthodox school calendar in the last two decades has been giving all of Sukkot off, resulting in 10 to 12 days of vacation in early fall.

“The Jewish community in Los Angeles used to have fewer families who built sukkot at home,” Stulberger explained, “so the schools remained open to give the children the opportunity to partake of the mitzvahs of Sukkot, such as benching lulav and eating meals in the sukkah. Now that so many families have sukkot at home, chol hamoed [the intermediate days of the holiday] is a time for families to enjoy the holiday together at home.”

Most non-Orthodox day schools are in session during Sukkot. Pressman Academy has school during Sukkot but refrains from assigning homework during that time, said Rabbi Mitchell Malkus, Pressman educational director.

Wilshire Boulevard also has school throughout Sukkot, even though most families build their own sukkahs at home.

“Reform Jewish education is now much more of an extension of home observance,” said Rabbi Elissa Ben-Naim, head of Judaic studies at Wilshire Boulevard,” rather than a replacement of it.”

 

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.

 

Families, Singles Get Ready to Set Sail


The leaves have turned, the days are shorter and Chanukah, the holiday of lights, glimmers ahead. With the winter looming, juicy possibilities await, with plenty of exotic, warm weather options. So go ahead and plan your first big escape of 2006. Or surprise a loved one by booking a post-Chanukah adventure. This might just be the trip of a lifetime.

New Year’s

Amazing Journeys offers a last-minute solution for single travelers in their 20s, 30s and 40s looking to ring in 2006 abroad. Sponsored in conjunction with the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, the program brings together Jewish singles Dec. 24 aboard a seven-night voyage on Celebrity Cruise’s Constellation from San Juan, Puerto Rico. The trip concludes with a bonus night and New Year’s Eve party at the El San Juan Resort. Ports of call include Aruba, Dominica and Curacao.

Price includes all meals (nonkosher), accommodations, gratuities, port charges and exclusive Amazing Journeys onboard events. An additional two-night, precruise stay at the Wyndam Condado Plaza Hotel and Casino starts at $369, tax and gratuity included.

Dates: Dec. 24-Jan. 1

Cost: $1,999 (double occupancy)

For more information, visit ” target=”_blank”>JSinglesCruise.com.

Families

Kosherica Cruises, which is known for its tradition of on-board concerts with Dudu Fisher, Mordechai Ben David and other performers, offers families opportunities to travel on the same ship as JSinglesCruisers. Activities include lectures with renowned speakers, such as Rabbi Maurice Lamm, as well as Israeli folk dance classes for women led by Dassie Shuster.

Additional upcoming itineraries for 2006 include the Panama Canal in February to exploring the Baltic in August and Australia and New Zealand next December. During the course of the year, Kosherica will also cruise South America.

For more information, visit ” target=”_blank”>ClubKosher.com or call (866) 567-4372.

Maui

Combine the beauty of Torah study with a tropical paradise during the third annual Kol Echad study program on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Kol Echad, a nondenominational community education program “without boundaries,” is teaming up with the Jewish Congregation of Maui for a weeklong Torah study intensive. No prior knowledge is necessary.

Instructors include Rabbi Yitzhak Schwartz of Jerusalem, founder of the Paradise Principal Institute, who will be teaching a course titled, “10 Sefirot — The Tree of Life: Accessing Our Own Divine Energy,” kabbalah-based techniques for personal growth. Rabbi Jonathan Feldman, associate director of Manhattan Jewish Experience, will present “Kabbalah of Bereshit: Biblical Personalities as Paradigms for Personal Quest.”

Most classes are held daily for about an hour and a half , with free time available for popular Maui attractions, such as scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing, hiking, golf, tennis and bike-riding the 10,000-foot Haleakala crater.

Donation includes a kosher Shabbat dinner, one meal daily, whale watch, guided beachside meditation, singles mixer and a cocktail reception showcasing the work of local Jewish artists.

Dates: Feb. 19-26

Cost: $630 (singles), $900 (couples) suggested donation for program.

For more information and assistance with flight and accommodations, which are booked independently, visit

Choose Your Own Cruise Adventure


Cruising isn’t what it used to be. And to the more than 10 million people who took to the high seas last year, that’s a good thing.

While cruising used to be considered a venue for “the newly wed or nearly dead,” 21st century cruising is attracting an entirely new audience, according to Tom Margiotti of Cruise One, a cruise broker. Margiotti sees the average traveler as more experienced, better read and more sophisticated than ever before.

“Cruise lines have done a fantastic job of figuring out what their customers want, and giving it to them,” he said.

This includes providing an unprecedented range of choices in everything from dining to special interest activities to meet that demand.

In surveying a cross section of cruise lines, from mid to high end, here are the latest trends in cruising:

Dining Your Way

It used to be that first or second seating were your only options when it came to dining. Not any more. Princess Cruises offer guests a choice of dining in the ship’s main dining room, or in one of several themed freestanding restaurants onboard. Norwegian Cruise Lines “freestyle” program takes that idea a step further, allowing passengers to dine whenever they like with whomever they choose. And the traditional formal night is now “formal optional.”

Healthful Cruising

You don’t have to gain weight on a cruise unless you really want to. The majority of cruise lines now feature a menu of healthful selections at every meal, including vegetarian entrees.

Spas at Sea

Luxury spas, with a full range of exotic treatment options, are becoming commonplace on new ships. Fitness facilities have evolved as well, now often comparable to full-service land-based fitness centers, complete with personal trainers and the latest work out equipment.

Staying Active

Interested in rock climbing? Feel like shooting a few hoops or strapping on your roller blades? You can do all that, and more, aboard many of today’s newer ships. For example, Royal Caribbean’s Voyager-class ships offer guests a rock-climbing wall, ice skating rink, in-line skating track, basketball court, golf course and virtual golf simulator.

Adventures Aboard and Ashore

If you think the typical shopping and sight-seeing excursions sound ho-hum, you have options. How about scuba diving, snorkeling, dog-sledding, sea-kayaking, white-water rafting, mountain biking, helicopter glacier adventure, fishing, hot-air ballooning, and golfing at world-class golf courses? Weaving eco-tourism and soft-adventure opportunities into cruise itineraries is the wave of the future.

You’ve Got Mail

Shipboard Internet cafes keep passengers connected no matter where they are on the nautical chart.

Special-Interest Cruising

This trend speaks to the need to maximize your time and experience while on vacation. More and more people want to have more than photographs to remember their holiday by. Themed cruises, as well as cruises that incorporate an enlightening agenda, touch on subjects ranging from art, architecture, wine and food, big band music, dancing and foreign language. There are even cruises that allow professionals such as physicians and attorneys to earn continuing education credits while at sea.

A Family Affair

Today’s cruise ships are designed with families in mind. Many cruise lines have full-service children’s programs that offer secure and supervised activities for children across a wide range of ages.

Most of these programs are staffed by professionally trained counselors and feature a combination of entertainment, activities and educational enrichment. Cruises are also a top choice for family reunions.

Shipboard Wedding/Honeymoon Combo

Weddings are performed aboard ship or on land in a number of exotic destinations, including Bermuda, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Hawaii and Alaska. Getting married onboard is so popular that Princess Cruises now includes a full service wedding chapel aboard its newer ships. The idea of combining the wedding with the honeymoon — with or without family and friends — is appealing to an increasing segment of the cruising population.

Enabled Cruising

A growing number of cruise lines have adapted their ships to be accessible to disabled individuals. From increasing the number of accessible cabins to making shore tenders and excursions accessible, strides continue to be made in these areas.

Freestyle Disembarkation

If you’ve ever cruised, then you know that the day of disembarkation can be an agonizing exercise in hurry-up and wait. Norwegian Cruise Lines now offers freestyle disembarkation, allowing you to sleep in, eat breakfast at a leisurely pace and disembark whenever it’s convenient.

Navigating the Cruise Waters

Picking your first cruise can be overwhelming. Cruising has its own lingo and every ship is different, so what’s a first time cruiser to do? It’s no wonder that some 90 percent of cruise passengers use travel agents to book their cruises.

The first question travel agent David Charles asks his customers is where they like to go on vacation.

“That gives me a feel for the kind of trip they like to take,” he said.

If they like to stay casual in shorts and sandals the whole time, there’s a cruise for them. If they like dressing up and fine dining, that’s another cue.

“There are so many options, you really need somebody who knows the business,” he said. Factors like age, budget, desired destination and if children are in the picture are all figured into the equation.

There are three basic types of cruises, with myriad variations within each category. There are the contemporary megaships, large cruisers powered by companies like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Disney and Norwegian Cruise Line. Then, up a price point, are the luxury ships, which include Princess, Holland America and Celebrity. Then there is the pinnacle of service and amenities in the premium segment, with names like Silversea, Radisson and Crystal.

A good cruise agent can make sure you are choosing the right ship, the right itinerary and the right cabin, assuring a more hassle-free vacation experience. But how do you find a good cruise agent? A good place to start is to ask someone you know who has cruised if they can recommend someone. It’s also good to work with someone who specializes in cruising, since he or she will have a better handle on the multitude of product in the market.

According to www.cruisecritic.com, the agent should also be able to:

Get ‘Wicked’ in the Windy City


If you’re not willing to wait to see the Wicked Witch of the West melt at the Pantages, you can always skip down the Yellow Brick Road, click your heels three times and say: “There’s no place like Chicago.”

“Wicked,” the Tony-award winning Oz-based musical is currently playing at the Oriental Theatre in downtown Chicago’s opulent Ford Center for the Performing Arts. The company featuring Carol Kane will leave Chicago for Los Angeles on June 12. But immediately after the touring cast leaves, a permanent cast will take over with “Saturday Night Live” alum Ana Gasteyer headlining in the role of Elphaba, the green-skinned wicked witch. The permanent troupe is expected to play through until the end of September, possibly longer. So if you are unable to secure tickets for the Los Angeles production, which ends its run on July 31, consider a trip to Chi-town.

Thanks to more than 200 theatres, the City of Big Shoulders, as Carl Sandburg called it in his 1916 poem “Chicago,” is fast becoming the City of Big Ticket Sales. Chicago features big-budget musicals like “The Lion King,” “Cats” and “Little Shop of Horrors”; notable playhouses such as The Steppenwolf Theatre (created by John Malkovich and Gary Sinese); and long-running faves, like Second City, Blue Man Group, “Menopause: the Musical” and “Late Nite Catechism.”

A song in “Wicked” describes an incredible day in the fictional Emerald City, but the same could be said of the Windy City: “One short day full of so much to do. Ev’ry way that you look in the city, there’s something exquisite you’ll want to visit before the day’s through.”

More than 2.77 million Chicagoans work, live and play in nearly 100 distinctive neighborhoods, divided by ethnicity, class and geography. Navigating the city can be a daunting, perplexing task. Luckily, Chicago Greeters (” target=”_blank”>www.chgocitytours.com) offer two-dozen excursions throughout the year that allow visitors to explore these “cities within the city.”

The heart of Jewish Chicago can be found in the neighborhood of West Rogers Park, and Devon Avenue is its main artery. Over the years the area has become ethnically and religiously diverse, featuring a plethora of Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants and shops. A large Orthodox community inhabits the area, which frequents the cleverly named kosher Chinese restaurant Mi Tsu Yun and more than 20 synagogues, most of which are Orthodox or Traditional.

The Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies on Michigan Avenue features something for children with the traveling exhibit, “Every Picture Tells a Story: Teaching Tolerance through Children’s Picture Books” (” target=”_blank”>www.millenniumpark.org), where outdoor concerts, gardens and an ice skating rink bring a sense of tranquility to the urban jungle.

While the views of the lakefront from the ground are incredible, nothing beats the view from the top. Visit the 150-foot Ferris Wheel overlooking Lake Michigan on Navy Pier (” target=”_blank”>www.hancock-observatory.com). Of course, there’s always the tallest building in North America (second-tallest in the world), the 110-story Sears Tower and its 103rd-floor skydeck (” target=”_blank”>www.artic.edu/aic), which houses more than 300,000 works, including Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.” For interactive Americana, the Museum of Science and Industry (” target=”_blank”>www.architecture.org), which spotlights more than 50 of Chicago’s most spectacular waterfront sites. Grab a snack on board the ship, or get something really unique to the city once you disembark.

The first rule of thumb when eating in Chi-town: If it ain’t a Chicago dog, it ain’t a dog. The steam-cooked all-beef dogs, which come in a kosher variety, are only authentic when eaten with yellow mustard, pickle relish, onions, tomatoes and celery salt on a poppy-seed bun — never order ketchup.

The second rule of thumb when eating in Chi-town: Pizza isn’t pizza if it can’t be eaten with a knife and fork. For Chicago deep-dish, there’s really no wrong way to go: Pizzeria Uno and its sister restaurant Pizzeria Due’s (” target=”_blank”>www.loumalnatis.com, which will ship anywhere in the country); and, if your lucky, you’ll stumble into a little-known treasure like Joey Buona’s (” target=”_blank”>www.thedrakehotel.com), across from Oak Street Beach.

Turn the corner from the Drake and it’s shopping heaven up and down the Mag Mile with stores like Neiman-Marcus, Niketown and the American Girl Place. Your nose will beckon you to make a stop at Garrett’s Popcorn Shop at 670 N. Michigan (it’s worth the occasional 45 minute wait).

Down the street is a piece of Chicago history — the stone-built Old Chicago Water Tower, the only structure in the city to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. For another landmark, head over to State Street (“that great street”) and spend some time (and money) at the flagship Marshall Field’s department store, a city treasure for 150 years that spans an entire block and comes with its own audio tour.

At night, the city comes alive with its own vibe. Chicago is famous for its own style of the blues and some of the city’s best can be heard at B.L.U.E.S. (” target=”_blank”>www.bluechicago.com). Then toast your vacation with a breathtaking backdrop at the Hyatt Regency’s BIG Bar (chicagoregency.hyatt.com), where patrons can indulge in an 48-ounce Cosmopolitan or a “Big” “Bigger” or “Biggest” beer on tap at the longest free-standing bar in North America.

With so much to do, don’t expect a relaxing vacation in Chicago. But with its culture, cuisine and construction marvels, Chi-town just might make you feel like you’re ended up somewhere over the rainbow.

For tickets to “Wicked,” visit ” target=”_blank”>www.choosechicago.com. For more information on Chicago’s kosher options, visit

Resorting to Passover at Home


 

My friend Rhonda asked me nonchalantly, “Where are you going for Pesach this year?”

Envisioning the whirlwind travels ahead, my head began to spin. “I’ll begin at Target for new shelf paper, sponges, paper goods, cleansers and a new broom. Then I’ll dock briefly at Ralphs for the special deal on shmura matzah and whatever else they’ve got for Pesach that’s on sale. Next I’ll bully my way in to the kosher market for meat, wine and enough matzah meal to plug up the Hoover Dam. Then I’ll get over to Stan’s Produce for fruits and vegetables. By that time, I’ll have thought of dozens of other things I need, and start the whole thing over again. How about you?”

“We’re going to the Mauna Lani Hotel in Hawaii,” Rhonda said, barely able to look me in the eye.

Faster than you could say “dayenu,” my Jewish spiritual training to be happy for my friend battled with a far less noble instinct: insane jealousy. Never having been to one of these glatt-kosher shebangs, part of me longs for the unimaginable luxury of an entire Pesach without the endless cleaning or shopping, a week of catered gourmet cuisine, my choice of inspiring shiurim and lectures, and simple relaxation. But with a family of six, the cost of these jaunts sends me reeling. That kind of money pays for one and a half tuitions for a year. It could almost remodel a bathroom. We just don’t have that many disposable shekels lying around.

When I think of the burgeoning business of plush Pesach resorts, all I can say is, we’ve come a long way, bubbeleh. Not for these Jews the toothbrush scrubbing of the glass refrigerator shelves, the scouring of closets in search of a long-lost Milk Dud or the hefting of briskets large enough to feed every player on the Lakers. No, these Jews can just up and sell the chametzdik house for the week before jetting off to relive the Exodus on a sun-drenched beach. Well, a beach has sand, and Egypt had sand, so maybe there’s the connection.

My good friend, Dr. Diane Medved, a clinical psychologist and author, has never made Pesach at home. That’s because she and her husband, nationally syndicated talk show host and author Michael Medved, are sought-after speakers on the Pesach resort circuit. Over the years, they’ve poured their four cups of wine in Coronado, Phoenix, Hawaii and, Diane’s personal favorite, Hot Springs, Va. The Medveds have to sing for their suppers, with each of them giving lectures five or six times during the week. Still seems like a great deal to me.

“I know I’m diminishing my reward by not making Pesach at home,” Diane told me, “but I’ve managed to let that pass by. I don’t miss layering aluminum foil all over my kitchen and buying all that matzah. I look forward to it as a vacation.”

Although Diane lectures on relationship and child-rearing issues, her best-attended class is dubbed, “Free From the Fat Mentality,” an especially relevant topic given the food, which Diane says is served in “staggering” proportions.

Diane also enjoys meeting new friends, as well as the choice of participating in communal seders or small family seders, which are both offered.

But other friends who’ve attended resorts have returned convinced that Pesach was meant to be celebrated at home. And despite my slight case of Pesach resort envy, I also find the hard work of making Pesach liberating in its own way. If I am disciplined, I’ll clean and cook while listening to taped shiurim on the spiritual messages of Pesach. If I am disciplined, I’ll also take time to think, taking a “spiritual inventory” of myself while I clean. That way, both my house and my neshamah can embrace the holiday on a deeper level.

Also, being so deeply invested in the process of making Pesach makes sitting down to the seder an enormously satisfying feeling. Besides, Moshe didn’t keep barging into Pharoah’s palace demanding, “Let my people go … to the Las Vegas Ritz Carlton!”

I’m sure it’s possible to have a meaningful Pesach when you are also snorkeling or tossing the dice in a casino in between buffets (Is there ever a time when there isn’t a buffet?), but after all these years, finding myself in a resort while celebrating our redemption from slavery would feel like an out-of-body experience. Or like I won the lottery.

If money were no object, or if I were invited as a guest at a resort in exchange for some speaking gigs along the way, I’d be mighty tempted. (Note to Pesach resort planners: Very few people fall asleep during my humor presentations. And after all that food, they might be falling asleep because they’re full.)

In the meantime, I’m rolling up my sleeves, digging out my Pesach tapes and starting the Pesach-prep hustle. Perhaps sometime soon I’ll be rich enough to say, “Next year in Palm Beach!”

Judy Gruen is the author of two award-winning humor books and the popular “Off My Noodle” column. Read more of her work on www.judygruen.com.

 

Pesach Trip Options Beyond the Ordinary


 

Passover travel once meant shlepping to Miami Beach, where great operatic tenors like Robert Merrill and Jan Peerce would conduct the seder at a fancy-schmancy hotel, or to the Catskills, which was more haimish but just as fattening.

But Passover travel options today have expanded to include experiences ranging from Disney World to the Caribbean to a dude ranch in Wyoming. And you can get some decent deals on Miami Beach, too.

In fact, the entire kosher travel business — especially around the United States — has grown dramatically in recent years, according to industry executives.

“It’s exploded,” said David Lawrence, an executive with Kosher Expeditions, which has offices in Atlanta, New York and Los Angeles and offers kosher-catered trips to places ranging from Alaska to Zimbabwe.

Lawrence attributes much of the increase in kosher travel to the situation in Israel, where the intifada has discouraged many would-be tourists from vacationing in the Holy Land.

“We’re getting a lot of day schools that used to go to Israel but are now looking for other options,” he said.

Kosher Expeditions and other travel companies are also becoming more adept at reaching specific Jewish market segments, according to Margo Dix Gold of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.

“Trips are no longer marketed only for seniors and empty-nesters,” said Gold, noting that more and more vacations are being designed for singles or for people desiring adventure travel.

For example, Kosher Expeditions’ Lawrence said, his company can provide food for observant Jews who want to take a leisurely cruise or climb Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro.

“Kosher-trained chefs and mashgiachs [kosher inspectors] travel with our groups,” he said, “and we’ll fly in food if necessary.”

The Jewish travel business is especially good around Passover, Atlanta’s Gold said.

“Passover is the most celebrated holiday amongst Jews, even for those who are not very observant,” she said. “Almost all Jews will celebrate Passover in some way.”

And that has led a variety of companies to offer Passover vacation packages.

For example, MatzaFun Tours offers Passover at Disney’s Contemporary Resort in Orlando. In addition to all the Mickey Mouse you can stand, the package features three gourmet glatt kosher meals daily and traditional family seders, daily synagogue services, guest lecturers and nightly entertainment. Included are children’s Park Hopper passes for full-stay guests and transportation to all Disney theme parks. For more information, visit www.matzafun.com.

If you prefer to spend Passover at sea, the Ontario Travel Service is booking passengers aboard the Deep South Caribbean kosher cruise, departing from Ft. Lauderdale on April 22. The cruise package includes seders on the first two nights of Passover conducted in a separate area of the dining room under Conservative supervision.

Greg Bernhardt took the cruise with his mother and daughter, enabling him to spend Passover with his mother for the first time in years since he became observant.

“People who do not keep strictly kosher feel comfortable on the cruise, and the kashrut was good enough for me,” he said. “But the best part was re-uniting the family and spending the holidays together.”

At one point during the cruise, Bernhardt recalled, Jewish passengers who were not part of the kosher contingent asked if they could participate in the Yizkor service, while another passenger — an adult — celebrated his bar mitzvah with the group. That kind of cohesiveness appealed to Bernhardt and his teenage daughter, who made friends from Scotland and Ireland while on the ship.

The Deep South itinerary includes stops at Martinique, Barbados, Antigua, St. Maarten and the Bahamas. For more information, call (800) 893-5617.

For something really different, Kosher Expeditions offers a dude ranch adventure in the not-so-wild West. Participants can ride horseback, go white-water rafting, relax in a hot spring and explore nearby Yellowstone National Park.

Joel Weinberger took his two daughters on the dude ranch trip a couple of years ago. “My kids got the experience of being out there in rural America,” he said.

All meals were glatt kosher, served family-style in the ranch’s dining room with several barbecues during the week. There’s no roughing it, either. The Kosher Expedition’s package includes modern cabins with private baths and maid service. For more information about the dude ranch adventure, call (800) 923-2645.

For something a little more laid back, Club Kosher offers their yearly package dubbed, Passover in Paradise, with two destinations: Cancun and Tuscan, Ariz.

The Cancun trip offers guests typical resort amenities and expansive child-care programs at the Hilton, as well as atypical Mexican fiestas for those looking for a good party.

In Arizona, spa delights abound and the resort features an expansive golf course. There will also be ample opportunity to explore spiritual realms with scholar-in-residence, Rabbi Manis Friedman. For details, visit www.ClubKosher.com or phone (866) 561-4312.

If San Juan or San Diego appeals to you, Afikomantours offers two resort packages featuring glatt kosher meals, seders and children’s camp. For more information, call (888) 234-5669.

And there’s always Miami Beach, where several hotels offer complete packages. For more information, visit

Buenos Aires Let Me Dance to Your Beat


 

In Buenos Aires you wouldn’t know about the Argentine economy’s disastrous crash — except, perhaps, by chatting with your taxi driver and discovering he was a former tycoon.

BA, as old hands call it, has retained its prosperous appearance and cosmopolitan cool, and it remains one of the world’s most fabulous cities. In fact, given the peso devaluation, the once-pricey Argentine capital should be visited soon, while its delectable cuisine and shopping, some of the finest in South America, are a relative bargain.

No wonder this glittering capital was so inviting to the upwardly mobile Evita in the early 20th century — this huge but green city boasts a level of European-style opulence and elegance equal to anything in Europe, and most closely recalls the finest residential neighborhoods of Paris.

Like Paris and London, Buenos Aires is made up of clearly defined neighborhoods, each with its own flavor. Visitors tend to concentrate in the smart enclave of Recoleta, which boasts not only the finest hotels but the city’s most intriguing attraction — the cemetery where Evita and all the rest of the town’s high society are buried. This fashion plate of a cemetery is a delightful and not remotely spooky place to stroll, with a wonderful craft market on the perimeter to boot.

Visitors are invariably trundled across town to the working-class neighborhood of La Boca, home of the signature postcard cityscape of brightly colored buildings amidst which young tango dancers strut their stuff on every street corner. Unlike laid-back Recoleta, the neighborhood is a bit of a tourist trap with its gaudy street art and restaurants where extra charges are levied for the entertainment that comes with lunch. However, it is worth a visit if only to see the immaculate young dancers in a more intimate setting than the big, fancy tango shows in halls packed with foreign tourists.

Another place to see tango dancers against a natural backdrop is Sundays at the Plaza Dorrego in the evocative San Telmo neighborhood, which with its cobbled streets and handsome 19th-century houses is definitely worth a stroll. Or the intrepid might consider visiting a milonga, one of the city’s many authentic dance halls where the natives gather nightly to tango; some offer lessons as well as an opportunity to gawp at the amateur experts.

In the city center, after a de rigeur cappuccino at the marvelous, if rather snooty, fin de siecle Cafe Tortoni, head for the Plaza de Mayo. The whole handsome plaza, bordered on one side by Evita’s Casa Rosada (Pink House) palace, is a wonderful testament to the public right to protest.

A visit to the Templo Paso shul in Once (pronounced Onsay), the old Jewish commercial area, can be arranged through specialist tour operator Last Frontiers. Once retains the odd Jewish clothing shop and other remnants of Jewish life while largely given over to newer waves of immigrants. Today’s shoppers are more likely to be found in and around the pedestrianized shopping area of Florida, where one of the finest stores is the Jewish-owned leather business of Silvia and Mario. Downstairs is a range of styles in sumptuous hides, upstairs the tailors who will custom-make any pattern in 24 hours.

Exquisite food is another bargain in BA while the peso remains devalued, and even kosher travelers can enjoy the world’s finest beef thanks to the city’s best hotel, the Jewish-owned Alvear Palace, which boasts a kosher kitchen. The Alvear is like the Savoy transplanted to South America, though it remains expensive, devaluation or no.

While many will adore its tradition, there is no doubting the value on offer at the nearby Four Seasons, whose huge suites and outdoor pool are not to be sniffed at. Next door is the city’s finest Italian restaurant, Piegari (in this city where 40 percent of residents are of Italian origin, pasta joints are numerous and excellent), while nearby is the city’s best steakhouse, the incredibly elegant La Cabana. This is not to be confused with the more informal but equally excellent Cabana Las Lilas in Puerto Madero, the lively reclaimed docklands area. Both restaurants serve fish and excellent vegetable dishes, and the rich, creamy spinach gratin alone justifies the trip to La Cabana.

One day in BA should be set aside for a trip into the watery suburbs of the Tigre Delta. Here 3,000 people live full time in delightful houses on a series of islands where every necessity from school teachers to ice cream is brought to their door by boat. It is feasible to try out the lifestyle by renting a cottage for the weekend, but it’s also a great idea to take the tiny suburban Tren de la Costa to the terminus for boat rides around the delta. Every station along the little branch line offers a different attraction — antique shopping on one platform, gourmet dining on the next — and it would hard to think of a more agreeable holiday outing than getting on and off the train for a nosh and a browse, finishing with a leisurely cruise through the backwaters. Don’t leave, though, without visiting the Puerto de Frutas craft market for pretty and unbelievably inexpensive sea grass baskets and other hand-made souvenirs.

Different tour groups offer a Jewish Buenos Aires Tour, which is a day tour of sites like the Immigrant Museum, Israel Embassy Plaza, Lavalle Plaza, Libertad St. Synagogue, AMIA Federation Building, and Paso St. Synagogue. For more information, visit www.AllAboutAR.com, The Argentina Travel Guide.

Anthea Gerrie writes for the London-based Jewish Chronicle.

 

Nevis’ Jewish Past a Tropical Treasure


 

Savvy travelers in need of a getaway come to the Caribbean island of Nevis to relax at restored sugar plantations, like the Montpelier Inn, or the opulent Four Seasons. Celebrity visitors have included Michael Douglas, Oprah Winfrey and Princess Diana, who immediately fled to the island to relax after her breakup with Prince Charles.

Tourists soak up the sun on the island’s beaches and watch for whales, snorkel in the crystal-clear turquoise sea and hike its lush hills listening to the chatter of green vervet monkeys. Nevis is home to 10,000 people, and charming Caribbean gingerbread-style buildings along downtown Charleston’s tiny main street evokes the feeling of “Gulliver’s Travels” as tourists visit area shops and restaurants.

This Leeward Island destination, known as the “Queen of the Caribbees,” was also once home to dozens of hard-working Jews whose story makes up a little-known chapter of Caribbean Jewish history. It’s been centuries since a Jewish community has called Nevis home, but references to the “Jews’ School” and the “Jewish Temple” remain a colorful part of island folklore.

“Nevis has a remarkable story to tell of a community that used to be,” said David Rollinson, a local historian who conducts Jewish tours of the island. “The cemetery is all that’s left now and it continues to give us valuable insight into the lives of the Jews of Nevis.”

Sitting southeast of Puerto Rico, Nevis is the smaller sister island to neighboring St. Kitts (a 20-minute ferry ride), which tends to be more rough and tumble. Nevis is nearly 7 miles in diameter and was first spotted by Christopher Columbus in 1493 on his second voyage to the New World. Columbus called the island Nieves, the Spanish word for “snows,” because the islands volcanic peaks reminded him of the snow-capped Pyrenees.

By the mid-1600s, Nevis’ sugarcane industry made it a Caribbean powerhouse. Sephardic Jews expelled from Brazil by the Portuguese were drawn to the island. And by the early 1700s, one-quarter of the Caucasian population in Charleston were Jewish.

The Colonial period brought about a synagogue, but the exact date of its construction is unknown. A school followed, which was attended by the non-Jewish son of U.S. founding father Alexander Hamilton, who was born on the island in 1757.

By the end of the 18th century, the sugar industry went bust and the Jewish families moved away in search of new jobs, leaving behind their stores and homes. The synagogue and school were closed. Today, the only visible reminders of that once-vibrant community are the 19 surviving grave markers in the Nevis Jewish Cemetery.

Scholars and archaeologists from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom have long been fascinated with Nevis’ Jewish history. Funds from various organizations, like the Commonwealth Jewish Council, have been able to piece together a picture of what Jewish life was like from the clues in the cemetery.

Located on Government Road, a few minutes from the pier in Charleston, the cemetery stands in the middle of what once was the Jewish neighborhood. Grave markers, inscribed in Portuguese, Hebrew and English, date from 1650 to 1768 and bear names like Marache, Pinheiro, Mendez, Lobatto and Cohen. However, on some the writing is barely legible. Forty more burial sites, without markers, were identified some 20 years ago by a survey done on the grounds.

Rededicated in 1971 after a Philadelphia couple organized the cleanup and restorations of the gravestones, today the cemetery’s sacred grounds are carefully manicured by the Nevis Historical and Conservation Society.

“It’s a very emotional experience for people who come here,” said Rollinson, who watches as tourists quietly place stones on the above ground tombstones as a show of respect. “It’s an emotional experience for me, too.”

Across the street is a narrow vine-covered laneway the locals still call “Jews Walk” or “Jews Alley” which may have led to the Jewish school and kitty-corner from the cemetery is a typical Caribbean clapboard house that was built on the land where the synagogue once stood. Details about the school are sketchy but Dutch archives indicate the synagogue was built in 1684. Sadly, not an artifact has been recovered; historians believe the congregants took the valuables with them when they left the island.

Nevis’ library features some of the best local history books, including books on the area’s Jewish history, and offers the cheapest Internet connections on the island.

To the Nevisians, this area will always be “the Jewish neighborhood.” Some old-timers even remember their great-great-grandparents talking about the Jews who used to live there.

“It’s important none of us forget about those families all those years ago,” said T.C. Claxton, a British expat who has been driving a taxi on the island for 30 years. “Future generations have a lot to learn from this past.”

For more information about Nevis, visit