People often ask me what I am doing for Pesach. With my work life in tourism, they think I have the magic answer.
Maybe I do? As a family we have done it all in the last 10 years since we made Aliyah. My family enjoys staying at home and participating in local events, going away to a hotel on our own or joining an organized Pesach program.
The Pesach that kept all of my family entertained was the one where we joined (as regular paying guests) an organized program run by David Walles of Kosher Travelers in the “Riviera of the Middle East” at the Ramada in South Beach Netanya. Being part of a program, there were activities for everyone and I was able to sit back by the pool and relax with a few trips inside to the delicious tea room!
When choosing a Pesach program for your family these are the questions you need to ask yourselves.
GROUP SIZE – First things first, do a head count, who is joining you this Pesach? Is it just your family, your extended family or do you want to meet up with friends from abroad?
Pesach is a great time to meet up with friends who live in other parts of the world. In Netanya, I watched my 5 year old cartwheeling and somersaulting with the daughter of one of my oldest childhood friends. Since she lives in NY now, it was a great opportunity for us to catch up as our kids formed a new friendship with each other. Planning ahead to be at the same program worked out well.
LOCATION – Where would you like to be? Is there a city that you love or one you have never been to and would like to explore?
Pesach programs can be found across the country in Eilat, the Dead Sea, Tel Aviv, Galil/Golan, Netanya and even in Jerusalem. Each region of the country has its own weather, attractions and vibe. Are you looking to relax by a pool or enjoy family hikes in nature? Plan what type of activities you want to do and then choose the right location.
SEDER NIGHT – Do you want a program that provides a private room for your Seder?
This has always been a very important factor for my family since our kids like to be the “star of their own show” and have a family centered seder. Pesach programs offer lots of options from private seder rooms to larger communal seders or semi private seders. Just make sure to mention it when you make the reservation and ask for the additional cost of a private option.
KIDS CLUB – Do you want kids and teen programming in English?
For families visiting from abroad this can be a lifesaver. Teen counselors who speak english can entertain your kids in the kids club while you relax by the pool or enjoy the other activities of the program. Make sure to check that the program you are reserving has an english kids program.
LECTURES – Are Scholar in Resident speakers or Shiurim an important part of your Pesach experience?
Most of the American-style programs have an in house Rabbi and lecturers who provide daily shiurim and lectures in English. For example at the Kosher Travelers program this year you can hear Rabbi Dov Peres, Rav Moshe Taragin, Rav Zev Shandalov, Rav Reuven & Dr Yael Zeigler. It is a great opportunity to enjoy learning from some of Israel’s education superstars.
FOOD – What type of food are you looking for? Do you need a hotel that provides gourmet meals that are Glatt or do not have Kitniyot?
When we first moved to Israel 10 years ago, finding an Israeli hotel that didn’t serve Kitniyot was nearly impossible. Today there are many more options but make sure to ask.
In Israel when you book a hotel you always need to decide in advance if you would like B&B (Bed & Breakfast), Half Board (Breakfast & Dinner) or Full Board (Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner). The same is true for a Pesach program. Each family needs to decide what works for them. For my family, we find that after a large and delicious breakfast buffet the kids enjoy light snacks at the pool during the day and then a full dinner buffet at night – so we choose half board.
Check if your hotel has a pool bar or lobby cafe in case you get peckish.
ENTERTAINMENT – Do you want a program that provides evening entertainment?
The best parts of our vacation in Netanya were the exciting evening performances. We enjoyed a show by a mind reader, a Solomon Brothers Band concert, a magician and an interactive show with a local HOP tv personality for kids. They made sure to have entertainment that excited the kids, teens and adults.
FAMILY TOURS – Do you want organized tours and tiyulim?
Taking a family on a “tiyul” (hike) in Israel can be daunting if you don’t know where to go but it is a local pastime. That’s why many of the Pesach programs offer group tiyulim where they can take you on a hike or adventure with an English speaking trained guide, who can bring the story alive for adults and kids.
FACILITIES – Does the hotel have facilities to keep us busy? Pool, spa, gym, beach?
Have you heard of the expression “beten gav”? It’s the local Israeli expression for R&R (rest & relaxation) and refers to a person who likes to sit by the pool or beach. Make sure you check out the facilities of the hotel you are choosing. Will the pool be mixed family swimming, separate swimming or have both? Is the beach walking distance?
TEA ROOM – Is there a Tea room for hungry kids & adults during the day?
As a kid growing up in Los Angeles, the first Pesach program I ever visited was in Palm Springs. I was wowed by the concept of a tea room. Now the tea room has become a “must have” part of any Pesach program. In Netanya we enjoyed an afternoon tea room with ice cream, fresh fruit, candy, marshmallows, cookies and cake. For my kids it was the highlight of the day and worth getting out of the pool for.
If this is your first year away, or your 15th I hope some of my Pesach program planning tips help you find an incredible getaway for your whole family.