The Exodus from Exodus

letter-447577_1280

There are good reasons why so many religious Jews – and the number is growing – go to hotels for Pesach. Some have too few people around the table to make a seder, while others have too many. There are the elderly and frail who cannot cope and there are the families with working mothers who do not have the energy or time to prepare properly for Yom Tov. For many, this is the only or primary vacation. Affluence is obviously a factor, if only because it is costly to go to a hotel and there are religious Jews who can afford the cost. Affluence also has meant larger homes and this means more space to clean and supervise and this factor also contributes to the exodus.

But for all of the good reasons why so many go away, this is a stunning phenomenon that departs by nearly 180 degrees from what had been standard practice among Orthodox Jews. In my youth and well into adulthood, there was the simple precept that during Pesach “mir mishich nisht,” which as a practical matter meant that people ate in their own homes and in no one else’s, except perhaps for the last day of the holiday. This certainly was the rule in pre-churban Europe.

Even if we acknowledge that there are those who need to or should go away, what has happened is unsettling. In the aggregate, the Pesach-in-hotel phenomenon costs in the tens of millions of dollars, perhaps above $100 million. There are people who go away and who are generous in giving tzedakah. It remains, however, that our charity has not kept pace with our self-indulgence. I know more than a few people who give next to nothing in tzedakah and yet who splurge on the Pesach trip.

As others have noted, there are children who have never seen how a house is prepared for Pesach or how to prepare for a seder. Not all, but most, experience a quickie seder, at least in the v’higadta l’vincha portion [“and you shall tell it to your children”], with the meal constituting by far the major event. It is nice, in a way, that some families stay home for the first two days and then leave for a hotel.

If we can excuse the lay people who go to hotels, can we also excuse the Rabbis – some of them prominent – who leave not only their homes but also their congregations? I have my doubts.

I have no doubt that the phenomenon will continue to spread, not only because there are people who can afford to go away but far more importantly because the idea of going away has taken strong root. In a sense, there is the attitude that the best way to commemorate the Exodus is to have our own personal Pesach exodus.

You may also like...

13 Responses

  1. Ellen Solomon says:

    There’s no question in my mind that the affluence has raised the bar on preparations – larger houses and (more importantly) lots more stuff to go through and clean. Plus the convenience food and more ample pocketbooks that create the need to provide everyone with even more food.

    While helping clean up after a Yom Tov meal, my father-in-law remarked that things must have been different before all the ubiquitous disposables – foil pans, plates, utensils, even serving platters! He suggested people cooked a few simple dishes that were eaten completely. (And the Pesach pots are so hardly used that everything has a much truer flavor.)

    Some people have a “why bother” attitude toward Pesach preparations – why take 60 plus hours from one’s regular routines and activities to clean, shop and cook? Others feel that they will fall short of the perfectly prepared Pesach no matter what they do, so they avoid the pressure.

    To me the issue echoes the quandaries addressed by the “simplicity” movement – ignoring much of what society is chasing after in order to pursue what’s really meaningful. But I believe the only way to influence others in that way is by example.

  2. Edvallace says:

    Edvallace, very perceptive. I have, indeed, never been at a hotel on Pesach. But your experience is also inapt, because you were brought along by others whose vision of a good yom tov does not match yours. I maintain that hotels are self-selecting; people will seek out a caterer who provides the kind of yom tov atmosphere they desire, only more so. If you were to choose for yourself, you most likely could find a hotel that, instead of indulgent extravaganzas and elephants and circuses, encourages a more traditional experience.

    Eliezer,

    Sadly that is not the case. The hotel I spent time at is one of the most heimishe and probably has the highest standards of any when it comes Kashrus. Most of the people htere are quite fine and ehrlich [and elderly]. Neverthelees, there is a general lack of Kedushas Yom Tov that is felt in myriad ways. The vaunted “daily shiurim” are sparsely attended, daveneing and meals are rushed. The dining room is crowded, the food is plentiful and exhausting.

    From what others who have been at the more lavish hotels tell me, it’s pretty clear that Chol Hamoed entertainnment [even the kosher variety] is not much more stimulating, the in-room tv’s and videos [that most of us would never dream of binging into our homes] are our roomates on YOM TOV!

    Try it once and let me know what you think. If the hotel of dreams truly exists I’ll be shocked.

  3. Mordecai says:

    I do not come to disagree with the basic thrust of Dr. Schick’s post since it deals with many aspects of the holy days. However, I think it is important to point out that Pesach cleaning is not an essential part of the lead-up to these days.

    In a time that was the opposite of a period in which we can debate going to a hotel, there was also virtually no Pesach cleaning. A Yerushalmi melamed who is now about 65 once told me that when he was growing up, all the Pesach cleaning took his family about 2 hours. They just scrubbed their pot and each person’s dish, put them away, washed the floor of the family’s room, and that was basically it.

    Nonetheless, he certainly did not think that anything was lacking in their Pesach experience, nor was anything added by the necessities of modern life that require much more effort.

  4. Mo says:

    “mir mishich nisht” –

    Did you mean something like ‘mir mischen nisht” ? Didn’t that apply more, if not exclusively, to the question of gebrochts and non-gebrochts, so the two camps didn’t ‘eat out’ in each others houses, rather than as a general rule ? After all, if you trust a worthy friend all year, why not on Pesach ?

    Overall though, great article !

  5. Yaakov Rosenblatt says:

    Often we must decide: fix it or fight it.

    The improved finanical standing of many individuals in our community and the stresses that are the inevidible result of living in a dense community in a big city, say that we may be better off encouraging a “caterer competition” to offer “the frummest, most family oriented” Pesach experience, rather than trying to negate the concept.

    Once a person knows the ease of locking their doors and giving the keys to their Rav, it is very hard to go back to the previous preperation.

    My wife and I have been going to our in-laws (home) for the last eight years. Our kids don’t know about Pesach cleaning… but their parents really do appreciate the break.

  6. A Simple Jew says:

    Excellent posting!

  7. Eliezer Barzilai says:

    Edvallace, very perceptive. I have, indeed, never been at a hotel on Pesach. But your experience is also inapt, because you were brought along by others whose vision of a good yom tov does not match yours. I maintain that hotels are self-selecting; people will seek out a caterer who provides the kind of yom tov atmosphere they desire, only more so. If you were to choose for yourself, you most likely could find a hotel that, instead of indulgent extravaganzas and elephants and circuses, encourages a more traditional experience.

  8. adie says:

    “As for eating from others’ preparations, now we are all someich on Liebers, Gefen, and Mishpacha anyway. If we are willing to take that easy-way-out and not squeeze our own lemons, we can rely on the professional mashgichim who supervise the kitchens in the hotels.”

    I think this is responsible for most of the phenomenon. There is much convenience food with hechsherim available today and people buy it, though their parents and grandparents wouldn’t have. As another commenter wrote, some of these items are relatively easy to ensure kashrus-wise, and many are aimed at kids (Or mothers who want to be able to serve kids a greater variety of foods more easily). But once people get used to buying more prepared food, it’s a small step to relying on external hashgacha across the board.

    I think it’s a pity that so many people rely so much on prepared food even when they don’t go away. It’s valuable for kids to see that they can live one week with everything made basically from “scratch” and without much that is typically considered “necessity”

  9. Zev says:

    “and I have unfortunately due to my in-laws insistence”

    Come on, you know you enjoy it!

  10. Edvallace says:

    Eliezer Barzilai
    “Well regulated families will have sdrorim in the hotel and make their daled amos into a mikdosh m’aht just as they would at home.”

    If you’ve ever been to a hotel for Yom Tov [and I have unfortunately due to my in-laws insistence] you’ll know that this isn’t the case. It is far from a Mikdash Me’at or otherwise. Endless amounts of food, entertainment, TV, Pritzus and quick minyanim are the norm. Meals are over very quickly and singing is out of the question.

    “As for eating from others’ preparations, now we are all someich on Liebers, Gefen, and Mishpacha anyway. If we are willing to take that easy-way-out and not squeeze our own lemons, we can rely on the professional mashgichim who supervise the kitchens in the hotels.”

    Again, no comparison. Simple ingredients are one thing to ensure especially in a regulated industry. Pesach supervision is a monumental job and most hotels take Mashgichim with little to no experience in the field because normal Mashgichim spend their time with their families on PEsach. I feel sorry for anyone who eats from a Pesach caterer because they’re truly compromising their standards and in most cases, they don’t even realize it.

    “And most of all, the absurd extremes some women go to in preparing the house can be damaging to their health. Buying your wife a bracelet is paltry recompense for what they go through. Taking the family to a hotel can be a prescription for a healthy and calmer marriage, and an opportunity to bond with each other and the children.”

    This family bonding business is nonsense because there’s no time at the hotel what with all the things that go on there. It is far from a Yom Tov atmosphere there and that’s no secret

  11. Hanan says:

    Great Article. For some time I have been talking to people regarding this issue. I feel that part of the experience of Pesach is the cleaning. Why is it that everything has to be easy. Sometimes its the things that are difficult for us that will give us that greatest rewards. I can’t wait for my children to grow up and that we may experience the entire Pesach together, including the cleaning. When my wife and I finish cleaning the house we get the greatest feeling on earth when Pesach rolls in, and its that we earned it. Thats something I want my children to experience.

  12. Eliezer Barzilai says:

    Dr. Shick, I respectfully disagree.
    When the Beis Hamikdosh stood, the vast majority of the Jews left home for Pesach, and did eat from others’ kitchens, didn’t see the house being prepared, had others do the work for them, etc. Of course, they were immersed in the milieu of korbonos and kedushas Yerusholoyim, but those elements don’t exist for us whether we stay home or go to a hotel. Well regulated families will have sdrorim in the hotel and make their daled amos into a mikdosh m’aht just as they would at home.
    As for eating from others’ preparations, now we are all someich on Liebers, Gefen, and Mishpacha anyway. If we are willing to take that easy-way-out and not squeeze our own lemons, we can rely on the professional mashgichim who supervise the kitchens in the hotels.
    And Rabbis are allowed to live, as well as suffer for (sometimes from) their congregants. They work themselves to exhaustion before Pesach, and once yomtov comes, nobody is in the mood to hear long droshos. It also gives a chance to young rabbonim to intern in a shul.
    And most of all, the absurd extremes some women go to in preparing the house can be damaging to their health. Buying your wife a bracelet is paltry recompense for what they go through. Taking the family to a hotel can be a prescription for a healthy and calmer marriage, and an opportunity to bond with each other and the children.

  13. David Brand says:

    Dr. Schick,

    Well put! I have another couple of points regarding going to hotels. First, I have noticed a disappointing trend amontg the people who go to the hotels. When I ask why they go, they nearly always reply “why should I bother to cook, clean, shlep, etc., when I could go to a hotel and have everything taken care of for me?”. It seems that this idea of others doing for us, especially when talking about the holy preparations for Pesach is not exactly what Halacha intends for us to do. Second, I wonder about the children in such situations. I believe that it’s simply good chinuch to show our children how wonderful it is to prepare for Pesach. I say that after having spent two hours on my knees cleaning out a fridge that needed a lot of work. I didn’t say “easy”, I said “wonderful” and that’s exactly what I meant. Anything worthwhile in life requires substantial efforts. It’s a very important message that we must pass to our children. It is possible that a whole generation is being raised that will include children who will have NEVER seen Pesach preparations. How sad for them.