Miami Beach, FL – As a child, Jeffrey Grodko dreaded Passover. With its Seder dinners, no-grains diet — his family ate lots of meat and potatoes — and restrictions on car and electricity use for four of its eight days, it was “a lot of being bored.”
Now 43, the Orthodox Jewish father of two from Brooklyn can’t wait for the holiday, which begins tonight and marks the ancient Israelites’ exodus from Egypt.
To observe it, he’s embarking on another kind of exodus: a luxury Passover at the Fontainebleau Resort in Miami Beach.
The Fontainebleau is one of at least eight local hotels offering Passover packages, making South Florida the country’s biggest Passover destination.
Thousands of Jews from New York to Israel will be in South Florida this week to celebrate Passover a way their grandparents probably never imagined: sipping kosher cocktails after poolside barbecues, or eating gourmet sushi lunches and elaborate dinners where options include tangerine caramelized duck and veal Milanese — made with no grains.
Hotels offering Passover packages include the Biltmore in Coral Gables, which is completely booked for 600 Passover guests; the Hyatt Regency Bonaventure in Weston, which will host 1,000 Passover vacationers; the Doral Golf Resort and Spa; and the Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort in Aventura. A Passover cruise departs from Port Everglades and, for those on a tighter budget, South Floridians are renting out kosher apartments.
Make no mistake: faith is central to the Passover vacation experience. Hotel kitchens have been made kosher, temporary “resident rabbis” have been flown in and Judaism scholars will offer nightly talks.
“We can have Passover without the hassle. It’s a relief to me and to my wife,” says Grodko, who has spent the holiday at South Florida hotels for 18 years. It’s a stark contrast to his childhood, when Passover meant meticulous house-cleaning, switching out dishes and silverware and preparing food for extended family visiting for Seders.
At the Fontainebleau where he’s staying, rates for the duration of the holiday begin at $3,400 for eight days and nights. Rates are similar at other hotels and top suites have been booked for up to $24,000.
While the economy has affected the Passover travel industry — insiders say the number of hotels offering packages has slightly decreased in the last decade — every South Florida hotel offering a kosher experience this year has been booked for weeks. According to Totally Jewish Travel, a vacation listings website for observant Jews, 120 hotels will offer Passover packages across five continents this year.
Sam Lasko, president of Davie-based Lasko Tours, will host 3,000 people between the Eden Roc, Fontainebleau and Hyatt Regency Bonaventure. “We bring in 15 tractor-trailers full of food. We make desserts, paninis, waffles, foods not traditionally kosher for Passover,” Lasko says.
For weeks, 30 rabbis have worked around the clock to bring Lasko’s hotels in line with kosher standards, from using blow torches on kitchen appliances and pouring boiling water over them to making sure all grains, including bread crumbs, have been removed from the premises.
During Passover, Jews eat cracker-like matzoh instead of bread in remembrance of the Israelites, who left Egypt so quickly they had no time to let their dough rise. Ritual Seders, with foods representing a symbolic re-telling of the exodus, are central to Passover.