Taking time to relax at Passover

Celebration: Getaway retreats offer a growing number of Jews a chance to observe the traditions of the holiday but avoid some labor-intensive preparations.

March 27, 2002|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The holiday of Passover, which begins today, celebrates Jewish freedom from slavery.

Mark and Karen Schwartzman of the Greenspring area of Baltimore are celebrating another freedom as well -- freedom from the hard work of preparing for the eight-day holiday.

Like a growing number of Jewish people, the Schwartzmans are not spending Passover at home but at a luxurious retreat. Their Passover services and meals will be accompanied by gorgeous mountain views, championship golf courses, saunas and live entertainment at the Lakeview Golf and Resort Spa in Morgantown, W.Va.

Passover is one of the most joyous celebrations of the Jewish calendar, but it is also one of the most labor-intensive. For eight days, observant Jewish people abstain from all leavened breads. Some Jews also refrain from eating such foods as beans and rice, and even corn syrup, which eliminates many sodas, ice creams and other sweet foods.

To prepare for the holiday, Conservative and Orthodox Jews also remove all leavened products from their house, and eat on dishes reserved for the occasion, which have never been in contact with leavening agents.

"On the one hand, people want to keep the traditions and rituals," said Rabbi Yale Butler, who is running the Lakeview celebration in Morgantown. "On the other hand, it's a massive job."

A Passover retreat promises freedom from all the hard work of preparing for the event.

Two years ago, the Schwartzmans traveled to the sumptuous Fountaine- bleau Hotel in Miami Beach, Fla., to celebrate Passover. For about $2,500 per person, plus air fare, they were treated to ocean breezes, first-class accommodations and gourmet meals, including sushi prepared with matzo instead of rice.

Last year, they decided to try something closer to home and drove the 3 1/2 hours to the Lakeview resort. They liked it so much they are returning this year for a four-day stay, which costs $899. For nine days, prices range from $1,369 to $1,699.

"We still have to clean the house and all that, but for us it's a good getaway," Mark Schwartzman said. "You have your meals, you get to relax." As a bonus, the Schwartzmans met some people that they will see at the retreat again this year, he said.

"This is a huge thing, Passover holiday vacations at resort hotels," said Allan Berman, cantor at Moses Montefiore-Anshe Emunah Congregation, an Orthodox synagogue in Baltimore.

Berman has worked at about nine Passover retreats over the past 15 years and usually gets at least three offers a year, he said. This year, he'll be going to Lakeview for the first time.

"The holiday of Passover is a very intense holiday in terms of the requirements to clean one's house and prepare food; it's a lot of work," said Samson Wach, youth director at the Greenspring Valley Synagogue, who will be the youth director at Lakeview's retreat for his fifth year.

"There's a great appeal in coming to a place where you can relax and someone's done that work for you." Wach runs a program for children of all ages that includes field trips, talent shows and craft projects that use fabric fastener instead of paint so they don't violate the laws of the holiday.

Wach, 38, will be taking his wife, Donna, and three boys, aged 7 to 13. "I can say honestly, if you are asking for my main motive for doing this, (it's) my wife gets to relax while I run the children's program and gets to relax the weeks prior to the holiday."

The centerpiece of the Passover celebration is the Seder, which takes place on both the first and second nights of the holiday. During the ritualized meal, the story of the Jews' exodus from Egypt is explained. Songs are sung, wine is sipped, and symbolic food is enjoyed.

Those foods include charoset, an apple-and-raisin mixture that represents the mortar used by slaves to build pyramids; and salt water, which represents the tears of the oppressed.

Probably the most important food of the holiday is matzo, an unleavened bread made from flour and water, which symbolizes the haste with which the Jewish people fled Egypt, leaving so fast they did not have time to wait for their bread to rise.

Food that's kosher for Passover must be made under rabbinical supervision and must meet Passover's dietary laws.

At Lakeview, guests can enjoy buffets of kosher food, and even snacks in the tearoom when the dining room is closed. Butler, who cleans the Lakeview kitchen to meet the Passover requirements, creates the menu and teaches the resort's staff how to prepare the meals.

"You'd be amazed at the kinds of selections we have," said Butler. The menu includes lasagna made with matzo in place of noodles, fresh gefilte fish, and that classic Passover staple, the macaroon. Of course, matzo pizza is a favorite with the younger guests.

"We experimented over the years and came up with recipes based on the university of hard knocks," Butler said.

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