The retreats are a natural venue for Butler, 55, because he has always loved cooking. He grew up in Pittsburgh, where his parents did some catering and where his father for a time ran the only kosher restaurant from the city's Jewish Community Center.
"I was fascinated by the whole cooking thing," said Butler, who was a cook at a Jewish camp while attending Yeshiva University in New York, and developed a program to teach children at summer camps how to cook.
He began running the Passover retreats a quarter century ago in Los Angeles, where he was a rabbi. In 1977, Butler was approached by Atlas Tours, which had been offering Passover getaways on cruise ships, and asked to expand the concept. Butler wound up creating programs in California, Hawaii and Arizona, before moving back to Pittsburgh and starting the Lakeview program.
His first Passover event had fewer than 60 people, he said. This year, he expects more than 350 to spend at least part of their Passover at Lakeview. About half will be from the Baltimore and Washington regions, with others traveling from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida and even Toronto.
At Lakeview, as with other Passover retreats, some guests are more observantly religious than others. Some like the traditions, but aren't sure how to enact them, Butler said.
Butler is Orthodox, and the program is run under Orthodox strictures, but everyone is welcome, Butler said. "We get families that Passover may be the only time that people get together," he said.
"The biggest threat to the Jewish people isn't anti-Semitism," said Butler. "It's ignorance. We think that venues like this give people an opportunity to learn more about the tradition in a positive setting."
Butler said a resort is a wonderful and perfectly appropriate place to celebrate Passover. Observant Jews won't partake of the golf courses and tennis courts on the first two days or the last two days of the holiday, but in between they are encouraged to swing those clubs and rackets to their hearts' content.
"God wants us to enjoy," said Butler. "He wants us to benefit from all the good things that he put on this Earth. ... At the same time, he wants us to be a moral people and follow his laws."