I am going to a Pesach hotel for the first time ever! I am very excited, but am not sure about a couple of things:
First, how do I maintain my spiritual connection to Pesach when I am at a place where I don’t really have to engage in activities related to the holiday the whole time (i.e., cleaning, preparing, then cooking and cleaning up, on infinite repeat).
Second, on a more practical level, how do I know what to pack for the trip and hotel stay?
Thanks for your help!
You are right to think about how to prepare for this experience both spiritually and physically, as Pesach hotels are little worlds unto themselves. I am very lucky to be married to someone who gets us trips to these hotels by dint of his expertise on topics of interest to Pesach hotel guests (apparently), so I have gone to several programs in the past few years. We always enjoy ourselves, and have figured out a few tricks along the way.
First, see if you can find out the hashkafa (worldview) of the program — not just religiously, but culturally. For example, mental preparation for a program full of people from regions of the country and/or world where shoving a 10-year-old child aside for a post-Pesach pizza pie is, say, de rigeur, is different from a program where the participants are largely Midwesterners, if you catch my drift. (The pizza story is true, by the way.) If you don’t know anyone who has participated in the program and can pass along this info, call the program coordinators and ask some pointed questions about how many people are expected this year and where most of them will be coming from.
Second, look into logistics. Ask about locations of the dining room(s) relative to camp rooms, hotel rooms, and tea rooms. We went to a program once where you had to walk a good 15 minutes to get to meat meals, which were in a large ballroom near the shul and far from the guest rooms. The dairy breakfasts and lunches were on the opposite side of the resort. Keep this in mind if travelling with grandparents or small children. Make sure you have adequate strollers/wheelchairs/helpers to navigate the landscape.
Third, bring a few important items like liquid soap for Shabbos and Yom Tov, new toothbrushes, Pesach snacks (for the trip and the hotel), Haggadahs (especially the ones your kids made!), family song sheets, games, toys, books, and your copy of Kol HaBirah. Of course, clothing can be challenging. I usually make one list for my husband, one for my girls, and one for my boys; I distribute them accordingly and have each person gather as much clothing from their list as they can. I then figure out appropriate luggage and have people pack by who they are rooming with.
Luggage is also different according to whether you are flying or driving. Don’t take too much luggage on the plane, and don’t go crazy on outfits! There will always be people better dressed than you, especially if they are from a certain part of the country that rhymes with “Jew Fork.” Do what you normally do. Whatever you are comfortable with — go with that. (And, by the way, I have found that the closer your Pesach destination is to the equator, the less formal you need to be. Good to know!)
Fourth, look at the Pesach program’s schedule before you arrive, if possible, and certainly when you get there, and circle the things of interest to you and your family. Because most of these programs have kids’ activities and/or babysitting day and night, you can actually go to stuff. Here is where you will find the spiritual content on your trip. Pick out the shiurim (Torah classes) you want to go to, mark them, and remind yourself every morning of times and locations of those lectures. Don’t fall asleep after munching at the buffet! Go hear the speaker, and then take a rest. Try to attend one lecture the day you arrive, if you get there early enough, and share the thoughts at your Seders.
When I first started going to Pesach programs, it felt really weird not to go into Pesach having cleaned and scrubbed and cooked for weeks. There is a lot of satisfaction in doing those things, of course. There is also something nice about having Seders at home and, frankly, kind of lonely about hotel Seders, if you are there without your extended family. All in all, though, Pesach is special no matter where you are, and Pesach hotels are awesome. Bring your own special sense of Pesach to your hotel, and the tea room won’t distract you from the spiritual beauty of the Yom Tov. Enjoy, and report back!
All the best,