Beets, Almond Bark are New Natural Passover Options



As environmental awareness increases, local supermarkets are stocking their shelves with more natural and organic Passover products. The latest buzz word is biodynamic, as in Kedem’s new biodynamic grape juice, available this season for the first time at Whole Foods Market.

So what is biodynamic?

“Biodynamic farming is something that’s probably well under the radar but rising fast. Biodynamic is actually the next level of organic,” said Harold Weiss, executive vice president of Kayco, a kosher food company based in Bayonne, N.J., that is a merger of Kedem Foods, Kenover Marketing and B&W Foods. “The ground is actually certified in which the grapes are grown.”

Other new Kayco-Kedem items for the socially conscious Pesach consumer include the first-ever kosher-for-Passover fair-trade coffee, The Chosen Bean, Yehuda gluten-free  organic matzoh and Gefen  organic beets, a product that Weiss said has unexpectedly taken off.


Twenty or 30 years ago, kosher  food was basically made up of a very traditional limited variety of  products. Now you have a much wider variety. It’s a generational shift.”
— Harold Weiss, executive vice president of Kayco

“The organic beets are probably one of our most successful new items this year,” said Weiss. “It is a clean, ready- to-use beet in a sealed bag.”

Elsewhere, Pereg Natural Foods has introduced new kosher-for-Passover gluten-free flours in three varieties: coconut, almond and quinoa. According to Pereg, the new products are 100 percent natural, nondairy, approved by the Non-GMO Project and certified kosher by the Orthodox Union.

Other new natural food items include Lieber’s quinoa with mushroom and herbs and Bodek Brussels sprouts.

According to Jamie Miller, manager for public and community relations at Giant Food, the supermarket chain has added between 80 and 100 new items to the shelves for customers celebrating Passover.

Natural products at Giant include Gefen almond bark and Manischewitz gluten-free matzoh.

“Twenty or 30 years ago, kosher food was basically made up of a very traditional limited variety of products,” said Weiss. “Now you have  a much wider variety. It’s a generational shift.”

Four Questions Notions of Passover through a contemporary lens

coverRotatorThemes of oppression, affliction, soul-searching and liberation hold great importance in the Passover story, one that recounts the Jewish people’s escape from bondage, their exodus from Egypt and their eventual freedom.

As we prepare to revisit and recount that story of Passover — a time during which, among many observances, we’re encouraged to question the present and learn from the past — the JT staff crafted four questions that delve into some contemporary implications of the holiday.


(Abstract technology:©


How does OPPRESSION manifest itself today?

At first blush, one might think it’s humans who are slaves to our electronic devices, whether by constantly checking email on a phone, updating a Facebook status or sending a text.

Amy Webb, author, futurist and founder of the Future Today Institute, which researches emerging technologies for companies and organizations around the world, claims just the opposite is true. And that truth comes with a warning.

“There is no question. We are the masters and the devices are our slaves. But you can’t have that conversation without having some context and also talk about artificial intelligence,” she said, citing “smart houses” with programmable lights, thermostats, dishwashers, coffeemakers and more. In some cases, “this is technology that we’ve humanized [even in] the way that it looks and responds to us and even the names we’ve given it.”

For a ubiquitous example, think Siri — the friendly voice that responds to requests when spoken into an iPhone.

“A lot of the newer technologies have artificial intelligence, and we’re training the AI as we use it,” Webb explained. “[Devices] must have huge data sets and be in use in order for them to learn” and serve more accurately and efficiently.

Case in point, Webb said, is Amazon’s Echo, also called Alexa, a speech-recognition driven module that can be commanded to play music, retrieve weather reports, read audiobooks and even provide a sports score. Alexa, according to its description, is “always getting smarter and adding new features and skills — over 100 added since its launch, including [calling upon] Domino’s Pizza and Uber.”

But the outcome of Microsoft’s recently released chat bot named Tay, a computer program designed to simulate conversation with humans, especially over the internet, is where the warning comes in.

“It took less than [24] hours for the chat bot to start making incredibly anti-Semitic (and racist and sexist) remarks and saying things about Hitler,” said Webb. “It was because these bots are programmed to [repeat and] respond to us. And as it turns out, humans can be pretty horrible teachers. We can say some pretty horrible things.”

Tay has since been silenced.

“The challenge is when the algorithms a machine is learning uses that data and incorporates it into its overall learning,” Webb said, who employs technology, including a telepresence robot (a screen on wheels that can be controlled remotely to allow interaction with humans) to streamline her life.

“The truly terrifying thing is that as our devices become smarter and more capable of servicing our needs, they will necessarily have to start making decisions without us, supposedly in our best interests,” she said. “But what happens when the machines decide we’re not treating them well? Suddenly — and I’m not exaggerating when I say this — you could many years from now be facing a crisis that really is of the proportions that were described in the Bible.”

— Melissa Gerr



What PLAGUES the Jewish community?

The Jewish people are a demonstrably resilient group, in part due to  overcoming such obstacles as oppression in  ancient Egypt and Nazi Germany.

But there are still challenges that both the Baltimore Jewish community and Jews around the world must work to overcome on a daily basis.

“We must never forget the Holocaust and what happened to us,” said Arthur Abramson,  departing executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. “But our strength lies in what we are now, not what we were then.”

Abramson said victimization is one of a handful of issues plaguing the Jewish community. He emphasized that Jews and the State of Israel are not the same as they were 10, 15 or 50 years ago. To the extent that “we try to fall back on that [mentality], it diminishes our effectiveness” when trying to overcome problems.

In a similar vein, he said the Jewish experience should teach us how crucial it is to stand up for “the other.”

“We are often forgetting where we come from,” said Abramson. “We must very clearly be involved when Muslims are attacked and other groups are attacked. We cannot afford to simply ignore it when it’s someone else.”

Ashley Pressman, executive director of Jewish Volunteer Connection, is concerned about a trend toward isolation among senior citizens in Baltimore’s Jewish community. It’s a problem that happens gradually, she said, and isn’t always obvious. She added it requires proactive responses to prevent it from happening.

Pressman also cited “indifference” as a current societal problem.

“We’re so busy with our own lives and the stimuli that we get that we no longer see the other,” she said. “[It’s important] for each of us to recognize our neighbors and see our neighbors in all of their complexity and nuance, not just [think it’s] us and them.”

Though not solely a Jewish or Baltimore issue, Pressman said that “the world as a whole benefits when people come into conversation with each other.”

— Justin Katz


(Ebony Brown)

(Ebony Brown)

What are you SEARCHING for?

Jewish teenagers who consider themselves “too old” for the custom of the afikomen hunt find themselves searching for something much deeper as they transition into the next chapter of their lives.

“As a Jewish teenager,” said Lea Glazer, a senior at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, “I am searching for my role in Jewish society … for my own personal way to impact the world at large … for what I was meant to do and [for] how to use everything I’ve learned from my Jewish education to better the world.”

Referencing tikkun olam, repairing the world, Glazer also expressed her hope of “finding a way to personally fulfill this mitzvah and to make a difference in the world, no matter how large or small it is.”

Whereas Glazer aspires to find her place in Jewish society, Mia Kaufman, a Franklin High School senior and an active member of United Synagogue Youth, strives to become more globally aware.

“I am searching for a greater connection with people that are not just in the Baltimore area,” she said. “Being involved in many Jewish organizations such as USY has helped me to do just that and has given me those connections around the world.”

During Kaufman’s quest to understand the global community, she encountered some opposition to her viewpoints that have exposed her to the world outside the Jewish Baltimore bubble.

“I often run into news about Israel, which hits closer to home as a Jew,” she said. “I am constantly hit with the reality that the global community is not as big of an Israel fanatic as I am.”

Though Glazer and Kaufman are currently involved in the Jewish community, as graduation approaches, both students have begun to consider how they will continue their search without built-in Judaism being a “given.”

“When I go to college next year, I will be faced with the challenge of maintaining my Judaism in a new, diverse environment,” Glazer said. “I will have to actively seek out events and organizations that will allow me to stay connected with my religion.”

Glazer also plans to do this by participating in the University of Maryland College Park’s Hillel, joining a pro-Israel club on campus and visiting Israel on a Birthright trip.

Kaufman, who will attend the University of Maryland, College Park, plans to be involved with organized Jewish activities on campus and also hopes “to live in Israel for an extended period of time and definitely do some form of Israel advocacy, working or volunteering” throughout life.

— Meital Abraham




What does liberation mean?

For Rabbi Geoff Basik of Kol HaLev Synagogue, the idea of exodus or liberation in 2016 is a more universal concept rather than one focused on the individual. “The community silos we [keep ourselves] in are all interconnected,” he argued, citing the late Jewish American poet Emma Lazarus: “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”

“Rather than tell the tale about our particular success vis-à-vis other people, winners and losers, us versus them, friends and enemies, I think we’re all caught in the systemic oppressions,” he explained.

He looks at recent events as examples, locally and globally, in how the situation in Syria affected Brussels and the world at large and how what happens in Baltimore City affects the suburbs.

There’s a debate in the Talmud, Basik said, about the Ten Plagues, where some rabbis say there were 50 or even 200 to “really stick it” to the Egyptians.

“[But] our joy is diminished because Egyptians were suffering, so you [take] the drop out of your wine glass. So these [concepts] represent these two polarities with human beings, the personal versus the public,” he said. “So the ‘pour out thy wrath upon thine enemies’ at the end of the seder is not a message for today. It’s more, I think, about universal healing as opposed to one people’s liberation alone.”

For Nancy Aiken, executive director of CHANA, the universality of the Passover story hits home with what her clients go through. The organization offers support for victims of physical, psychological, sexual and financial abuse.

After the Israelites leave Egypt — and are free from slavery — they actually consider going back because of uncertainty about the future. Similarly, some of CHANA’s clients consider returning — and some do — to awful, sometimes life-threatening situations because of fears and ambiguity associated with the future.

“The story of Exodus really teaches us that it’s almost normal, it’s natural to consider an awful situation as an alternative because at least you knew it, it was familiar. … When you leave and go forward, you’re scared,” she said. “The Israelites kept going because God gave them manna and took care of the hunger at least. I’d like to say CHANA is that manna.”

She said the story also speaks to the emotional, not just the physical, side of enslavement and abuse in that the Israelites went on their journey even when it meant food and water might be scarce and shelter wouldn’t be ideal.

“Sometimes our clients, like the Israelites, their exodus is to get away from the emotional, psychological abuse even if it means they’re going to be homeless or hungry or unsettled for a while,” she said. “They willingly accept those challenges in order to have emotional, spiritual, psychological peace of mind.”

— Marc Shapiro


These are just a few interpretations of contemporary themes, of course. And since questioning, discussion and debate are so integral to our Passover observance and who we are as Jews, please let us know what subjects arise during the conversations around your seder table.,,

New Haggadahs Hit Market


Canadian Haggadah Canadienne

Five years ago, an American rabbi and a Quebec separatist sat together in Ottawa and related their convoluted, multi-lingual Seder experiences.

Wouldn’t it be great, they thought, to have a single haggadah that could serve all of their needs?

From that moment, Rabbi Adam Scheier, senior rabbi of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, and Richard Marceau, a former member of the House of Commons and present adviser to the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Ottawa, dedicated their spare time to crafting the “Canadian Haggadah Canadienne.”

What makes a haggadah distinctly Canadian? For starters, it is the only known one that is written in French and English, with traditional blessings in Hebrew, and inside its pages is a prayer for Canada. It also contains essays from rabbis who span the Canadian provinces and across Jewish denominations.

“[We] had this vision that the haggadah would reflect the diversity of Canadian Jewish life,” said Scheier. “We reached out to 20 rabbis and received 100-percent support and participation. … Everyone we approached participated willingly and wholeheartedly.”

Most notable are the historical photographs that adorn nearly every page. From the earliest Jewish settlers who embarked to Saskatchewan to Yiddish military recruitment posters to images of Canadian Jews protesting on behalf of Soviet and Syrian Jews to the unveiling of the first French language Jewish school to images of visiting Israeli dignitaries and, of course, hockey photos, the haggadah depicts the diverse and large — the fourth largest in the world — Canadian Jewish community.

The images, said Scheier, show a Canadian Jewish community that is both deeply Zionist and deeply Canadian.

The haggadah has gotten a huge response from our neighbors to the North. The first printing of 2,000 sold out quickly, necessitating a second printing.

As Scheier and Marceau have toured the provinces, they have been bombarded by grateful individuals and those who are excited to see themselves or their friends’ photos in print.

“In Quebec last week, a gentleman said to me, ‘You see the word Pesach [on the cover]? That’s me taking a bite out of matzah under the peh,’” said Scheier. “I’m excited to be able to contribute very personalized Canadian content to Seder tables across Canada.”

The “Canadian Haggadah Canadienne” is available through and Canadian Judaica stores.



The Asufa Haggadah


The Asufa Haggadah
“The Asufa Haggadah” is, in a word, stunning.

Each year for the past three years, 45 Israeli designers have been selected to contribute to the haggadah produced by Asufa Design in Jaffa, Israel. The rules, explained Lior Yamin, are simple. Each artist is allotted one page and they must use the standard haggadah text. Beyond that, anything goes.

The results range from modern art pieces bursting with color to subdued charcoal sketches. Traditional depictions butt up against an image of a unicorn or a clever board game where squares along the way represent the order of the Seder. All pages are in Hebrew without English translation, but non-Hebrew readers can still appreciate the beauty of the book.

Seeking to expand to the American market, Asufa reached out to Philadelphia-based niche publishing company Print-O-Craft. The Asufa haggadah is in good company alongside Print-O-Craft’s only other title, the “Seder Oneg Shabbos” bentsher, which features historical typefaces, illustrations and traditional liturgy melded with terms used by egalitarian and LGBT Jews.

According to Print-O-Craft founder David Zvi Kalman, plans are in the works to add new titles, including a graphic novel based on the English translation of Pirkei Avot and possibly an English-Hebrew Asufa Haggadah to accommodate a wider audience.

Wrote Kalman via email, “We’re still looking for new titles — it definitely appears that there is an audience for these kinds of books. People seem to want religious texts [that] express beauty in pictures and not just ideas.”

“The Asufa Haggadah” is available for purchase at



Seder Talk: The Conversational Haggada
Erica Brown, scholar-in-residence for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and a regular columnist for The Washington Post’s On Faith column, has penned a new book, “Seder Talk: The Conversational Haggada.”

In truth, the book is really two-in-one. The haggadah portion features the standard text on the top half of the page, with commentary following below, along with textual learning and thought-provoking conversation starters, each marked with an icon. For example, in the maggid portion, the questions posed include: “What is or was the hardest part of adolescence for you? When you were at your most miserable at this stage of life, who mentored you and helped you emerge into adulthood?”

To get the full value of the haggadah, it should be read in close detail before the start of the holiday in order for the leader to better facilitate discussion.

Flip the book around and readers will encounter a set of eight essays, one for each day of the holiday, that delve into themes of “All Who Are Hungry,” “Tzippora’s Flint” and “Pour Out Your Wrath, Pour Out Your Love,” among others. Each section concludes with Life Homework, such as the homework for the four children that asks the reader to “identify some characteristics that make those children different from each other.”

“Seder Talk,” published by Maggid Books, a division of Koren Publishers Jerusalem, is available through and

Winning Wines for Passover Columbia Jewish Congregation hosts wine tasting fundraiser

Decanter’s proprietor, Eric Stein, pours a selection of kosher for Passover wine for CJC members.

Decanter’s proprietor, Eric Stein, pours a selection of kosher for Passover wine for CJC members.

Between the four cups of wine per person and the extra cup for Elijah, Jews go through a lot of wine celebrating Passover.

In an effort to expand the kosher offerings at Seder tables in Howard County, the Columbia Jewish Congregation hosted a wine tasting fundraiser on March 15 at Decanter Fine Wines in Columbia.

Guiding the approximately 30 congregation members through the tasting was Decanter proprietor and CJC member Eric Stein. Stein encouraged the participants to begin with a dry white wine and end with a sweet moscato.

The options, from most dry to least, were Lanzur Chardonnay from Chile, Grinalda Vinho Verde from Portugal, Weinstock Red from California, Golan Sion Creek Red from Israel and Gabrielle Moscato from Italy. Each bottle sold for under $15. Ten percent of the orders placed that day went back to the CJC.

Pearl and Tom Laufer opted for the Weinstock. “We like the depth,” explained Pearl. “I understand from Eric they sugar the grapes.”

Not only did Stein provide taste bud guidance, but he also gave suggestions on pairings with traditional Seder fare.

For fowl, he recommended Lanzur and Grinalda, and for brisket, he recommended the dry Golan to bring out the fuller, richer taste of the meat. Moscato, of course makes for a great dessert wine and pairs well with main course dishes for those who prefer a punch of sweetness.

Marcy Quill went for the moscato, Vinho Verde and the California red. Quill, who hosts Seder for her family and friends, said, “It’s nice to know there’s a variety. Everyone thinks of Manischewitz. It’s nice to know there’s something out there beyond the grape juice drink.”

Manischewitz was in stock, though not available for tasting that day. For the traditionalists who prefer the sweet red Passover staple, Stein recommended the moscato.

“Sugar is sugar,” said Stein. “Manischewitz is only sweet, nothing else, but the sweetness of the moscato is not as cloying. It has some acidity to it.”

CJC president Charlene Levine opted for the Weinstock and the Lanzur, explaining that without a red wine, “it would feel a little less Seder-like.”

“The world of kosher wine has expanded,” Stein said as he rattled off a slew of kosher Argentinian wines. “You can get it all over the world.”

Deep Cleaning Last-minute preparations needn’t derail holiday

Scrubbing the house from top to bottom in an effort to rid the home of chametz ahead of the Passover holiday is a task many loathe. For those Jews looking for a little help with their spring cleaning, two companies in Baltimore are prepared to help.

Merry Maids of Towson/Baltimore, whose area of service extends to Pikesville, Reisterstown and Owings Mills, historically sees an uptick in cleaning requests at this time of year,
according to a company spokesperson.

To jumpstart a thorough spring cleaning, Merry Maids recommends beginning with the standard cleaning option for all rooms, that way the whole house is cleaned all at once from ceiling fans to baseboards. For an extra deep clean, Merry Maids offers specialty house cleaning services, including wall and window washing, refrigerator and cabinet cleaning and furniture treatment.

Cleaning estimates are available at 410-994-7541 or via an online form.

The OCD Company — the initials standing for “On time, Clean and Dependable” — is a Pikesville based company primarily servicing the Northwest Baltimore region. It’s seen a surge in its business, particularly among the company’s Orthodox clientele.

“This is definitely our busiest time of year,” said proprietor Chaim Kessler. “We’re working six days a week [and] longer days to keep up with demand.”

The company specializes in cleaning carpets, upholstery, tile and grout. They also restore natural stone and do offsite specialty rug cleaning.

Kessler recommends carpet cleaning every year or two.

“Carpets are one of those things that should not be left until they look dirty. You don’t want those allergens in the air,” he explained. “Maintaining the carpet is better for improved air in general.”

He also recommends upholstery cleaning, an oft overlooked service that can brighten a room and makes the overall environment look better.

The OCD company takes some requests, but does not clean cars or do general house cleaning.

With “matzah time,” as Kessler put it, only a week away, cleaning appointments are filling up. Customers are encouraged to call 410-653-2200 for an estimate.

Seders for the Sober Four cups of wine needn’t be of alcoholic variety

Four cups. That’s how much wine Jews are expected to drink at the Passover Seder table. That can be a challenge for anyone with a small stature or a low tolerance, but for recovering addicts and their families, the imperative can add further complication to an already difficult time.

“Wine is such a big part of our culture,” said Mike Gimbel, a northwest Baltimore native and former Baltimore County drug czar. But it can be a double-edged sword.

On one hand, “it’s a festive way of sharing joy and happiness,” he said. But “at the same time, there’s a
destructive part of wine — being drunk. … Just because we’re Jews doesn’t make us super-human when it comes to developing problems with alcohol or with drugs.”

Sober Seders are usually the easiest option for Jews in recovery to celebrate the holiday, but sometimes a dry celebration isn’t an option, especially at large parties or in instances where the individual in recovery wants to keep the issue quiet.

“The tradition goes all the way back to the Talmud,” Rabbi Elchonon Lisbon, director of Chabad of Park Heights, said of the long history of marking the celebration of Passover with alcohol. “Wine is the preferred choice over the ages for celebration.”

Wine, Lisbon explained, enables a person to find relief from their troubles and anxieties and to become more at ease with being himself or herself.

“Of course,” said Lisbon, “it’s got to be in moderation.”

Each of the four cups of wine — in order to constitute a “cup,” the serving must be at least just less than 4 ounces — commemorates a different level of redemption, said Lisbon. And so even those who cannot consume the wine are encouraged to partake in the tradition, but with grape juice as a substitute.

“Grape juice is definitely an alternative,” he said.

While some people may be comfortable with openly passing on the wine at a Passover Seder, Gimbel recommends putting both the wine and the grape juice into decanters, each clearly labeled. This way, any recovering addicts may make their choice in beverage more discreet.

“Little things like that can just show respect for someone who is in recovery,” he said.

Gimbel also recommends using Passover as a learning opportunity. In addition to reflecting on the plight of the ancient Jews in Egypt, families of young children can introduce a discussion about the responsible
consumption of alcohol. With many children partaking in the drinking of wine at the Seder table as soon as they reach bar mitzvah age, the timing could not be better, he said.

“We’re teaching all about our history — it’s all for the children,” he noted. It’s also “a great opportunity to teach the children about alcohol.”

Part of that lesson can involve how the adults at the table deal with alcohol. Gimbel stressed the importance of not getting out of control and not letting anyone who has had too much get behind the wheel of a car.

“There’s ways to deal with it and keep the celebration, keep the tradition and keep the learning,” he said. “This is another lesson that can be taught.”

Beating the ‘Matzah Diet’ Your holiday Haggadah to staying healthy during Passover

Passover is the time of the year when Jews celebrate our freedom from slavery in Egypt. But the endless monotony of eggs, potatoes and matzah for eight days may leave you feeling like a slave to your chametz-free diet.

However, the avoidance of bread and certain grains and legumes doesn’t have to limit the wealth of healthy and nutritious options available to you during this festive time. Consider this your primer to managing the stresses of Passover eating — your Haggadah to staying healthy throughout Passover while still enjoying family, friends and holiday festivities. Who knows? You may even find yourself making an exodus from your current pant size!

Before the Seder
Passover marks the return of springtime, and what better way to welcome back the warm weather than to peruse your local farmer’s market for the bountiful spring offerings such as asparagus, sugar snap peas and artichokes to make the centerpiece of your Seder meal.

If you’re a guest at someone else’s Seder, offer to help out by contributing a healthy dish. Your host will appreciate the gesture and you benefit from knowing there is at least one healthy option at the Seder table.

The Seder itself is a marathon, not a sprint, and like any athlete, you need to prepare beforehand. As it may be a while before you actually sit down to the meal, eating a snack with protein and fiber prior to the meal can stave off your hunger and help you make more nutritious choices at the main event. Some smart snack choices include Greek yogurt with blueberries or raw veggies with a small handful of almonds.

During the Seder
Rather than plain matzah, opt for whole wheat or spelt matzah, which are higher in fiber content. Fiber keeps you more satiated and helps relieve those digestive issues that often plague us during Passover.

When it comes to your meal, avoid black and white thinking; it’s perfectly okay to enjoy some of the foods that you wouldn’t have the opportunity to eat any other time of year. Try to fill your plate up with mostly nutritious options such as veggie-based dishes and lean meat or fish, and pick a few small portions of more indulgent dishes that you love. If you avoid feeling deprived of your favorite foods, you will be much less likely to overeat and feel much more satisfied with your meal overall.

Pace yourself with the vino! Four glasses of wine at the Seder is a lot. Not only does wine impair your judgment toward making healthier choices, it also adds up those liquid calories quickly. Instead, switch to half glasses of wine. Maximize the health benefits by opting for red wine, which contains the antioxidant resveratrol. Studies have demonstrated this antioxidant may promote heart health and decrease stroke risk.

After the Seder and beyond
While tradition may dictate that we recline at our Seder table, there’s nothing wrong with starting your own active family tradition. Try taking a walk after the Seder meal or join your kids in the search for the afikomen.

As for the rest of the holiday, your best bet for sticking to a nutritious diet is experimenting with fresh veggies and fruits as the center of your meal. This will also help you to regulate your digestion, which is a common symptom of the “matzah diet.” Try to avoid those prepackaged special Passover foods and instead, get creative with your meals. Below you will find a few recipes to help get you started.

Beef and quinoa meatballs

Cinnamon-Dusted spaghetti squash kugel with dates, apples and walnuts

Passover Means Vacation for Some Instead of turning their homes upside down, some opt for luxury getaways

Krasnick’s daughter, Jessica  Krasnick, hangs out with a new friend during one of her mother’s services.

Krasnick’s daughter, Jessica
Krasnick, hangs out with a new friend during one of her mother’s services.

With each Passover comes the craziness of cleaning one’s life of chametz: Cars, offices, homes and kitchens must be rid of leavened foods before the holiday.

While some resort to deep cleaning and finding someone to buy the chametz, others opt for an easier, yet pricey option: Passover destination travel. For years, travel agencies have been offering getaways in American towns, Caribbean islands and other international destinations with food, services, lectures, family activities and sometimes high-profile guests.

“Generally, they are doing it to avoid the whole mishegas of turning the kitchen upside down,” said Laurie van Esschoten, owner of the Ontario Travel Bureau and founder of “It’s a way of getting the whole family together in a comfortable location and at the same time, you don’t have to change the dishes and the pots and pans and the rest of it.”

Van Esschoten has been offering Passover travel and kosher travel since 1995. There are currently 44 Passover programs she works with in North America, Europe, Asia and Israel. While her clients come from all over the globe, a lot of her American clients come from the Northeast, flocking to warmer places after the winter.

While the programs attract mainly Orthodox families, she has noticed more Conservative family members on the programs in recent years who have come with children who have become more religious.

In addition to meals, lodging, services and activities, some companies, such as the Prime Hospitality Group, offer high-profile speakers.

In its second year of Passover destinations, Prime is offering programs in Puerto Rico, Aspen and Monarch Beach in California. In addition to top-rated hotels, bringing in its own chefs and restaurants, the programs feature renowned rabbis, Israeli diplomats
and American politicians, including Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

“He approached us and we care a lot about Israel,” said Prime Hospitality owner Joey Allaham, noting Cruz’s support for Israel.

Cantor Diane Becker Krasnick leads Passover and Chanukah  services on Royal Caribbean cruises.

Cantor Diane Becker Krasnick leads Passover and Chanukah
services on Royal Caribbean cruises.

The programs range from $2,100 per person for four days and three nights at the W Resort in Vieques Island, Puerto Rico, to $11,000 per person for a full stay of 10 days and nine nights in an ocean view suite at the St. Regis in Monarch Beach.

Van Esschoten said most of her programs are “fairly high end” and that they range from $7,600 to $13,000 for a family of four with children ages 3 to 12.

From what she’s heard, Passover travel started out 40 to 50 years ago with some companies in New York and programs in the Catskills at the now-defunct Concord and Grossinger’s resorts. With those properties gone, a simple Internet search shows the variety of offerings in kosher travel. A myriad of travel agencies and companies run an innumerable amount of programs all over the world.

For other Jews, vacations they’re already on that fall during the holidays can mean celebrating while on a Caribbean cruise. And if they’re on the right boat, they can attend a service led by the St. Thomas Synagogue’s Cantor Diane Becker Krasnick.

For about 13 years, she’s been conducting Passover and Chanukah services on cruises. Although this will be her first year not conducting Passover on a cruise, she’ll be on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas this Chanukah. She’s one of a few clergy members the cruise line works with.

“I’m a people person, and those two holidays, Chanukah and Passover, I really don’t have to be at the synagogue,” she said, noting that a lot of people celebrate those holidays at home.

For Passover, she uses a haggadah she created and works with the boat’s chef to make sure participants get a completely kosher for Passover meal.

“[The haggadah] covers all the bases, all the things you’re supposed to do at Passover, but it’s not overwhelming. It doesn’t take hours and hours,” Krasnick said. “People are on a cruise, so they want to eat.”

She said she gets a mix of secular Jews, a lot of Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Jews and even some Israelis. She’s had up to 100 people at her seders. And she always makes sure to have plenty of presents for kids who search for the afikomen — they all get presents.

For someone who loves cruises, it’s not a bad gig.

“Getting away on cruise ships, it’s heaven for me,” Krasnick said.

Kosher for Passover – For local bakeries, holiday means break from work

Bakeries must rid themselves of shelves upon shelves of bread before the start of Passover.

Bakeries must rid themselves of shelves upon shelves of bread before the start of Passover.

For Baltimore’s kosher bakers, Passover brings with it more than the promise of wine and matzoh; it comes with some serious vacation time.

“It’s something to look forward to,” said Kori Stanley, who works in the bakery department at Seven Mile Market. “It’s not very often that we’re going to get two weeks off where we actually don’t have to find someone to pick up our shift.”

And after all the cleaning and preparation that goes into prepping a bakery for Passover, the relief is hard-earned.

As the holiday nears, the focus shifts from producing mass quantities of challah, cupcakes and pita bread to selling out the chametz.

With many employees unable to take the leftover bread home at the risk of ruining the kosher preparation of their own homes, the process of getting rid of all the bakery’s bread products is intensive and must begin long before the actual start of Passover.

“We start cutting back in our production in the weeks before the holiday,” said Stanley. As the store sells the bread it has, it replaces the product at a far slower rate in an effort to have as little chametz left before the final days preceding Passover.

Finally, when the time comes to shut down the bakery department, staff must begin the most intensive cleaning process of the year. While the bakery is cleaned regularly, this time every single corner and crack must be checked for even the smallest crumb. Before the process is over, a rabbi comes to the store to inspect and make sure it meets kosher-for-Passover regulations. The entire department gets cordoned off so that customers and other employees may not travel through.

“It’s a lot of cleaning,” said Stanley. But it’s worth it in end.

Whether the days off are spent taking a vacation, picking up extra shifts at another job or spending extra time with friends and family, the holiday brings with it a welcome break from the day-to-day grind of rolling dough and firing the oven. At Goldman’s bakery, staff uses the time to celebrate the holiday with family and friends.

“It’s just a break,” said Leah Goldman. “We get together with family that we don’t have time to see” otherwise.

“You try to take advantage of it,” said Stanley.




For the many members of the Jewish community who more or less avoid consuming chametz year-round, Passover brings welcome relief.

“Passover is a big treat for everybody,” said Chana Fishkind, who, along with her two sons, maintains a gluten-free diet. Her husband, she said, just goes with the flow.

Two years ago, Fishkind discovered that her youngest son, who is now 5, couldn’t eat gluten. While transitioning to gluten-free cooking for him, she realized that she was sensitive to gluten too and felt a lot better when she avoided the protein, which is commonly found in wheat and other grains.

While holidays such as Chanukah and Purim may require those who are gluten-free to avoid staples such as jelly doughnuts and hamantashen or seek special recipes, Passover is a holiday where, thanks to halachah, many of those with dietary restrictions can eat just like everybody else.

For Aviva Kidorf, who has severe allergies that require her to avoid gluten, Passover is her favorite holiday.

“Passover doesn’t affect me as much,” she said, comparing the spring holiday with other holidays in the Jewish calendar. Unlike the other holidays, when she watches her family and friends consume some of her once-favorite and now-forbidden foods, she is able to eat most things at her family’s Passover Seder table, although her additional avoidance of sugar does require her to bake her own special desserts.

“I don’t miss things [on Passover],” she said. “Just my Keurig.”

Fishkind and Kidorf are far from alone. Celiac disease, which causes an immune reaction to gluten, is especially common in the Jewish community. Unfortunately for many of the Jewish sufferers of celiac, many staple Jewish foods contain gluten — and lots of it.

“A lot of people have said to me, ‘Wow, I could never do that,’ and I said, ‘You would if you had to,’” said Fishkind. “It’s become a part of our lives.”

Both women’s diets require them to get imaginative in the kitchen. For Fishkind, whose youngest son also cannot have eggs and eldest cannot have nuts, potatoes are a staple. She’s also experimented with pancakes that use banana in place of dairy and flour and even found a recipe for avocado mousse she plans to try for the holiday.

“I have creative cookie recipes that don’t need eggs and use margarine instead,” she said. “I do potato kugel — I substitute zucchini for that. I’ve learned to work with things.”

Recently, that work has become increasingly easier. With the growing popularity of gluten-free food among even those with no dietary restrictions and increased awareness of conditions such as celiac, options for those like Fishkind and Kidorf have exploded in stores such as Wegmans and Whole Foods. Fishkind even sells her own baked goods, including doughnuts and hamantaschen, and business has been great. A lot of her customers aren’t even Orthodox.

Matzoh options have also expanded over time. While years ago people with gluten ailments may have been unable to partake in the eating of matzoh, now there are multiple companies that produce gluten-free varieties, although some special rules apply.

“Growing up, we never heard of such a thing. But a lot of the food products are changing to make it cheaper to make,” said Fishkind. “When my older son first started it was horrendous.”