A Passover Getaway?

Tuesday marks the first full day of Passover and as many Jewish families clean and prepare their homes in its observation, many choose to vacation... so that all the cleaning and cooking is done for them. Host Michel Martin speaks with Laurie Vanesschoten, founder of The Wandering Jew Dot Net — a travel Web site dedicated to connecting people to Kosher and Judaic Travel — about Kosher Travel during Passover.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Now we want to talk about another way families come together for the religious holidays. Last night was the first night of Passover and Jewish families and friends gathered around the world to celebrate. Now many, maybe most, will mark the occasion at the home of a relative or a friend. But estimates show that thousands travel for Passover to kosher-ready destinations.

Yesterday we got a Passover primer from one of our favorite rabbis. Today we want to find out how to vacation kosher and why so many families choose to travel for Passover.

So weve called with Laurie Vanesschoten. She is the founder of thewanderingjew.net. That's a Web site dedicated to connecting people to kosher and Judaic travel, and she's with us now. Welcome. Thank you for joining us.

Ms. LAURIE VANESSCHOTEN (Founder, wanderingjew.net): Youre very welcome.

MARTIN: And Happy Pesach to you.

Ms. VANESSCHOTEN: Thank you kindly.

MARTIN: So why do people travel for Passover? Why do they choose - I mean, obviously some people are traveling to connect with family. But why would people go to, say, a hotel or a resort?

Ms. VANESSCHOTEN: I think for the most part it is an easy way to have Passover and have a nice vacation at the same time. Many of the programs that are out there bring in great speakers and all kinds of entertainment for them. But the main reason is because the business of having a kosher home for Passover means turning over youre entire kitchen. In other words, you change out all your dishes, your pots and pans, your silverware, and it's a big job. It's a big spring cleaning job. And this way, somebody else is doing it for you and you dont have to go through that.

MARTIN: The hotel destinations that many people travel to, are they kosher all year long or do they make special arrangements for this time of year?

Ms. VANESSCHOTEN: It's all special arrangements. Other than obviously the hotels in Israel and one or two specifically kosher hotels in Europe, most of these are just standard resorts and they come in about a week ahead of time and they kosher the kitchen and they're ready to go when the holiday begins.

MARTIN: How are they sure that they're kosher?

Ms. VANESSCHOTEN: Well, there are certifications. And in many of the programs that we list on our Web site we also list the certification. And then they have somebody that is at the hotel supervising, watching all the preparation, called a meshkia(ph). So that they're not only controlling that meat and dairy are not eaten together or on the same plates or cooked in the same utensils, but theyre also making sure that the products that are being used are coming from strictly kosher locations and that nothing that has bread or any other things that are specifically not allowed during Passover are used.

MARTIN: Now, our guest yesterday was telling us about some of the preparations for Passover and he told us that it's kind of part of spirit of the holiday to do all that spring cleaning. So are people missing something? Are they missing out?

Ms. VANESSCHOTEN: I think that to some extent that's true but, you know, each family has their own way of doing things. And with our busy world that we have now, I would say that easily 80 or 90 percent of the families that I deal with where both the husbands and wives are working, and people just dont have all the time.

MARTIN: And is it also something that perhaps big families are attracted to because this way, maybe if you have several sibling groups to get together and everybody's got a big family, this is a way that everybody can celebrate together?

Ms. VANESSCHOTEN: Yes, it is. Also that, you know, many of the programs are particularly for ultraorthodox families, where they have much larger families. I have one family in a program right now where there's eight children. And if their brothers and sisters also all have eight children or thereabouts, then you end up having a situation where you can't possibly fit them in your home.

MARTIN: Okay. So have you ever gone to one?

Ms. VANESSCHOTEN: Actually, no I haven't.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay. So now the truth comes out.

Ms. VANESSCHOTEN: I'm just trying to make it easy for everybody else to get there.

MARTIN: Well, how do you celebrate?

Ms. VANESSCHOTEN: We actually have the whole family coming to our house today.

MARTIN: Okay.

Ms. VANESSCHOTEN: My son's coming in from Atlanta. My brothers are down here from the Bay Area in San Francisco, and so we're all getting together at my house.

MARTIN: And are they going to help you with the cleaning?

Ms. VANESSCHOTEN: No, unfortunately. But they're all going to be chipping in on the cooking.

MARTIN: Okay. Well, see, I think maybe it's time for a resort. I don't know.

Ms. VANESSCHOTEN: That is true.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Well, happy Pesach to you, once again.

Ms. VANESSCHOTEN: Thank you so much.

MARTIN: And what are you serving, by the way? What are you having?

Ms. VANESSCHOTEN: We start off with Gefilte fish, which I dont make, and I bake chopped liver and then weve got chicken soup with Matzo Balls. And I'm making chicken and roasted fennel and potatoes and then I have a Passover sponge cake, and I've made some mango sorbet.

MARTIN: Okay. Well, that's sounds fabulous. Youre right, I would stay home for that.

Ms. VANESSCHOTEN: Well, thank you. Youre welcome any time.

MARTIN: Laurie Vanesschoten is the founder of thewanderingjew.net. That's a Web site dedicated to connecting people to kosher and Judaic travel, and she was kind enough to join us during this busy Passover season from Rancho Cucamonga. Thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. VANESSCHOTEN: Youre very welcome. Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. Im Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Lets talk more tomorrow.

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