Monday, April 12, 2010

Passover at Lake Las Vegas: Grateful for the Liberation

When you say you went to Lake Las Vegas, people envision some puddle in the middle of a Strip hotel. But after spending the Passover week there, I can tell you that though it's just a half-hour drive, it's a world away from the Spring Break-fed mania of blaring bells, walls of neon, European theme shopping, banks of slot machines and half-empty rows of card tables with their satin-vested attendants in their elastic-secured bow ties.  And it feels even further away from the bondage of housework required to celebrate the holiday at home.

Passover in a hotel program is a vacation from the required tasks of cleaning the kitchen pristine, locking up or dumping all the "chumetz" (leavened foods--mostly anything baked or made with flour--that make up most of a normal diet) and diligently ridding the rest of the house of crushed granola bars, stray Cheerios, and other doughy contraband.  "Turning over" the house for Pesach, clearing out the puffy products that symbolically represent arrogance and egotism, allowing submission to a higher authority, has a cathartic effect for a saintly few, but in my less-than-uplifted state, hold only the threat of chapped hands. Even when the chumetz is cleared out, Passover dishes, cutlery, and specially-certified foods must come in, and the cooking begins.  Preparation for the holiday takes most families about a month, more than enough time to contemplate and crave the transition from slavery to liberation.

My husband and I have been fortunate to be invited to speak at Passover hotel getaways for many years now, replacing a cleaning-buying-cooking frenzy with anticipation of a warmer location, lavish buffets, thought-provoking classes, enjoyable outings, and, best, a week of family time together. My husband's brother and his delightful wife and daughters joined the five of us in the group of 650 people, all observing milleniums-old traditions and fulfilling biblical commandments.

One of the nice aspects of participating in a Passover retreat is that in that context, it's normal to follow Jewish laws and traditions. Nobody thinks you weird for eschewing electric card-key room doors during the four holy days (yomim tovim) and Shabbat (the Sabbath), instead wedging cardboard across the latches. On those days the stairwells throb with crowds avoiding the elevators, and houskeeping staff merely shrug when asked to leave bathroom lights on.

Banquet room servers get used to constant requests for special wines. But it's doubtful they get used to seeing the amount of food consumed, with enormous breakfasts, "kiddush" mid-morning, huge buffet lunch, afternoon "Tea Room" spreads and of course, the six-course dinners, followed by late night "Tea Room" goodies.  At the de rigeur "Western Bar-b-Que," piles of foot-square steaks, mountains of burgers, chicken and hot dogs get quickly devoured by hovering hoards thrilled to return for seconds and thirds some cram into styrofoam "to go" boxes.  The food is so much fancier and more plentiful than the usual fare at home.

One of the lectures I give is about staying naturally thin, by listening to body cues of hunger and satiation, and casting off the many external motivators to eat--like that little voice that says, "it's here, it's free, and I can have as much as I want!"  Many people told me that my talk made a profound impact on them. Some also seemed to profoundly enjoy the Western Bar-b-Que.

Luxury meals aside, the atmosphere at Lake Las Vegas was one of cheer, caring, religious respect and "ohave Yisroyal," love of fellow Jews. There was much serious Torah study, and the synagogues--one in the Ashkenazic traditon and the other Sephardic--were filled for every service.  Family groups conducted seders in a room filled with others following the exact same order of service, the noisy distraction of singing and discussing offset by the gratification of so many families sharing this pivotal historical event and moment, in the same place, in the same way.

In fact, the warm-fuzzies of Lake Las Vegas make me appreciate all the more my friends who stayed home, scrubbing, picking crumbs out of grout, lining refrigerator racks with tin foil and stacking specially-procured chumetz-less foods on newly-lined shelves.  I raise my effortlessly-filled glass to you all, and hope that you and your family can join me next year--if not in Jerusalem, in a cushy, beautiful Passover hotel.

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