LAKE GENEVA – For more than 30 years Roberta Katz spent days, sometimes weeks, cleaning her house top to bottom for Passover. The kitchen and dining room were the hardest – the refrigerator and stove were moved so she could clean, then every cupboard was scoured, every shelf wiped meticulously.
She and her husband of 48 years, Elliott, are Orthodox. The Glendale couple can’t imagine celebrating Passover without doing the cleaning.
“What would be the point?” asked Elliott. “But Robbie worked her fingers to the bone cleaning for years. By the time she got to the Seder table she was exhausted.”
Some 15 years ago the Glendale couple decided by mutual agreement to try something different: They spent Passover at the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa. Now, it’s their annual Passover tradition, a tradition maintained by Mark Tannenbaum of Chicago.
Tannenbaum has been offering Passover packages at the Grand Geneva for 30 years. He promotes the packages online.
Although a number of Chicago and Milwaukee hotels have kosher kitchens, he said The Grand Geneva is the only Midwestern resort to meet the high Passover standards set by the Chicago Rabbinical Council, the supervisors for the affair.
“We take over two of the kitchens at the resort, one for dairy and one for meat,” said Tannenbaum. “I purchase the food and make the menu but the Grand Geneva staff does the cooking.”
His team also does the prescribed cleaning and brings in utensils, cookware and dishes only used for Passover.
Commemorating the story of the Exodus of the Jews fleeing slavery in Egypt, the observant do not eat leavened grain products – or even allow a crumb in their homes or other properties – during Passover. Making tasty meals can be challenging to almost any chef. Roberta Katz said her favorite meals at the resort featured prime rib or salmon and husband Elliott nearly swoons when he speaks of the high quality.
Participants can stay anywhere from a single night to eight nights and nine days. The packages offer three kosher meals a day, two Seders and much more. There’s the ever popular, always open hospitality room lined with tables of treats ranging from fruits and vegetables to chocolates and ice cream.
Typical guests cover a range of ages, Tannenbaum said.
“When we started out it was mostly older couples,” Tannenbaum said. “They had sent their kids to public schools and the kids assimilated. Many of these kids didn’t keep kosher and it was difficult for the older people to do all the cleaning.”
But times have changed and Tannenbaum said he’s seeing something different. “There are a number of the younger generation who are keeping kosher – something their parents had not done. So we’re seeing more multi-generation families.”
Passover vacations have become increasingly popular – and elaborate – in recent years. The first hotel Passover vacations were in the Catskills, but now they are available in sunny locations in Florida, Arizona, Texas and California as well as more distant hotspots in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Italy and the Isle of Crete. There is even a Kosher South African safari available for the observant who still want high adventure. And of course many Jews around the world say “Next year in Jerusalem” at the end of the Passover Seder feast.
“There are 500-room hotels in Florida and Mexico where Passover groups take all the rooms,” Tannenbaum said, adding that the exotic locations can cost $7,000 per person or more.
The ostentatious cost can be a lot more than many budgets allow, not to mention the travel time. The Grand Geneva, while more expensive than celebrating at your grandparents’ home, is affordable for many and close to home for Milwaukeeans but still offering the luxury of a resort.
“I remember a few years ago one guy came with his family,” Tannenbaum recalled. “It was during the peak of tax season that year and he was an accountant. He would drive to his office in Chicago during the day and come back to be with his family at night.”
The Grand Geneva has something for all ages: a game room, a water park, a play room and baby sitters to allow some free time for the adults. There are also two 18-hole golf courses, indoor/outdoor tennis, bike rentals, a workout facility, fitness classes and more.
Evening entertainment is all over the board – magic acts, music and comedians.
The package also has some unique programs for Passover. Rabbi Tsvi G. Schur is the scholar in residence. Schur got involved in the Passover program while he served as chaplain for the Milwaukee Jewish Federation from 1978 until 1998. Now a chaplain at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Schur has continued to be a part of the program.
Schur’s nightly lectures offer something for the mind and the soul. On various nights he will speak on Elijah the Prophet, modern medical ethics and free choice or destiny as well as other topics. “It’s also good for my ego,” he said with a chuckle.
There are 20 or 30 tables for Passover Seder, many participants coming from Cleveland and St. Louis as well as Milwaukee and Chicago.
“Some people save for the family to go over Passover,” he said. “It’s beautiful to walk into the dining room and see 20 or 30 tables filled.”
Elliott Katz said he and his wife reunited with a number of friends from Chicago at Lake Geneva.
“We were both from Chicago originally,” Elliott Katz said. “But we’ve lived (in Glendale) for 45 years. We got reacquainted with some friends from Chicago and for a number of years we’ve shared a table with them. We renewed our friendship and have gotten to know a second generation. We’ve made many other good friends over the years.”
The food, he said, is top quality but a big draw has been that Lake Geneva is close to home.
Roberta Katz said one of the most memorable events was when Rabbi Schur – who is a moil – performed a bris during one Passover, one of a half dozen he’s done at the Grand Geneva during Passover celebrations.
“A family from Milwaukee decided to do the bris there,” she said. “Their whole family came in. It was beautiful.”
For more information on the Grand Geneva Passover go to WeekendConnections.com or call 773-973-6925. To see what the resort has to offer go to GrandGeneva.com.