Passover retreat offers hassle-free holiday in Yosemite

Next year in Jerusalem. This year in Yosemite.

Whirlpools replace a trip to the Dead Sea. Saunas recreate the heat of the desert.

Two seders — one Ashkenazi, one Sephardi — in total serving up to 450 people, ensure the retelling of the Jewish Exodus from Egyptian bondage. Meanwhile, completely kosher-for-Pesach facilities free up families from the time-consuming chores of preparing the home for Passover.

The 10-day, nine-night Passover excursion, Monday, April 21 to Wednesday 30, is sponsored by Arachim: An Organization for the Furtherance of Jewish Awareness.

The 20-year-old Israel-based agency serving the educational, spiritual and holiday needs of mostly observant Jews worldwide, sponsors several seminars throughout the year. However, Passover in Yosemite is a first.

"We've had Rosh Hashanah in Palm Springs, Shavuot in Ontario, Canada. Yosemite is a very attractive place. It looks like the Creation," said Yechezkel Gurevitch, director of Arachim's Los Angeles office, referring to Yosemite's sky-high redwood trees and powerful waterfalls.

"There are people who come to Yosemite and leave more spiritual — just by being in nature," Gurevitch added. "It's different making Pesach here than in the city. It's calming. You feel it."

Passover at Yosemite will be housed at the Marriott Tenaya Lodge in Fish Camp. The cost — $1,500 per adult, $750 per child ages 3 to 11, and $375 per child newborn to 2 — includes room, all meals, lectures and child care. For information, call (213) 931-9575 or (213) 931-3344.

Arachim staff will take over the lodge several days before the retreat in order to prepare the kitchen and certify it kosher.

Because Ashkenazi and Sephardi consider different food items kosher for Passover– for example, Sephardi permit rice during Pesach, while Ashkenazi permit potatoes — the kitchen will be equipped with two sets of dishes, flatware and cookware.

Only Shmura matzah — which has been overseen by rabbis from growth to packaging and is made by hand– will be served. All meals are glatt kosher.

In addition, Arachim staffers will conduct two main full-service seders for the first two nights of the holiday. Families and groups who wish to conduct their own seders can do so also.

Because the Pesach retreat focuses on mind, body and spirit, families are encouraged to take full advantage of their surroundings.

Guests can swim in the indoor pool, soak in whirlpools, and shvitz in saunas and steam rooms. In observance of Jewish laws of modesty, there will separate times for men and women to use the hotel's health facilities.

Prices also include discounts for activities at Yosemite National Park like horseback riding, mountain biking, golf, tennis and rides on the Sugar Pine Railroad.

Twice each day, speakers from Israel, Los Angeles and New York will lecture on a variety of topics, ranging from medicine to philosophy. Programs are available in both English and Hebrew. Child care and children's programs are offered during these hours.

"We're teaching Jewish philosophy — what it means to be Jewish," Gurevitch said. "The language of the Bible isn't so easy to understand. We come to the people.

"We go deeply inside tradition and text. Our speakers are doctors, scientists and rabbis who explain what it means to be Jewish in a modern world."

In addition, both an Ashkenazi and Sephardi daily minyan are available.

"We want to serve everybody," Gurevitch said. "People are coming from all over — even Melbourne, Australia."