pesach problems

The chaos roiling a luxury Passover getaway in Atlantic City

A New Jersey Passover program fell through days before the first Seder, leaving hundreds with canceled plans for the holiday

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Atlantic City skyline at night

Tickets were purchased, hotel rooms booked, outfits selected — all that was left for hundreds of Orthodox Jews planning to spend Passover at a luxury hotel in Atlantic City was to show up. Or so they thought.

Their hopes for an easy, relaxing holiday where their only responsibility would be to arrive before sunset next Wednesday were dashed this week, when the operator of the extravagant Passover program sent a cryptic email suggesting something had gone seriously wrong. 

“We were hit with a huge financial scam, and we are not sure at this point if we can continue,” said the Wednesday night email from Aryeh Hospitality, a tour company that has for years operated retreats for Passover and other Jewish holidays at hotels in New York and New Jersey. The email was first published by Yeshiva World News.

The Claridge Hotel, where the 10-day program was slated to take place, insists there was no scam — only an alleged breach of contract on the part of Aryeh Hospitality and its owner, Heshy Goldstein.  

“The only thing I can say is, the client that we were dealing with was in breach of contract. There was just no other choice but to cancel the event,” Jeff Marshall, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, told Jewish Insider. Goldstein did not respond to multiple requests for comment from JI.

Weeklong Passover programs at hotels in the United States, Israel and exotic locations around the world have exploded in popularity in recent years. For those who can afford the high cost, the all-inclusive programs offer high-quality kosher food and days of activities for adults and children. For many people, participating in the programs has become a desirable alternative to the onerous process of making their homes kosher for Passover. They also offer a way for large extended families who do not live in the same place to spend the holiday together. 

The programs vary in terms of religious observance, and the one at the Claridge was among the strictest level of observance. Its guests must now make new plans for the weeklong holiday. It is unclear if they will receive a refund. 

“Welcome to our family Pesach retreat. Where every guest is treated like family,” the Passover program’s website says. As of Thursday night, the website did not say the program had been canceled, and still allowed people to inquire about reservations. 

Guests who sign up for a Passover program generally do so through a third-party travel company, rather than booking directly with the hotel. Guests pay the program operator, not the hotel; the operator then pays the hotel for the rooms and any other fees, while also paying vendors for necessities like kosher food. Aryeh Hospitality had reserved almost the entire hotel, which has 480 rooms, but the program operator never successfully paid for the rooms. It is not clear how many people had signed up for the Passover program.

On Thursday, Goldstein sent another message, accusing people of “smearing me” and promising to give them “the real story.” For days, he wrote, the Claridge had wrongly accused him and his team of not paying the hotel. 

“​​Today when we were ready to start cleaning the kitchen the[y] said that we were playing games with them and although we said we sent them wires, they didn’t receive it,” Goldstein wrote in the message, which was obtained by JI. He said he showed the hotel the email that he said confirmed the wire transfer, but he noticed that the transfer had gone wrong. 

“If you look closely you’ll see an extra ‘r’ after Claridge .com [and] this proved to the hotel that it wasn’t our fault,” wrote Goldstein, who said he had been scammed by the incorrect spelling. But, he said, the Claridge would not allow him to try to pay again. “I begged and cried and told them that we will take the loss and pay again but they fell on deaf ears.”

Marshall, the hotel employee, said the staff at the Claridge had hoped to resolve the issue. 

“We tried to give them every opportunity, because it’s going to hurt us greatly too. There had just come a point in time where the contract was breached, and we had to move in another direction,” he said.  

The Atlantic City program had several speakers and musicians lined up for the event. As of Thursday, they had not been formally notified that the event was canceled. 

“I really kind of didn’t even find out officially from the guy who’s putting together the program. I kind of heard it through the backdoor,” Jerry Reiner, the program’s chef, told JI. He signed onto the program several months ago. It was his first with this hospitality company, although he has worked other Passover programs in the past. 

“I was as much surprised, I guess, as everybody else. Although I did feel like something wasn’t completely normal. Normally things on a Pesach program progress a certain way. There’s more communication,” said Reiner. “It just does seem suspect, but I never knew what was really underlying those feelings. Evidently something was not correct on a financial basis.” 

This isn’t the first time a Passover program has fallen apart so close to the holiday, although such occurrences are rare. In 2019, hundreds of guests at a program in Orlando, Fla., faced eviction after the program organizer failed to pay more than $75,000. Two years later, guests arriving to kosher villas they had rented — also in Orlando — arrived to find that the homes had been double-booked.

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