Concluding the Passover Seder half an hour after it began was almost a family tradition for the Sifens. Larry and Pam Sifen, together with their children and parents, would sit around the table in their Norfolk, Va., home as the aroma of holiday foods warming in the neighboring kitchen competed with the text of the Haggadah for attention.

In recent years, however, the Sifens have taken a new approach to the annual Passover ceremony and feast, ditching the house altogether to embark on an inspirational holiday learning experience away from home. The experiences of other families suggest the Sifens are not alone; more and more people seem to be flocking to such gatherings, held at resorts, community centers and synagogues across the country.

"I can just as easily have a Seder at home, where we go around the table and each of us reads a piece of the Haggadah," says Linda Barbanel Weiss, who together with her family will be joining Rabbi Dovid Vigler and Chabad-Lubavitch of Palm Beach Gardens at Florida's PGA Resort for the feast. "But Rabbi Vigler makes it so much more meaningful by explaining the Seder in terms that you can understand."

Customarily, Passover – an eight-day holiday that this year begins the night of April 19 – is celebrated at home, but many families opt for a change of pace, seeking to reconnect with the traditions people remember from their childhoods. Others choose to attend public Seders that, with their strict adherence to Jewish law, offer a chance to learn about how the holiday that marks the Jewish people's liberation from Egypt has been celebrated for centuries.

Rabbis are quick to point out that those who can have a Seder at home should do so, and that spending Passover away from home is no excuse from the requirement to either get rid of or sell the chametz in your possesion; they note that the Kehot Publication Society, the publishing arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, has a selection of English Haggadahs with in-depth commentary. Following a directive from the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, Chabad Houses across the globe host model Seder events in the weeks leading up to Passover as a way for children and adults to prepare for the actual ritual.

Public Seders, however, ensure that anyone who needs a place to celebrate Passover will be able to participate. Some 150,000 people, for instance, are expected to attend communal Seders in the Former Soviet Union. At the Moscow Jewish Community Center, a Chabad-Lubavitch center in the city's Marina Roscha neighborhood, more than a dozen Seders will take place simultaneously, some according to Sephardic customs and others for Hebrew-speaking or English-speaking foreigners.

Last year’s Passover Seder hosted by Chabad-Lubavitch of Aventura, Fla., was held at a Marriott hotel.
Last year’s Passover Seder hosted by Chabad-Lubavitch of Aventura, Fla., was held at a Marriott hotel.
According to Rabbi Mendel Mintz, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Aspen, Colo., the numbers at his communal Seder have steadily increased over the last few years.

"We're expecting between 100 and 150 people for this year's Seder," says Mintz. "We started out a couple of years ago with only 20 participants, and the Seder's popularity has consistently grown every year since."

Sifen says that his family began focusing more intently on Passover's inner meaning a couple of years ago.

"Our Seder used to be about 20 to 30 minutes long. We just couldn't wait to get to the food," he explains. "So we experimented with a guide we printed off of It breathed life into our Seder."

All Over the World

Today,'s Passover Web site,, hosts the largest Seder directory in the world, pointing visitors to Passover meals all around the globe. It also offers a printable guide for people spending Passover away from home. And just as with the Sifen's experience years ago, it still features a guide for those who want to host the Seder from their own dining room.

The Sifens, though, will be spending their Seder with a couple hundred guests at the Four Seasons Resort in Whistler, British Columbia, ranked by Zagat as the 4th best resort in the world.

Community members light holiday candles before a communal Passover Seder in Belaya Tserko, Russia.
Community members light holiday candles before a communal Passover Seder in Belaya Tserko, Russia.
Though the skiing – which will take place in the intermediate days of Passover – is a major draw of the Canadian Rockies paradise, what really attracted the Sifens was Rabbi Manis Friedman, the founder and dean of Chabad-Lubavitch's Bais Chana Institute for women, who will be leading the Seder.

"Rabbi Friedman recently spent a weekend at our community in Virginia. He is incredibly inspirational," says Sifen. "So when we heard that he will lead the resort's Seder, as well as seminars over the holiday, we decided that we wanted to spend a spiritual and enriching Passover with him."

According to Friedman, a S. Paul, Minn.-based author and sought-after teacher, people are searching for the reason why Passover is celebrated in the first place. It represents more than just freedom for the Jewish people, he asserts; Passover represents the ongoing struggle of living a spiritual life in a physical world.

"People, enmeshed in the habit of keeping Passover, have forgotten its theme," says Friedman, who has led communal Seders for the past five years. "Without that theme, it seems like: Enough already, it's nice to be free, but we've been free all this time.

"As with any tradition, people are looking to rediscover the original inspiration, the original meaning," he continues. "And that has been the job of teachers and rabbis throughout the generations: To teach and inspire."

For Mintz, it's all about the experience.

"They leave the Seder with a reinforced sense of meaning and community," says Mintz. "It gives the participants and their children a strong Jewish identity to convey to the next generation."