Twelve years ago, as I looked out onto Spain’s stunning Catalonia coastline, the Costa Brava, which literally means “wild coast,” I noticed that the impossibly blue waves crashed into rocks that looked painted by Hashem himself. The sound of the waves was a soft roar, the sea birds called to one another and the gentlest of breezes ruffled my clothes. The symphony of sounds, sight and sensation was magnificent. I wondered aloud if there was a more beautiful spot in all the world.
“Maybe, maybe not,” said Eva Rosenthal, who was standing next to me, and laughed. Co-founder and tour operator, with her husband David, of Unlimited Travel & Tours, based in Flatbush, Rosenthal is known for her unique ability to combine glatt kosher vacations, most often including a Yom Tov like Pesach or Sukkot, with adventurous travel. She has taken groups in recent years to China, Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Spain, and many other places, and run tour groups with unique sets of options for a wide range of age group and budgets. While I only went with her to Italy twice, Spain once and Hungary once, her program descriptions always make me want to travel with her again.
“Pesach is an expensive proposition anyway, so why not take advantage of the time off from work and see the world as well?” she asks me in her trademark Hungarian accent. “Every time I go, I come back to comments from clients about the wonder of seeing the local culture, as well as amazement at the beautiful community that was brought together for the chag. Lasting friendships are always made. These clients have also become my friends too, having traveled together for years now,” she explained. I can attest to that, as Rosenthal and her family danced at my wedding and we have remained in touch. Our friendship has remained as warm as it began, for over a dozen years.
Rosenthal says that the glatt kosher mehadrin supervision she always arranges brings out the widest possible wide range of clients, Jews from all walks of life, from charedi and chassidish families, to secular Israelis who want a seder or a sukkah available on their vacation. This lends itself to a respectful and inclusive group dynamic that seems impossible to duplicate. Yet, every year, Rosenthal does it again.
A truly unique option Rosenthal often provides is a traveling trip for a few days before or after each holiday. For example, last year, before her Pesach in Brazil trip, which welcomed 750 people, she took a small group from Buenos Aires to Iguazu Falls in Argentina, crossing over to Brazil, which offers unique sights even more impressive waterfalls. Staying in a five-star hotel for one night, the group continued to San Paulo, to join the hotel program for Pesach.
“Unbelievable beauty. Did you know there are thousands of butterflies in the forest in Argentina? Niagara Falls is tiny compared with the Argentinian side of the Iguazu Falls,” she told me, explaining that Iguazu is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. She was thrilled to be able to see it for herself, and to be able to provide access to it for her guests, along with beautiful accommodations, an excellent local tour guide and catered kosher food.
In China, she also brought a group before Pesach to experience the incredibly diverse culture and then, a few days later, witnessed “the beautiful bonding within the Jewish community we built in the hotel from all parts of the world, and to learn to appreciate one another. This is what it is all about,” she said.
Rosenthal added that an incredibly exciting gift she gives her clients is not just the community but the opportunity for clients to also step away from the group and relax privately. “When parents and family, sometimes a few generations, join together on vacation, they can really enjoy the beauty of the holiday, in an exotic and different part of the world that has every amenity you’d need, but is also at the same time so unique and foreign.” While that Jewish community is available for minyanim and shiurim, families can be as involved in the group or stay enclosed in their own family, if they prefer. Everyone can be as isolated as they choose, and go on their own Chol Hamoed trips rather than joining a larger group.
“That’s how I started this whole business. The vision is how we combine our warmth and professionalism to create a pretty seamless kosher vacation with options for every kind of traveler. Look, how many people from my group come again and again, year after year? It’s a real opportunity to go away and travel. Did you ever want to join a safari, visit Shakaland in South Africa? We went to see how the Shaka tribe lived 200 years ago and that is the same as how they live today. The group loved it. How else would we have this opportunity?”
In the last several years, Rosenthal explained that she has shifted and provided even more options for different Pesach programs because not every program is for everyone. “We are considered a boutique travel agency, providing glatt kosher vacations. I also involve myself in how much I do about some vacations operated by others. I have helped out Thailand in terms of guiding the direction.
“Most of our clients have now been all over the world, but have never been to Thailand,” which Rosenthal is excited to offer for Pesach 2019. The five-star program will be held in the 257-luxury room beachfront Renaissance Pattaya Resort & Spa, a JW Marriott resort. The entire hotel will be glatt kosher for Pesach (non-gebrokts, no shruya, no kitniyot).
Classes, lectures, shiurim will be offered by Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weisz, who is serving as scholar-in-residence and Rav Hamachshir. The hotel’s staff offer multiple seder options, including private or communal and a tropically-themed open bar and tea room.
For chol hamoed activities, enjoy the Khao Kheow Open Zoo (where the animals roam free), Nong Nooch Tropical Garden, the largest botanical garden in Southeast Asia, or learn to kiteboard. Or just relax, swim or enjoy the resort’s beautiful long sandy beaches. Stay in Thailand a little longer and visit the Khao Yai National Park in central Thailand, home to tigers, wild boars, and elephants. Recreational facilities within the resort include two outdoor swimming pools, a kids pool, kids club, full-service luxury spa, and 24-hour fitness center.
By Elizabeth Kratz