These days there seems to be an app for everything, so when Sholli Kestecher, travel enthusiast and entrepreneur, searched for a short-term booking platform customized for a Jewish kosher traveler, he was surprised to discover that no such thing existed. He decided to create Jstay, a global app modeled after the Airbnb concept, that offers options for lodging complete with all the amenities needed to enjoy a vacation within the confines of an Orthodox lifestyle.
Sholli was born and raised in Stamford Hill, London, to a Chabad family of 15 children. He describes a family-oriented upbringing that focused on Jewish values and Torah. Looking back, he said he didn’t particularly enjoy school and by age 16 he started to hone his entrepreneurial skills, pursuing various job opportunities that eventually led him to the short-term rental business.
Sholli made aliyah in 2013 and settled in Nachlaot, a gentrified neighborhood adjacent to the shuk. Before COVID he was a partner in a property-management company called EmEs Homes, where he worked primarily with vacation rentals and short-term bookings. It was then that he saw a need for an application that would improve the system for the Jewish kosher traveler and came up with the concept for Jstay. Life got busy, he said, so he shelved the idea, and then COVID hit, bringing his business to a standstill and sending the country into lockdown. Sholli suddenly found himself with a lot of extra time to dedicate to the Jstay initiative.
The Jstay model is like other short-term rental services with the addition of specific features designed with the religious traveler in mind. Users can filter their search based on several amenities built around Shabbat options and other lifestyle necessities. The listings are user friendly, and hosts are encouraged to include as much information as possible. For example, the app will indicate if a home has a Shabbat-friendly refrigerator, a kosher lamp, a non-electric entry card, a hot-water urn and other items such as candlesticks and siddurim. Other details accessible through the app include sukkah options, an eruv and kosher kitchen essentials. Guests can also filter their search based on a listing’s distance to kosher stores, restaurants, shuls and mikvahs.
Sholli understands that standards of kashrut differ from person to person so he has included an option for hosts to indicate if their rental is standard kosher or strictly kosher, a feature he hopes will help guests determine what type of rental is most suitable. And like other platforms, Jstay guests can leave reviews about their overall experience, and both guests and hosts can review each other based on level of kashrut. For users who have additional inquiries, Sholli said customer support is available via WhatsApp, phone or email.
The Jstay app is free to download for hosts and guests, and according to Sholli their booking fee is more affordable than most other vacation-rental platforms; they take 3% from hosts and 7% from guests once the booking is complete. Jstay also has standard protocols in place to protect both the guest and the host. Once someone books a rental, Jstay holds the money until the day after check-in and then processes the request and sends it to the host. This allows either the guest or the host a chance to contact Jstay should any issues arise.
Sholli values his Orthodox lifestyle and loves to travel and meet new people. Raised in a home that embodied chesed and hospitality, he appreciates the opportunity to help make people’s Jewish observance easier and more comfortable. “I have always been a people-oriented person,” said Sholli, who, together with his wife and two children, loves hosting large Shabbat meals and events.
In only a few months Jstay has gained popularity in the vacation-rental industry among property owners and travelers alike who recognize Sholli as an honest businessman who runs his company in accordance with his Orthodox value system. His next order of business is to increase inventory by meeting property owners and managers across the globe who are interested in joining the Jstay community.
Looking ahead, Sholli hopes to expand the Jstay platform to include more than just short-term rental services by incorporating everything related to the Jewish travel experience. “We want to make it as easy as possible for people to plan their vacations, and to give them as many resources as possible to make their time away relaxing and meaningful.”
You can download the Jstay app now on the app store or Google play store or visit Jstay.com.