Thursday, March 23, 2023

Gil Travel is creating a Pesach program in Bahrain and leaving nothing to chance. The team is getting ready to visit the country with their mashgiach and chef later this month, to go through every step of what it will take to prepare for a flawless experience. The Philadelphia-based travel agency has 50 years’ experience bringing groups from Birthright, Israel Bonds and Jewish Federations to Israel, and has organized trips for Jewish families to explore their roots all over the world, including sourcing kosher food in every location. This will be their first Pesach program. They are putting together a world-class experience, with experts in mehadrin kosher cuisine, Pesach Sedarim, shiurim and entertainment, and doing the research so each aspect of the program is planned, vetted and smoothly executed. The Manama Hilton, located in Bahrain’s capital, is hosting the program. The entire 44th floor, with its own kitchen, dining room and lounge, will be for the exclusive use of Gil Travel and guests. All rooms are large, designed for families, and have breathtaking views of the ocean or the city.

Why Bahrain? “Bahrain is a beautiful country with a wonderful climate and friendly people,” said Iris Hami, president and CEO of the Gil Travel Group. “It’s the perfect mix of the old and the new. It’s a beautiful island with water all around and exciting tours in and around Bahrain. There will be many activities for families. You can swim with the dolphins, go kayaking and boating, shop in the shuk and modern malls, and go to the dunes in the desert.”

This will be the first time the local Jewish community will be able to have a Pesach Seder with Jewish visitors. Did you know Bahrain had a Jewish community? Hami said there has been one for centuries. It started coming back in the 1800s and declined in 1947. It is now one of the world’s smallest, numbering about 30, but maintains ownership of a shul and Jewish cemetery. Bahrain has a full-time rabbi, the first since 1947. Previously, rabbis would come in periodically from other countries. There’s also an American military base in Bahrain. Hami is inviting Jews from the base to join the Sedarim.

Introducing people to Jewish communities throughout the world has become an area of expertise for Gil Travel, at the request of their clients. Many who have been to Israel several times wanted to travel to other countries where they could get to know Jewish people and their local culture. Hami said the agency has arranged visits to Egypt and Turkey when it was safe to travel there, and that’s beginning again. With the signing of the Abraham Accords, Gil Travel started bringing people to Morocco, Dubai and Bahrain. “We meet with leaders of Jewish communities and learn about differences in culture,” said Hami. “We’ve been bringing groups to Bahrain now for a year or two. The country has wonderful relationships between different religions and the Jewish community.”

The relationships in Bahrain that Hami developed led to the creation of the Pesach program. “At one point the Bahrain government tourist office asked us to bring more Jewish travelers to Bahrain,” she said. “We were excited about the opportunity and decided a great way to do that was to organize a Pesach program that is uniquely ours, and we put it together from A to Z.”

Starting from scratch meant getting help from experts. “We met with the head of the Jewish community, and the rabbi and they were very excited to help us,” said Hami. “Slowly but surely, we built a team.”

Hami started at the Tel Aviv Hilton, where she was familiar with their stellar Pesach program. “They helped identify the Manama Hilton, a brand new hotel that just opened in August, and an incredible chef who had done kosher culinary programs in Bahrain during Yom Ha’atzmaut.” Chef Doron Sason is an Israeli with a BA in hotel management from Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island and an MBA from the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. His career has taken him all over the world and helped him develop his own fusion cuisine, utilizing the best techniques from every place he has worked.

Hami said they have a rabbi from Monsey who is very familiar with the ins and outs of Pesach, and a mashgiach, also from Monsey. The local rabbi, who was in Shanghai for many years, is putting together meaningful shiurim and entertainment with performers from abroad and the local area. “We feel ready to accept great families who want a wonderful Pesach vacation where the sun is always shining.”

Details about minyanim are still being worked out. To accommodate the range of people who want to join the program, Hami said they will send a detailed questionnaire to people who sign up in order to gauge what kinds of religious services they will need.

For more information, visit https://www.passoverlistings.com/listing/gil-travel-group-passover-program-2023-in-bahrain-pearl-of-the-gulf/

By Bracha Schwartz

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