July 24, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Home in a Hotel, On Shabbat and Weekdays

When life takes you away from home, advance planning is essential, especially if you’ll be staying in a hotel over Shabbat. But if you do your homework early in the planning stage, you can have a real vacation instead of roughing it. We’ve gathered some tips on how to arrange a Shabbat friendly room and delicious meals.

Main Street Travel in Monsey, New York, specializes in helping observant Jewish clients navigate travel logistics. Eve Hollander, a 20 year veteran with the company, cautioned that electronic keys are now the norm in hotels and most can’t be bypassed for Shabbat. If you’re uncomfortable asking someone on the staff to open the door for you, you can foil the lock manually. Bring heavy scotch tape with you and tape over the lock. Remember to put all valuables in the room safe. If you are in a cabin or motel with your car nearby, you can lock valuables in your trunk.

Avoid elevators on Shabbat by asking for a room on a low floor. Candles are another issue as they may set off fire alarms. Hollander suggested bringing candles with incandescent bulbs, or asking for a room in the smoking section. Ask in advance to have a room with a refrigerator and microwave oven. When you arrive in the room, check if there is a light inside the fridge you can tape up or take out. If you’re eating Shabbat dinner in your room, you can heat up food in the microwave shortly before candle lighting. Bring an electric warming tray if you have room in your car or suitcase. Certain brands of packaged meals contain their own heating element. While you can’t use them on Shabbat, they can be heated up before candle lighting for Shabbat dinner. Pack timers to use with lamps and the warming tray if you bring one. Be sure to put out the ‘do not disturb’ sign before Shabbat or the housekeeping staff may wreak havoc on your carefully prepared room set up.

Hollander advised staying in hotels that provide a buffet breakfast, as most have several kosher items including packages of cereals and yogurts with a hechsher, along with fresh fruit. Milk and juice can be placed in the hotel’s glasses.

Easy to pack granola bars are a good choice to keep up your energy. Individually wrapped string cheese can stay at room temperature for a few hours and then needs little refrigeration; a filled ice bucket is good enough. Individual pouches of tuna that can be ripped open and containers of peanut butter are always good to have on hand. Bread and crackers can usually be purchased locally.

If you’re flying or travelling a long distance, you can order food to be sent in advance. Talk to the hotel’s food service director and find out if you can ship food to be stored in their refrigerator until you arrive. If you want the kitchen to heat your meal for Shabbat dinner, emphasize the time you need it delivered to your room. While many hotel kitchens will heat up your food to be eaten in the dining room, some Jewish authorities don’t recommend this practice due to marit ayin (“appearance to the eye” or what looks to others like a forbidden act). You are also taking up space that could be used by a paying customer. Hollander said it is more acceptable on weekdays if you are part of a group eating in the dining room, and having a kosher meal allows you to participate.

Hollander said when she and her husband drove to Washington, D.C, for a trip, they chose a hotel near a shul and requested a suite so they would have a dining area with table and chairs for meals. They brought all the Shabbat food they needed, which was purchased ready-to-travel from Noah’s Ark in Teaneck, New Jersey.

Noam Sokolow, owner of Noah’s Ark, said they have been preparing travel meals to bring on trips or to be shipped anywhere in the U.S. for 30 years. For Shabbat, vacuum packed chicken and deli stay fresher while travelling and can be eaten cold or room temperature. Sokolow said that since hot water in hotels is always on, you can fill up the sink and gently heat vacuum packed meats that way. Meals can be ordered frozen in tins, to heat in a hotel kitchen oven, or in microwavable containers. For an elegant Shabbat experience in your hotel room, Noah’s Ark offers Shabbat kits: A plastic bag with a disposable white tablecloth, tea lights, matches, grape juice, kiddush cup, havdalah candle and spices. A separate bag of challah rolls is included.Travel meals “allow you to be a human being while travelling; you can enjoy delicious meals on the road, not just sustenance,” said Sokolow.

Sokolow has relationships with many hotels and can arrange smooth delivery. Travel meals make trips possible to areas where kosher food is not accessible. He has sent 30-40 boxes of food for a tour group in Russia and meals for people visiting the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park. He once got a call from a cruise line that needed nearly 500 kosher meals immediately. Noah’s Ark produced and packed the meals, which were then picked up by a cruise line representative who arranged for them to be helicoptered to the ship. Noah’s Ark also ships individual meals for business people going to non-kosher functions or anyone attending an event serving non-kosher food, so they can still participate. Locally, Noah’s Ark prepares individual and group kosher meals for area banquet halls.

Noah’s Ark has a menu of travel meals on its website (https://www.noahsark.net/order-now/travel-meals) and can prepare custom orders including low sodium or gluten free meals, and can provide strictly kosher greenhouse grown vegetables. There are always frozen meals in stock but custom orders require a four-day notice to prepare, freeze, label, pack and ship, if required. While the availability of kosher food has expanded, thanks to the efforts of Chabad houses across the country, Sokolow said Noah’s Ark customers like the comfort of his known quality.

Chopstix in Teaneck is now preparing travel meals in microwavable containers or flash frozen in tins, double wrapped. Owner Elie Katz said he ships frozen meals throughout the country; if the meals are going to a warm weather area, he Fedexes meals packed with dry ice. He said most customers order meals to bring with them, removing anxiety about last minute delays. With the more restrictive rules since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Chopstix does not prepare liquids, like wonton soup, to bring on an airplane. Frozen liquids are permitted. Katz suggested freezing all perishable food for trips lasting more than two and a half hours.

You can’t have all the comforts of home when you’re on the road. But more places than ever are accessible for kosher consumers, even on Shabbat, with advance planning and meals to bring along or meet you at your destination.

By Bracha Schwartz

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