With a booming home rental market, there’s no reason why an Orthodox Jewish family should settle for a cramped hotel room. In places where there is no kosher food available, it is easier to bring food from home, kasher the oven, and double-wrap when using the microwave. With multiple children in tow, it is also more restful for the parents to give them separate bedrooms than to cram children into single beds or having them sleep on floors. To make the experience more affordable and fun, the home rental vacation is best experienced with other families willing to share the home and split the rent.
In spite of the arctic weather, we pulled off a three-day Poconos retreat with two other couples from our shul. This is our story.
A month before the date of the vacation, we began our search for the perfect house and ideal accomplices. The house must have enough bathrooms so that there are no fights between parents and children during the busy morning and evening hours – likewise having enough beds for everyone and, depending on the circumstances, who gets the master bedroom and the bedrooms with one bed or two.
Limiting the trip within two hours of Queens, our options were limited to the Poconos and the Catskills, both of which have multiple ski resorts. As the home was nowhere near a Jewish community, we scheduled our two-day vacation for Sunday through Tuesday. The Catskills had fewer vacancies during the winter yeshivah vacation week and the few available homes were too far from the ski resorts.
Three years ago, we rented a summer home in a Catskills village that has a shul but no eruv, which meant that the baby and mommy stayed indoors for most of Shabbos. If one is still planning on spending Shabbos in a community without an eruv, if the child is old enough to walk to shul, then there should be snacks, books, and toys deposited in the shul before Shabbos. If there is a minyan within a reasonable distance, one should make the effort to meet the community. It is preferable to daven with a minyan, and you never know if you may need assistance from the locals.
Some people pack their belongings with military precision, and others take five hours to organize a suitcase and then return home multiple times after realizing that they forgot something. Our Poconos vacation involved snow tubing and skiing in single-digit temperatures with toddlers. This means wearing up to three layers of clothing, face mask, goggles, mittens, long johns, ski boots, lunch, and did I forget something? Every minute that one is packing means less time spent on the mountain. As one waits in the car with everything ready, the accomplice may still be in the house packing and searching for the missing glove. There is plenty of potential here for drama.
Fortunately, the accomplices we selected for this trip, the Engelsons and the Perlmans, are people whom we know and trust. One of the couples lives a block from our home; our firstborn children are the same age and so are our second-born. Likewise for the other couple, whose firstborn daughter is the same age as our daughter. We daven at the same shul, and our children are at the same daycare and shul children’s group. The level of comfort that we feel with each other is vital in avoiding drama when deciding which house to rent, museum to visit, food to eat, and how to split chores and bills.
We set up a WhatsApp group and each day fleshed out which house to rent, who brings what food items, and other details. Within two weeks, the house was selected. We then agreed to meet at the mountain at a prearranged time. We succeeded in making sure that there was nothing left for the last minute.
All the museums, ski resorts, and supermarkets that we visited were within an hour of the house because no child likes being strapped to a car seat for too long. Parents of toddlers must also keep in mind their children’s afternoon nap time, which can take place either in bed, during the ride, or in a stroller at the given destination.
On the Slope
Although we agreed to meet on the mountain at noon, inevitably there were delays. Feeding our children and changing their diapers, GPS systems that lose their bearings in isolated areas, and which parking lot are we meeting at? With patience, we guided each other to a meeting point and then took turns watching children. The wives went snow tubing with their respective four-year-olds while husbands stayed at the lodge with the infants. Books, crayons, and food kept them from being bored. B’dieved, if all else fails, the iPad with cartoons was fully charged.
Once each couple and their children settled in their bedrooms, the wives prepared dinner while husbands kept the children busy. We were fortunate that the home came with plenty of toys, including a kitchen set, building blocks, toy cars, and children’s books. We had no idea and brought our own toys and books. Once the children were asleep – or at least playing in their own bedrooms – the parents could open the beer, light the fireplace, and relax. We put away our phones and talked about life for the next few hours. Nearly a year after our last significant break, when was the last time we reminisced about how we met each other, what inspires us, and how we feel about each other? The home had a television, board games, and playing cards, should we run out of things to talk about.
Before packing the suitcase for the return trip home, we used the laundry room at the vacation home to avoid such chores awaiting us at home. We packed on the evening before our departure so that in the morning we can still have some sense of the vacation. If one departs the home early, there is still time to do a couple of activities and return home before it is too late in the evening. With work on the next day, we wanted to be home at a reasonable time to make lunch, put the children to sleep, and rest after a long drive.
One More Thing
In light of Airbnb’s policy of boycotting Jewish-owned homes in Judea and Samaria, we proudly used HomeAway to find our home. Noticing that the owner’s agent is Christian, I offered him chizuk for using HomeAway as an alternative to the more famous vacation rental giant. Not only did we go on vacation, but we did it with our conscience. We may not always have the opportunity to vacation in Israel, but it is always on our mind.
By Sergey Kadinsky