Esther Lerer has a lot to do this week. She’s planning to test out a flight simulator that mimics combat air travel, propel herself on a jet pack and even visit a trampoline park.
For $11,000 per head, the St. Regis’ “Prime Passover Experience” promises Viennese dessert tables, open bar until 1 a.m., and hobnobbing with reality stars (last year they offered a kosher lunch with the Kardashians).
It’s a full itinerary for the 56-year-old philanthropist from Englewood, NJ, who’s also hoping to squeeze in a Seder. After all, it is Passover.
Starting Friday, Lerer, who’s an Orthodox Jew, will join 1,000 other movers and shakers at the St. Regis Monarch Beach in Dana Point, Calif. — situated on 172 acres, with a private beach, luxury spa and championship golf course — for the weeklong holiday celebrating the Israelites’ emancipation from slavery.
“There’s so much to do,” says Lerer. “The word ‘no’ doesn’t exist!”
While it’s something of a tradition for New Yorkers to decamp for sunnier climes during Passover, no event is quite as extravagant as this one.
Or as expensive — prices start at $11,000 per person for an ocean-view room with butler service for the eight-day festival. That doesn’t include starry add-on amenities such as a recording session with Ariana Grande ($3,800 per person) and a meet-and-greet with Kylie and Kendall Jenner ($2,200) — both available last year.
“This is the who’s who of the world — the world’s richest, most prestigious people — people who meet the president and the pope,” says Jonathan Arbisfeld, head of sales for The Prime Experience, which organizes the event, now in its second year. (The company is an offshoot of the Prime Hospitality Group, which boasts several successful upscale kosher restaurants in NYC.)
About 500 New Yorkers are expected at the posh pilgrimage to Monarch Beach, 80 percent of whom are returning guests. Last year’s illustrious roster included Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the UK, and Yehuda Avner, the political speechwriter for several Israeli prime ministers, who died last month.
“It combines the best of our Jewish traditions with a superior five-star luxury vacation,” explains Lerer.
Seder tables will be set with centerpieces of exotic flowers flown in from Hawaii, and menus will offer prime rib, duck and lamb chops — with matzo ball soup to start, of course, and a choice of vintage wines for the customary four cups.
And then there are the dizzying number of activities — including a trapeze class, a petting zoo with animals bused in from the San Diego Zoo, a kids’ fashion show and star athletes who go toe-to-toe with fans.
There’s so much going on that there’s little downtime during the eight days, says Mike Heller, 38, the CEO of a talent agency who lives in Murray Hill.
“It felt like an adult camp,” says Heller, who flew out with his fiancée last year, citing organized trips to Beverly Hills for some shopping on Rodeo Drive or a VIP kosher lunch at Disneyland.
Last year, former Knicks shooting guard John Starks was on hand for pickup games, while NFL hunk Mark Sanchez gave lessons on a converted football field at the resort’s NFL camp. (This time around, Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., 2014’s offensive rookie of the year, will be on hand to toss the pigskin.)
“I had a great experience during Passover week at the St. Regis,” says former New York Jets quarterback Sanchez, who schmoozed with adoring fans on a makeshift field.
“It reminded me that, regardless of your cultural background or upbringing, it all comes back to family.”
According to Arbisfeld, last year one guest spent $375,000 on a block of rooms for his whole family to join him.
Lerer, for one, will be joined by 35 relatives. She used to spend Passover at the Biltmore in Phoenix, but after 10 years of baking under the punishing Arizona sun — and problems plaguing her villa — she decided to leave the desert behind her, making the exodus to the promised land of Southern California.
“Having gone to many of the top-scale programs — and paying top dollar for it — you don’t mind paying if they deliver,” she says. “Even though you’re spending six figures, we had four generations together last year — you can’t put a price on that.”
David Sable, CEO of ad giant Y&R, oversaw last year’s entrepreneurial luncheon — with two hours of speakers from dynamic startups. Gift bags were handed out from Google, Twitter and Yahoo, including a beach towel Sable schlepped to the pool.
“It’s the best of the Catskills, but elegantly on steroids,” says the 61-year-old from the Upper West Side, who enjoyed a morning shvitz in the spa. “It was beautiful.”
“It was the best people-watching — everyone was dressed to the nines with gorgeous clothing and jewelry,” adds Ariel Ginsburg, a 27-year-old personal stylist and fashion blogger from the East Village, who sojourned with her parents last year and is making the trip again.
“I’m really looking forward to the juice bar,” she adds, referring to the program’s newest amenity.
Her dad’s especially excited to meet presidential candidate Ted Cruz, an invited guest, who’s presumably hoping to mix and mingle with deep-pocketed potential campaign donors.
And who needs a burning bush when you can nestle in a cozy fire pit overlooking the expanse of the sprawling property, as Ginsburg did last year while sipping on a vodka cocktail?
“You didn’t feel like you were holding back for Passover,” she says, admitting that there’s no sense of deprivation during a holiday known for its myriad restrictions.
Leavened products are prohibited during the holiday, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the lavish spreads at the St. Regis, overflowing with pizzas, paninis, tacos and cakes. (The Passover-friendly magic ingredient that makes it all OK? Potato dough.)
“They make the best pizza,” says Sable. “Chef David [Kolotkin] starts making the dough in February. It was beyond — us literally eating pizza. One night we must have had 20 pizzas between us.”
Prime Hospitality Group founder Joey Allaham and head chef Kolotkin start preparing the extensive menu about six months in advance — which includes breakfast, an all-day tearoom, daytime BBQs, dinners, Viennese tables for dessert, and bars open until 1 a.m.
“You don’t miss out on anything,” concedes Allaham. “People almost feel guilty.”
A native of austere Syria, Allaham recalls childhood Passovers restricted to basic ingredients. “We couldn’t eat chicken because [the animals] eat wheat,” he says. “Now, nothing is off-limits.”
So has the holiday become so luxe it’s missing the point?
“People don’t feel it’s Passover,” admits Allaham, who wrestles with issues of what constitutes excess.
According to Upper East Side Rabbi Elie Weinstock, there’s “no place like home for Passover.
“At the same time, Passover is also called the Festival of Freedom. Nothing says freedom like a luxurious vacation.”
Weinstock says the most important thing is to “maintain perspective.”
This year, Allaham says, he toned down some of the events — there won’t be a kosher lunch with any Kardashians, for instance.
There will, however, be an opportunity to create your own personalized “Amazing Race” for $3,500 per person.
After all, with Egyptian-cotton sheets, why let a grudge over a 400-year enslavement prevent guests from sleeping soundly?