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When a Gadol Is the Guest

Rivka Junger

What happens when a gadol is a guest at your hotel or vacation spot? Hotel owners and vacation coordinators discuss the challenges and rewards

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

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alm Springs, California

Rabbi Yonoson Denebeim is the Lubavitcher shaliach in Palm Springs, California. He’s been arranging vacations since the 1980s, when he first noticed gedolim liked to frequent the location. Palm Springs doesn’t have a beach, so there are minimal tzniyus issues, but it still provides a warm respite in the winter. Since he started in his early twenties, Rabbi Denebeim has relied on the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s advice: to treat all of his venerated vacationers as if they were his own rebbe.

Gaya Luxury Holiday Resorts, Austria and Italy

Avi and Gilat Fine-Chen managed hotels for several years before launching their own program, Gaya, in 2017. Gaya, which stands for Gilat, Avi, Yud, and Hey, partners with tourist companies in Israel and rents a variety of locations, and some prominent guests travel with the Fine-Chens wherever their program is being hosted that season. The Fine-Chens’ real last name is Chen, but when they moved to Vienna, it proved too complicated for locals to pronounce, so they changed it to Fine, and they now go by both names.

The Austrian Alps

Hinterglemm, a remote village in the Austrian Alps, is popular in the winter thanks to its exciting ski slopes. But what’s a hotel owner to do during the summer, after the snow has melted? Sixteen years ago, Stefan Sommerbichler, owner of the Alpen-Karawanserai Hotel, came up with a solution: to turn his hotel into a kosher venue. Though a Christian himself, he had gotten to know the frum world during his years in Yerushalayim, where he volunteered in the Austrian Hospice in the Old City. Ever since his alpine hotel turned kosher, it has become a magnet for Yidden in the summertime, including gedolim, rabbanim, and rebbes.

Grindelwald, Switzerland

In the early 1970s, Meir and Rus Wagner moved to the Swiss town of Grindelwald, where Rus’s parents ran the Silberhorn Hotel. The picturesque town and its breathtaking views made it one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, and the Wagners regularly hosted gedolim and influential people in the Jewish world. The hotel’s guestbook is filled with the signatures and warm words of thanks from rabbanim such as the Ponevezher Rav, the Erloyer Rebbe, and ybdlch”t Rav Yisrael Meir Lau.

Bournemouth, England

Bournemouth is a seaside resort on England’s southern coast where many rebbes have come to visit over the years. It is often a short-term destination — some gedolim will go just for Shabbos — but the relaxing effect of the sea air is worth even a short visit.

When Rav Yitzchok Hutner vacationed in the Silberhorn Hotel in Grindelwald, Switzerland, the first thing he asked to do was to come down to the kitchen and speak to the proprietors, Meir and Rus Wagner.

“After we spoke for a few minutes, Rav Hutner said he was now ready to go to his room,” Mrs. Wagner recalls. “One of his talmidim asked him, ‘Doesn’t the Rosh Yeshivah want to speak with the mashgiach?’ He assumed Rav Hutner would want to make sure the kashrus was up to his standards. Until this day I remember Rav Hutner’s answer: ‘I don’t care who the mashgiach is. I care who the baal habayis is. After I speak to the baal habayis, I have no need to speak with the mashgiach.’ ”

Haskamos like that are part of the privilege of hosting the leaders of Klal Yisrael. The Wagners are members of an elite group who get such endorsements regularly, because they facilitate the vacations of gedolim. Such arrangements require extra work — anything from arranging nighttime excursions to obtain a glimpse of the moon for Kiddush Levanah, to juggling the logistics when two rebbes visit simultaneously — but all of these hoteliers jump at the chance to make these necessary respites happen. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 704)

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