By Deborah Cicurel
Worried singletons, meddling mothers, arrogant playboys; there is a heaven on earth for you: Tel Aviv. Passover. The Hilton.
Why is this week different from all other weeks? The expectant excitement in the air, the stench of perfume, wine and hope lingering in the lobby, the nervous glances at potential beaus from across the breakfast room.
We’ve all been told that Benjy’s parents, Hannah’s grandparents, Tova’s great-grandparents met in this very lobby. We’ve been promised that if we stand around long enough, in high enough heels, with enough fake tan and jewellery and optimism, we will find our beshert.
But these promises are hollow. We don’t actually know anyone who met their soulmate in this bustling inferno.
Instead of love, we find awkward glances. Instead of romance, girls in their 20s are chatted up by smarmy 50-something men eager for some arm candy. Instead of boyfriends, we get the sort of gentlemen who sidle up to us with a bovine, Pesach-themed pick-up line, such as, “You look great after four glasses of wine” or “Want to search for my Afikomen?”
It’s not just the Shidduch-fest, tentative matchmaking and furtive gazes from parents spying on our progress that make the holiday somewhat intimidating. My family hasn’t been going to the Hilton, or indeed Tel Aviv, for very long. But there are those who have never spent a Passover anywhere than within its glossy confines, who know the waiters, pool staff and cleaners like long-lost friends and who could reel off the Hilton’s kosher-for-Passover menu without looking.
Yet even these familiar visitors are occasionally uncomfortable with the posturing attitude of certain guests. Girls who have known each other since childhood will avoid each other’s eyes, and when introduced, will both play along with the charade that they have never met, chirpily announcing their names.
Teenagers in heels and sparkly dresses strut around the pool, spurning their own siblings in an attempt to appear sophisticated. A guy you chatted to days ago will introduce himself anew, forgetting you’ve already talked extensively about how you both want an iced coffee but can’t bring yourself to spend 50 shekels on a drink.
Then there’s the unrelenting over-politeness. You air-kiss approximately seven people while walking from your room to the lift, and a further two while waiting an eternity for it to arrive. Walking from the bar to the bathroom takes 30 minutes, due to all the people you encounter on the way who enquire about your job, family and health, not really taking in your answer as they scan the lobby looking for their next victim.
The actual seder meal, Friday night dinners and so on are a minefield of social etiquette: you jump from your seat what seems like 50 times in your eagerness to greet all the friends who walk past your table on the hunt for more salt beef. But if you’ve already greeted someone three times, and they don’t offer a fourth “hello!”, the conversation turns to hushed speculation: Why haven’t they said hi? Did you mistakenly glare at their outfit? Did you push into the soup queue?
Despite the mostly jovial atmosphere, there is the obligatory and copious kvetching. Most guests revisit the Hilton year after year despite professing that they shall never return, due to lamentable First World Problems occurring – “My room hasn’t been cleaned!”, “Why have they stopped putting chocolates on our beds?”, and the common, “My sunbed’s been stolen!”
The fact that everyone who can afford to stay at the Hilton is clearly very fortunate is beside the point: deckchairs at Pesach are more valuable than your firstborn child. Most people would happily eat three boxes of matzah daily for a year just to ensure that the recliners they like best do not have contact with anyone else’s bottom during their eight-day stay.
Staying at the Hilton at Pesach is a frenetic and often frankly ridiculous experience. But despite the repetitive greetings, boisterous lunch queues and incessant attempts of old ladies to introduce you to their grandsons, we’ll all be back next year.
Not having anything to complain about – now where’s the fun in that?