Halacha aside, these days he is busy tasting. “No,” he said, “there is nothing to be jealous of, unless of course you fancy tasting tens of kasher l’Pesach pareve deserts.”
Deciding on the menu is a big part of the Pesach preparations and Sha’ari acknowledged that trying to suit everyone’s taste buds can be quite a challenge.
“Israelis are used to having their food prepared one way and foreigners another. We try to accommodate everyone. It’s not easy. And then of course everyone has his or her own idea of how a kasher l’Pesach kitchen has to look and smell. If yours at home has a pungent aroma of wine or meat then you expect ours to be three times as pungent. Naturally we try to accommodate everyone because at the end of the day it is in our best interest that our guests are happy and that they have an enjoyable stay.”
* * * * *
Sha’ari ended our meeting with a powerful story.
First, you have to realize he has seen it all. His lobby has been the venue of dozens of shidduchim in the making and equally as many being completed. He’s heard and witnessed the mazel tovs, l’chaims, the backslapping and shaking of hands. On many occasions he has brought out wine and cake to complete the celebration.
He has catered a bris for triplets born after twenty years of marriage and a wedding of converts whose families flew in from China. And yet the following story moved him as no other.
It was erev Pesach. Most of the guests had already arrived and were settling down in their rooms. The staff was busy with last-minute preparations, the tables had long been laid and the waiters, already in their uniforms, were bustling to and fro between the kitchen and dining rooms. There was a glass missing on one table, a high chair needed at another, a couple more napkins needed to be folded, and a crib was being assembled.
Sha’ari was in his element, overseeing the goings on, when he was approached by a distinguished looking middle-aged man.
“We only landed about two hours ago,” the man said, “and I’m still a little woozy from the flight. Is there any way I could have an extra-large drinking glass at my table?”
“What does extra large mean?” asked Sha’ari. “Exactly how big?”
“About half a meter [approximately one and a half feet] high,” the man answered.
“It is for my cup for Eliyahu HaNavi’, the man explained.
“Eliyahu HaNavi? Why, he’ll get drunk on that amount,” Sha’ari said in jest.
“That is exactly what I want,” the guest assured Sha’ari an all seriousness. Promising to do his best, Sha’ari went into the kitchen to see what they had.
Eventually, after some brainstorming, they came up with a large crystal vase that they scrubbed clean and then had toiveled.
Sha’ari picked up the story: “I called up to the gentleman’s room to report my findings, and though the vase was somewhat less than the proposed height it was still large enough to suit his needs. He thanked me profusely.
“I have to say, his strange behavior earned him more than his fair share of bemused looks that night. I myself watched open-mouthed as he poured bottle after bottle of wine into the vase until it was full to the brim.
“The rest of Pesach passed uneventfully and the incident was all but forgotten when months later I received a letter. It was from my unusual guest who first and foremost thanked me for my hospitality and geniality and then proceeded to explain his bizarre behavior.
“Apparently, one of his children back home was in deep trouble. The situation was such that there was nothing anybody could do to help. Heartbroken, the father decided the Seder night was an opportune time to ask Eliyahu HaNavi to beseech Hashem for divine mercy. And so he decided that perhaps a little extra wine would go a long way…”
Sha’ari paused, a twinkle in his eye. “Do you know what he wrote? ‘Thank God I am delighted to be able to say that since Pesach last year the problems have all been solved.’ ”