July 9, 2008
Help is here for planning a ceremony in Israel
Given the negative press about over-the-top b'nai mitzvah celebrations, many families are rethinking the black-tie or other extravaganza, giving preference to true expressions of mitzvot. High on the list of alternatives is a trip to Israel, where the bar or bat mitzvah ceremony and celebration dinner can take place along with an enlightening tour for the celebrant with family and friends.
To begin planning a bar/bat mitzvah in Israel, look to print ads and Internet sites from tour operators to generate options. Many factors will guide your choice: how many people are in your personal group; when and for how long you wish to go; how private you want to be; and if anyone in your group has special needs. You can choose a standard package or make customized arrangements.
Standard tours have set departure dates, usually coinciding with school vacations in summer, December and February. They include travel on air-conditioned motor coaches, lodging at first-class or luxury hotels and many meals, highlighted by daily Israeli breakfast buffets with enough food for an entire day.
Your tour might be a single bus or one of several, with families from all over the country. Most operators try to arrange bus groups according to the ages of the b'nai mitzvah's siblings, often resulting in bonding that leads to long-term friendships. Some tours offer a free trip for the celebrant depending on how many are in the party.
Since the ceremony is central to this trip, tour programs may provide a rabbi or cantor to rehearse with the b'nai mitzvah and/or conduct the services at one of several religious sites.
Monday or Thursday morning ceremonies at Masada are popular because participants can reach the top by cable car. However, some tours arrange for services at sites in Jerusalem including the Western Wall plaza and the Reform Beit Shmuel with its spectacular rooftop view. In the North, one of Safed's historic synagogues is a special site.
Following the services, some programs include a Kiddush or a lunch. A gala evening party usually takes place at a hotel or restaurant. Live music, dancing, candle-lighting ceremonies, gourmet dinner, entertainment, gifts for the b'nai mitzvah and certificates from the Israeli government are among the features.
Sightseeing with fully licensed, English-speaking guides allows you to take in Israel's most impressive sites. The specifics vary from one company to another, but all include youth-friendly activities, such as kayaking, camel rides, swimming, tree planting, jeep tours, archaeological digs, boat rides, cave crawls and visits to museums that bring to life the history of the Jewish people and the land of Israel. The following are glimpses into some tours:
Today he is a man!
For more information,
Ayelet Tours, Ltd., www.ayelet.com, (800) 237-1517
Emunah, www.emunah.org, (800) 368-6440
Israel Travel Advisory Services, www.itastours.com, (800) 326-4827
Tova Gilead, Inc., www.tovagilead.com, (800) 242-8682
Israel Tour Connection, www.israeltour.com, (800) 247-7235
Margaret Morse Tours, www.margaretmorsetours.com, (800) 327-3191
Judith Broder Sellner, a New York-based freelance writer, specializes in Jewish lifestyle subjects, with an emphasis on Israel.