There are many significant milestones in life that define us as human beings and form our identity, for young Jewish men, the first – and foundational – milestone is the traditional Bar Mitzvah ceremony. While many still do the traditional Bar Mitzvah ceremony, a new and exciting trend is a Jewish Bar Mitzvah tour to Israel.
With their Bar Mitzvahs, teenage boys symbolically accept the rights and obligations of manhood and take their place in the community. Nobody in 21st century America expects a thirteen year old boy to function as a man, but the traditional coming of age ceremony gives him a strong connection to his Jewish heritage. It’s also a compass point for navigating daily life and for developing greater maturity.
In historical Jewish communities, a young boy who underwent a Bar Mitzvah experienced a profound change in personal status. He acknowledged his obligation to obey the 613 laws of the Torah and keep the halakha, becoming morally culpable for his own actions. In ancient Israel, and often in the diaspora, these were non-negotiable requirements for membership of society.
After the Bar Mitzvah, the youth could own private property and choose to marry. As an accepted member of the congregation, he could read from the Torah, lead or join a minyan, and testify in a rabbinical court. The boy’s new status might mean setting aside the routines of childhood and performing a man’s work. In times of danger, crisis or war, he would be expected to stand with the men and risk his life in defense of the community.
A Bar Mitzvah in Israel
These days a Bar Mitzvah is a symbolic and joyful celebration and a social event. In the US, the ceremony often takes place in front of scores – perhaps hundreds – of guests and can include gourmet catering and live music. The downside is that big events can become ostentatious. Something precious is lost when the day focuses too much on family social status, networking, and expensive gifts.
A Bar Mitzvah is, in essence, a simple and timeless ceremony. Many Jewish American families prefer a Bar Mitzvah that continues the spirit of the older traditions. A Bar Mitzvah in Israel retains all the elements of a happy celebration, and a good party, but offers the young man a far more profound and thought-provoking experience. A well-planned trip, with an experienced Jewish travel agency is a wonderful life-changing event, not just for a Bar Mitzvah boy but for the whole family.
What’s a Typical Israeli Bar Mitzvah?
The simple answer is that there isn’t a typical Israeli Bar Mitzvah, any more than there is a typical Israeli – or a typical American Jew. In the US, Bar Mitzvahs are celebrated across the entire spectrum of modern Judaism, from avowedly secular families, through Reform, Conservative, and all the Orthodox traditions. Every family also has its own traditions and expectations when it comes to planning a Bar Mitzvah.
Israel is much like the US when it comes to planning Bar Mitzvahs. The country is a melting pot of Jewish cultures. Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities have their own traditions, as do Russian and Ethiopian immigrants, and dozens of other smaller communities. Mixed marriages are increasingly common, and when parents come from different traditions, there is usually a compromise. Kids also have their own ideas about the kind of ceremony they want.
The religious element also varies, with secular Israelis opting for modern ceremonies on Kibbutzim, or a nominally religious Bar Mitzvah in the local synagogue. Orthodox Bar Mitzvahs can be serious and spiritual events with a heavy emphasis on the Aliyah to the Torah. In some congregations, the Bar Mitzvah boy will study for a whole year to take on the role of Ba’al Korei or reader. The day isn’t completely solemn as there is usually a big meal and celebration afterwards.
What makes a Bar Mitzvah in Israel special for a thirteen year old American boy is the location. He’s taking his first steps towards manhood in the country of his ancestors and the spiritual heart of Judaism. The Bar Mitzvah is a formative event that occurs at a deeply impressionable age. A trip to Israel, with a visit to the Kotel (Wailing Wall) or Masada, or the ancient synagogues of the Galilee, exerts a profound and positive influence. For those that are interested, there are unique opportunities for prayer, study and spiritual reflection.
Planning a Bar Mitzvah in Israel
Planning a Bar Mitzvah can be a considerable challenge in itself, especially if you are hiring a public venue and arranging catering and entertainment for your guests. Even just arranging the guest list and coordinating with everyone can be a time-consuming headache, not to mention picking the best time to visit Israel.
The thought of planning a Bar Mitzvah in a foreign country with a different language can be intimidating. If you’re lucky, family or friends in Israel can help out with local knowledge and connections, but remote planning leaves a lot to chance. Arranging logistics like flights, hotels, transport, venues, the services of a rabbi or cantor, catering and… pretty much everything can seriously overstrain even the most energetic and talented multi-tasker.
The good news is that there are specialist travel companies that arrange Jewish tours to Israel. The best tour operators work to US service standards and their staff speak perfect English. They are also experts at planning Bar Mitzvahs for English-speaking visitors to the country. If you want your son or grandson to experience an authentic Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem (or anywhere else in Israel) there are plenty of options for every budget, and for every Jewish religious preference.
Explore the Land of the Bible & Modern Israel
An important aspect of a Bar Mitzvah in Israel is the chance to explore the Jewish nation and gain some valuable insights into Jewish history and culture. Israel is a small country, but there’s a huge variety of worthwhile – and fun – things to do.
Enhance your trip with organized tours to historical, cultural and religious sites. You’ll experience a powerful connection to the past when you visit key places in Jewish history.
Explore modern Israel, sample the customs and cuisine, and meet local people. The food, music, arts and architecture are amazing, and you’re guaranteed a warm welcome everywhere.
Your tour company will arrange enjoyable activities for all age groups, including small children. Tours are flexible and everybody in your group will have plenty of interesting and exciting things to do.
Israel is a beautiful country with amazing scenery. Try a desert hike or a camel ride, ski on Mount Hermon, or snorkel the coral reefs in Eilat. There are over 100 types of living creatures mentioned in the bible. Many can still be seen today.
All accommodation, transportation and itineraries will be arranged for you, with professional tour guides and full security.
The Cost of a Bar Mitzvah Trip to Israel
For many Jewish families in the US, the cost of a bar mitzvah trip to Israel will be a major issue. The expense of flying your family to Israel has to be considered, especially if your journey starts on the West Coast or in the Midwest. There’s also no getting around the fact that the cost of living in Israel is currently high (although on the plus side the US dollar is strong against the Shekel).
Experienced Jewish tour companies buy blocks of cheap airline tickets and otherwise reduce costs for their clients. An expert tour company will help you schedule your trip to take advantage of seasonal price reductions and special deals. It’s worth remembering that Israeli families (especially large families) are adept at arranging low cost Bar Mitzvahs. Tour companies know the local scene, and how to avoid ripoffs. They are skilled at delivering great tailored events that won’t break the bank.
The cost of a Bar Mitzvah Trip to Israel needn’t be prohibitive, especially if it is combined with a pre-planned family holiday. Generally speaking, it will be cheaper if you book the trip well in advance, but there are also some good last minute deals. A Bar Mitzvah in Israel is a once in a lifetime event that is well worth the expense – and can compare favorably to the cost of hosting an event in the US.
Bar Mitzvah in Israel for Reform Jews
Reform Jews sometimes wonder if Israel is the best place for them to hold a Bar Mitzvah. In fact, Israel is a great place for any Jew (including secular Jews) to travel to for a Bar Mitzvah. Tour companies are used to hosting people of all religious backgrounds – and those with none at all. There’s no problem arranging a tailored Bar Mitzvah in Israel for a Reform family with many friendly Olim and tourists synagogues.
There are currently over 50 Reform (IMPJ) congregations in Israel. They cater to some 12,000 families and perform around 1,500 Bar/Bat Mitzvahs every year. If you want to hold a Bar Mitzvah in Israel under Reform auspices, you’ll be able to create the event of a lifetime in a friendly and welcoming atmosphere.
Create Memories for Life
Your tour company will be able to supply a professional photographer for your Bar Mitzvah ceremony, but you’ll still want to capture your own special moments, especially if you’re touring Israel and visiting historical sites and nature reserves. It’s worth making sure that you’ve got a good digital camera, or really learning how to get the most out of the camera on your smartphone.
A Bar Mitzvah in Israel is a wonderful event that you should share with people back in the US and preserve forever. A great solution is to livestream the ceremony for friends and family at home. Whatever type of Bar Mitzvah you choose, whether it’s a small ceremony at a sacred site, or a party for friends and family, your tour company will work closely with you to create a unique day that you’ll remember forever.