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Bar and bat mitzvah ideas

Staying holy in a holy land

for The Brooklyn Paper

There is no doubt that the bar or bat mitzvah of a child is one of the high points in the life of a parent. It is the hope of the parents that the experience — the religious aspect, not the party — has a profound impact on their child. But far too often, the party is what gets the most attention and takes untold hours to arrange, organize, and actualize. Not to mention the stress it creates. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the focus is on the life cycle event and not the celebration afterward? After all, that is the message of Judaism most parents want to impart to their children.

Now, more than ever, rather than spending the thousands of dollars on the party, parents are choosing to invest in their future by taking the family to Israel!

According to emitz.com, the average cost of a bar or bat mitzvah runs between $15,000 and $30,000. Naturally, there are ways of spending less, and there are endless ways of spending more. (I was once invited to a bar mitzvah party at the Orange Bowl in Miami… I can’t begin to imagine what that venue must have cost!)

But for that same $15,000, a family of four can experience a life-long memory of a bar or bat mitzvah trip to Israel.

A trip to Israel is magical. People have said that when the plane touches down at Ben Gurion Airport, they “feel” something. Some have identified it as coming home. Whatever its source, the arrival in Israel is unlike arriving anywhere else in the world. As you exit into the Hall of Arrival, people who are waiting to be reunited with their families — some of whom haven’t seen each other for decades — will surround you. It seems like absolute chaos, but it is all emotion. Even when families are meeting for the first time, it is as though they have always known each other. Hugging and kissing abound, as do the tears.

The bar or bat mitzvah ceremony can be almost anywhere. You can do it in a synagogue, but most tourists opt to do the ceremony outdoors — at the Western Wall; overlooking the Old City; overlooking Jerusalem; atop Masada, on the Golan Heights; the options are endless. All the while, you and your family are traveling throughout Israel — Jerusalem, the Galilee, the Golan, Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean, and the Negev Desert.

Many bar mitzvah parents invite extended family members and friends to join them on the trip. It doesn’t mean the parents have to pay for their friends and relatives, of course, unless they want to. But being surrounded in Israel with friends and family on the trip of a lifetime is an incredible memory. You can hike together, river raft together, experience together, shop together, and reflect together. And the more people that accompany you and your family will lower the price per person.

The food in Israel is not just good, it is excellent. Try Middle East cuisine, Italian, Yemenite, Rumanian, Persian, even American. You can sit down to a leisurely served meal of fine dining or you can eat on the go — pizza, falafel, or shwarma.

And the history of the Jewish people presents itself to you as you travel. In Jerusalem, you go back to the time of King David, 3,000 years ago up to the time of the Roman period. Travel northward and experience the Middle Ages at a crusader fortress. Learn about the pioneers of the late 19th century and their descendants — some of whom can still be found on kibbutz. Visit the prisons where people were jailed by the British for the “crime” of defending themselves against Arabs or for trying to enter Israel under British rule. Visit Yad Vashem where we reflect on the Holocaust and what it has meant to our people. And celebrate in the Hall of Independence in Tel Aviv where, in May of 1948, David Ben Gurion declared the new state. And see the new, modern Israel — modern, quiet trains — Israel’s equivalent to Silicon Valley with solar energy and architecture.

And meet the people. Israelis are an incredibly warm and friendly people who will go out of their way to make you feel welcome.

So if you are looking for something a little different from the norm but something that will add meaning to your child’s bar or bat mitzvah, to your life, and to the lives of your relatives and friends, consider a trip to Israel. It may be the best decision you will ever make. When the bar and bat mitzvah parties of the States are long forgotten, the trip of a lifetime will be forever remembered and celebrated.

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