Destination B’nei Mitzvahs: A Family Adventure | MitzvahMarket

Destination B’nei Mitzvahs: A Family Adventure

Destination B’nei Mitzvah: A Family Adventure

By Drew Kramer

For families living in areas with a high concentration of Jewish tweens, B’nei Mitzvahs consume weekend life. There, the ritual of the service and reception can become redundant. As a reaction, many families vow to do something different, more intimate and hopefully more meaningful. One such family, the Mayers of Highland Park, Illinois, decided to mark their daughter and son’s entries to adulthood with celebrations that took them on two very different Jewish journeys, first to Israel and then Greece.  

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The Mayers are not alone. The destination B’nei Mitzvah trend is on the rise. Perhaps a reaction to COVID’s shelter-in-place, more families are seeking shared travel experiences to mark important life events. When families begin to plan for a destination service and celebration, they often seek Concierge Rabbi Rebecca Keren Eisenstadt, who was ordained at Mestifta Adas Wolkowisk in Queens, NY after more than a decade serving as a Jewish educator, B’nei Mitzvah tutor and synagogue service lay leader. Designated “the hot rabbi” by event planners for her in demand reputation across the world, Eisenstadt’s busy client base seeks her to prepare for and officiate bespoke B’nei Mitzvah ceremonies and other life course events. Since 2011 when she conducted her first international B’nei Mitzvah, her number of destination Mitzvahs blossomed to over 100. In her experience, “most families choose to do a destination because it is different and a chance to get the family together. Perhaps they choose a place with deep Jewish History like Israel, Poland, or Venice. Sometimes a family doesn’t feel close to the clergy at their synagogue, or perhaps they don’t belong anywhere.” 

For the Mayers, their desire to do something different came out of loss. After the patriarch of the family passed, the family sought nontraditional experiences to bring their family closer together. Already a traveling family rooted in shared adventure, the Bat Mitzvah of the family’s first grandchild took their American shtetl to Israel. 

The popularity of the Jewish homeland is unsurprising, rich with history and spiritual significance. So in demand, travel agents and private rabbis developed a package model for the experience that makes it easy for extended family to understand the itinerary and costs so that they can easily opt into the occasion. If you are considering an Israel B’nei Mitzvah, Rabbi Eisenstadt offers some pro tips: 

  • Seek the Experts:  Use a tour company to make sure you make the most of your trip, especially if you are doing a heritage tour of a foreign country. Rabbi Eisenstadt’s favorite companies to use in Israel are Joe Yudin’s Touring Israel and Yoav Gal’s Israel My Way. For party planners in Israel, Eisenstadt declares “there is simply no one better than Ofer Gover with Tali Yaacobi Events.” These vendors understand what American families need and can help book tours of museums, sites, arrange accommodation and transport–and they know food. 
  • Consider Gender: In Israel, Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies do not have the same treatment due to more traditional views on gender and religion. Certain sites will not allow women to read from the torah, and will keep men and women separate. For example, The Western Wall is a poignant site for a Bar Mitzvah, but a complicated one for a Bat Mitzvah. Only boys can have their ceremony here, and women in the group must look over a Mehitzah divider. For a mixed gendered group that is equally available to boys and girls, there are a number of good options. To do egalitarian services, some families go to the Masorti Movement’s designated area near the Western Wall, which goes by many names: Robinson’s Arch, Davidson Center, Ezrat Israel. Other popular locations to consider are an archaeological park off of The Davidson Center.
  • Plan for Weather: Outdoor sights of significance are beautiful, but if it is raining or freezing, families of girls try to rent the Hebrew Union College chapel/synagogue for a girl. In a pinch, some families will use their lunch restaurant or a private venue. For boys, families can rent a synagogue, but must abide by seating rules.
  • Torah Troubles: Procuring a Torah for the ceremony can be difficult when traveling for a private B’nei Mitzvah service. Eisenstadt has rented a torah because Torahs are unavailable on certain days of the week. Masorti Movement only provides a Torah on Monday and Thursday for free, for 1.5 hour time slots and if it is not raining. Consider its origin and plan in advance! 

Families that have already toured Israel and seek novel experiences often select locations with Jewish historical significance, such as Italy, Morocco and Poland. In these locations, where B’nei Mitzvah packages are not yet available, Eisenstadt urges families to find a planner to help organize preparations. Again, issues regarding Torah rentals and mixed gender ceremonies may arise. 

When the Mayers approached their big fat Greek Bar Mitzvah for their son, they faced similar challenges of planning. To create a meaningful Bar Mitzvah celebration, the Mayers put their faith in Haim Ischakis of Jewish Tours Greece. Selecting Greece for a B’nei Mitzvah, families will learn that 90% of Jews in Greece were killed in the Holocaust. Greek Jews, like Haim Ischakis, devote their lives to reinvigorating Judaism in the region. Says Mayer of the experience, “seeing Judaism all over the world shows my children that they are connected to something larger than dates on the calendar.”

While destination celebrations leave some family and friends behind, the Mayers and other families that chose to adventure found ways to bring their local relations into the moment. Hosting a kid party” or a tasteful kiddush after a home ceremony can bring additional opportunities to observe the milestone. 

Those who sign on for the trip invest in building intimate relationships through shared experience. These adventurers amplify the joy of celebrating growth into adulthood with the bond that comes from developing a Jewish identity and a beautiful family memory in a dream setting.

Drew Kramer is a writer, performer, and founder of Lady and The Floofs.

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