Figuring out what to do for a bar or bat mitzvah celebration is something of a joyful chore for any parent. What will the synagogue ceremony entail, and who will run the show? What kind of party do you – and your child – envision? She’s thinking something along the lines of MTV’s My Super Sweet 16, while you’re considering something significantly less ostentatious.
That could be why more families are choosing to make their bar/bat mitzvah celebrations in Israel to supplement their celebrations stateside, says Ya’acov Fried, founder of Da’at Educational Expeditions. Over the last 12 years, Da’at has found itself coordinating a tremendous number of bar/bat mitzvah tours as part of their overall life cycle family journeys, and some are fairly well-known household names.
“The bar/bat mitzvah trip is an integral part of the life cycle for a Jewish boy or girl being raised in a Jewish home,” says Ya’acov. “These families feel that a trip to Israel is a significant educational experience for the child.”
Many Da’at bar and bat mitzvahs are held at the Southern Wall extension of the Western Wall, and conducted by the families’ respective rabbis who join them in Israel. The Southern Wall is a popular bar/bat mitzvah ceremony site because unlike the Western Wall, services can be egalitarian and the family and guests can sit, pray and celebrate together.
Finding the right historical or religious site is part of the fun and the uniqueness of having a bar or bat mitzvah in Israel, says Ya’acov. The family often works on the ceremony with their rabbi back home or with an Israeli rabbi offered by Da’at. As for the ceremony? It can be held almost anywhere, but some of Ya’acov’s favorite sites have been the ancient synagogues of Bar Am and Katzrin up north, a Negev desert experience in Nahal Tzin, various spots in the Judean Hills facing the Old City, and Mount Gilboa in the north.
“We provide the family with guidance and all of the logistical support and coordination and assist them in developing a meaningful and fun program,” said Ya’acov. “If the child is attending a Jewish day school or Hebrew school and the family is active in the synagogue, then the rabbi will work with the bar/bat mitzvah child on the service and usually recommend a rabbi in Israel or alternatively join the family in Israel.”
Families can partner with Da’at to create a trip that is tailor-made to their personal needs, but not always. Da’at also has pre-planned bar/bat mitzvah tours to Israel for communities large and small. The company has had large tours with as many as 15 bar bat mitzvah celebrants, numerous generations and a joint ceremony at a unique venue. One Da’at family that enjoys hiking and biking celebrated their bat mitzvah in the intimate and deeply spiritual setting of the Judean desert. There are families with siblings who are one year apart, and opt to have a ceremony together in Israel, and families who return again and again with each child, always looking to Da’at to help make it all happen.