Whether it's a Bar/Bat Mitzvah or a wedding, celebrating a life-cycle event in Israel intensifies the experience, as you sense it resonating with the past, present and future of the Jewish people.
"It's the blend of the old and the new that speaks to everyone", says Rabbi Jeff Bearman, who has been conducting Bar and Bat Mitzvahs in Israel for 24 years. "Having the event at a historic place, as part of a tour of Israel,
is an eye-opener for those with little background- a crash course in
Jewish history. And for those who know more, it makes everything come
alive", he adds. For a family, it strengthens everyone's ties both to
each other and to Judaism and becomes something they will follow up at
The Western Wall is one of the best-loved venues for Bar Mitzvahs. The last remnant of the Second Temple of Jerusalem
that was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, it is a symbol of both the
loss of Jewish independence, and the hope of return fulfilled. It has
become a unique symbol of Israel and the Jewish people, as we are reminded on this year's 40th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.
ancient times, the Torah was read in public on Mondays and Thursdays,
because those were market days when gatherings in the towns would be at
their peak, and of course on the Sabbath.
And so, even now, Bar Mitzvahs are held on Mondays, Thursdays and
Saturdays. The Western wall plaza, where people can be found praying day
or night, comes especially alive on those days of the week. Hundreds of
chanting voices rise up from dozens of small knots of men clustered
around the Torah-reading tables on the men's side, encouraging the boys
through their portions. Among some ethnic groups, the family brings
their Bar Mitzvah boy to the Wall on the shoulders of fathers and
uncles, or he will walk proudly up to the plaza between Mom and Dad,
wearing a brand-new tallit and accompanied by musicians playing drums
and horns and women ululating just as their ancestors did in antiquity.
During the reading itself, the women's side; one fun moment is when the
boy finishes his portion and is rewarded by a shower of candy from the
women's section, symbolic of a sweet life. Sound a bit raucous? It can
be, but for many it also represents unity with the Jewish people that
will never be forgotten.
those who want to be close to the Western Wall but have a more intimate
service at which the entire family can stand together, the Southern
Wall Archaeological Garden beneath the ancient Robinson's Arch, or the
Southern Steps, is a good choice. Bearman says one of his personal
favorite places is Robinson's Arch, which once supported steps ascended
by millions of pilgrims to the Temple
over the years. "Such a magnificent backdrop, it becomes the
opportunity to help the Bar or Bat Mitzvah child understand the meaning
of Temple, of attachment to a place and to the land that continues to this day." Bearman says.
is another venue of tremendous meaning for a bar or Bat Mitzvah. Every
Monday and Thursday families and entire tour groups come to celebrate
their children's special day. Most choose to ride the cable car to the
top, but an intrepid few can always be seen climbing the Snake Path, the
carefully cradled Torah scroll changing hands from time to time during
the 45-minute ascent. Thus even the climb to the top of this last
bastion of Jewish rebels in the Great Revolt against the Romans (and the
sigh of relief at the top) can become a symbol of the challenging – but
worthwhile-effort to live a Jewish life.
where the Jewish rebels took their own lives rather than submit to
slavery in Roman captivity, is a symbol not without complexities. But
even this fact can be part of the special meaning f the day, as family
and friends gather to hear their youngster interpret the site and the
occasion in the dvar Torah (word of Torah) they may give after their reading. “People are attracted by the story of the yearning for freedom Masada
represents,” Bearman says. “We should concentrate on that part of the
story, which is in any case a thrilling one, and the fact that we are
today in a much different place historically.”
ancient synagogue, which contains a room where the rebels kept their
worn-out Torah scrolls, is a favorite venue for Masada Bar and Bat
Mitzvahs – a few Torah scrolls are now kept in that same room for this
purpose. Nothing how popular the ancient synagogue is for these
ceremonies, Bearman advises Bar and Bat Mitzvah families that it can be
reserved early in the morning before the “rush”. But there are other
great sites on the plateau where time can also be booked, through the
Israel Nature and Parks Authority, he points out, and some even offer
more privacy than the synagogue.
After the ceremony, lunch and a swim at one of the Dead Sea resort hotels, only 20 minutes’ drive from Masada, or a meal in a Bedouin tent, complete with camel rides for all, makes a fun ending to the experience.
Some Bar and Bat Mitzvah families choose ancient synagogues elsewhere for their event. One favorite site is Katzrin,
in the Golan Heights, where the synagogue is one of the Talmudic-era
buildings that have been reconstructed and reminds today’s celebrants of
the ancient Jewish families that once lived here and marked their own
milestones in this very place.
Bearman recalls one special ceremony that took place at Genesisland, a site not far from Jerusalem overlooking the Judean Desert.
“It was late afternoon, and the mystique of the desert at that hour
became a tremendous part of the experience.” Part of the Genesisland
experience is a dramatization of the story of Abraham and his servant
Eliezer and camel rides. A biblical-style meal can be served in the
Genesisland tent. At another unique site, the Neot Kedumim
Biblical Landscape Reserve, nature and the Bible is the theme; the
Torah reading and service are complemented by a tour, hands-on
activities like the famous “mezuzah treasure hunt” and, of course, a
celebration with food and music.
In addition to all the educational and family-togetherness advantages of making a Bar or Bat Mitzvah part of an Israel
trip, there are some practical advantages. Informality – even extending
to clothing for the event – means that no ties or high heels are
necessary unless you want them. Many people even say that bringing the
entire family to Israel, including grandparents and assorted aunts and uncles, is less costly than having the “big bash” at home, Bearman notes.