Families Find Special Meaning Having B’nai Mitzvahs in Israel

uriel miller
Uriel Miller had his Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel. | Photos provided

From her side of the mechitza at the Kotel, Shaindy Lindenberg was able to get a good view of her son reading from the Torah.

In late July, her son Ilan had his Bar Mitzvah in Israel. They had about 60 guests, mostly family and some friends. Their ceremony took place early in the morning at the Kotel, then was followed by a special breakfast and a Shabbat event the next day. The family spent about a week in Israel in all, taking in the sights and history.

Planning a Bar or Bat Mitzvah in Israel can come with difficulties planning one locally might not have. There’s the added need and cost of flights to a foreign country, the challenge of finding housing and picking venues, caterers and other vendors from abroad.

But Lindenberg felt the experience was worth it.

“Everything really just fell into place,” she said. “I am so happy, and my husband and I are so thrilled that it all worked out, that we were able to do the event in Israel. No regrets. We’ve been telling everyone how great it was. There’s always little things here and there, but overall, when you look at the whole picture, that was the perfect event. I wouldn’t have changed anything.”

One element that can ease planning a Bar or Bat Mitzvah in Israel is having on-the-ground help. Lindenberg had family in Israel who could help with logistics. Isabelle Tahar Miller, whose son Uriel had his Bar Mitzvah in Israel in August, and Robert Ames, whose son Elijah also had his Bar Mitzvah in August, had help in Israel as well.

“It’s much more significant to do it in Israel,” Miller said. “Also, because we have a lot of family in Israel, we don’t have much people here in the United States that could have been attending. These are the main reasons [we decided to have the Bar Mitzvah in Israel.] It was my dream or commitment to have his Bar Mitzvah there since he was a baby.”

Ames had the help of a rabbi in Israel, Peretz Rodman, who has experience helping Americans plan for this ceremony in Israel. Rodman organized the ceremony for them, so the Ames family basically just had to show up.

From left: Sara Jennings, Levon, Elijah, Harper and Robert Ames

All three boys had their Bar Mitzvah ceremonies at the Kotel. Rodman led the ceremony for the Ames family, while cousins in the Lindenberg and Miller families who work as cantors or singers led their respective ceremonies.

Elijah Ames had his ceremony at Robinson’s Arch, the southern excavation site of the Kotel, where they could have an egalitarian service. Both Uriel Miller and Ilan Lindenberg had theirs in the men’s section.

Lindenberg did a lot of research going into this Bar Mitzvah, so she knew that they needed to get there early, at about 7 a.m., to reserve a table, which are on the men’s side for placing the Torahs. The Kotel gets especially crowded on the days when Bar Mitzvahs can occur there — Mondays, Thursdays, the first day of the Hebrew month and the intermediary days of Sukkot and Passover. Having an early service also helps avoid Israel’s heat. By 8:30 a.m., they had finished the service.  

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Uriel Miller carries the Torah at his Bar Mitzvah.

Between the warm weather and making sure her guests found the right spot, Miller thought planning the ceremony at the Kotel was the most difficult part of the Bar Mitzvah. She was prepared for that, though, which was key to making sure it ran smoothly.

Lindenberg and Ames both went out to eat at a restaurant after the ceremony with their families.

Lindenberg’s family also held a Shabbat event that Friday evening. Again, figuring out the logistics for that from the Philadelphia area was difficult, but having family in Israel helped. Her family arranged for a space to hold the event at a local hotel, even though they weren’t staying at the hotel. (Lindenberg and her family stayed in apartments through sites like Airbnb.com and Homeaway.com, a cheaper alternative to hotel rooms that also gave them the option of having a kitchen and saving on meals.)

For Ames, planning a Bar Mitzvah in Israel was easier than anticipated. Part of that ease came from the relative smallness of the celebration. They only had their close relatives at the Bar Mitzvah, for a total of 11 people.

“There are certainly a lot of ways to celebrate a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, but it just seemed that that would be something that [Elijah] and the rest of the family would remember forever,” Ames said. “It would just be a great experience for all of us.”

After Uriel Miller’s Bar Mitzvah ceremony, Isabelle Tahar Miller arranged transportation to Olmaya, an event space “with an absolutely mesmerizing view,” she said, where they held the celebration. She visits Israel about once a year, so she had picked out the Olmaya on a previous trip there. About 120 people attended the Bar Mitzvah.

Olmaya helped put Miller in touch with a photographer, DJ and decorator for the celebration.

And, of course, while they were in Israel, all three families spent some time traveling through the Jewish state.

“The experience and the memories are totally worth is,” Lindenberg said. “I wouldn’t change it for a thing. You got to do your research. Everyone, especially with networking and social media and everything, you can always post questions. There is always advice out there.” ❤

szighelboim@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0729


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