Go the extra mıle
Sunshine, spirituality and savings are among the pleasures of an event in Israel, says Anna Harwood
‘I ALWAYS KNEW that my wedding would be in Israel, even before I found the bride,” says Josh Green, from Manchester. “In addition to the beautiful weather, the affordability and the stunning backdrop, nothing can beat getting married in a country with thousands of years of Jewish history.”
Israel continues to be a popular destination for Britons planning weddings and bar/batmitzvahs. Against the cost of UK venues, kosher caterers and all the extras, the allure of saving thousands of pounds and having guaranteed sunshine is too much to refuse. Long-distance planning can be daunting, so it is worth budgeting for an event planner to guide you through the process and negotiate the best deals.
Michal Kaye founded Events Israel to make the most of the country’s simchah potential. “Born in England and raised in Canada, I’d always worked in logistics for major Jewish organisations, planning conferences, fairs and trips,” explains Kaye. “Having made aliyah in 2008, I was working in hi-tech when a family friend requested help to plan their wedding in Israel. I found the experience so enjoyable and successful that I immediately decided on a career change and the following week I had already secured client number two.”
Kaye has planned everything from parties in traditional, lavish wedding halls, to those in a backto-nature setting.
“I have just finished throwing a fabulous threeday wedding for a British couple,” she says. “For the same price as a simple wedding in England, I was able to secure some of the top locations in Israel and extend the festivities to become a luxurious vacation for all the guests.” The three-day wedding bash began with a rooftop pool party overlooking the Marina in Tel Aviv. Guests were served a sumptuous buffet, sipped cocktails while watching the sun set and swam until the early hours of the morning. Following a day on the beach, guests spent Shabbat in their hotel in Tel Aviv and 100 celebrants enjoyed a festive Friday-night meal together. On Sunday, transport was organised to whisk the wedding party to HaAchuza, one of Israel’s original manor houses and the location for the wedding celebration.
On the outskirts of Rishon LeTzion, summer weddings at HaAchuza take place within the grounds, overlooking rolling hills and green pasture. The bride had meticulously planned with Kaye how to subtly incorporate a British, rustic feel. “We didn’t spend much money on flowers as we were amid nature,” says Kaye. “Instead, we played with different ideas for creative place cards, unique party favours and elegant decorations.”
While in England, simchah planning can take up to a year, in Israel the process runs a lot faster. “Most vendors won’t finalise arrangements until much nearer to the event; people work on a different schedule here, the average wedding timeline is much shorter,” says Kaye. That is not to say that British couples can’t begin to plan their event earlier, it simply means that final contracts will not be signed until a later date. “It can be a little frustrating for my clients not to be able to finalise everything when they come on a pilot trip months in advance, but I often end up rushing around three weeks
Guests sipped cocktails in luxury tents in the desert
before the event and, being abroad, the couple is spared that hassle!”
For celebrants planning their occasion independently, without an events planner, the lastminute nature of Israel means that, with a little organisation, one can arrive two or three weeks before the event and still have time to make final adaptations to the menu, music, flowers and decorations. But as in the UK, celebrants need to be realistic about their budgets. Kaye believes that one should budget five to 10 per cent higher than initial quotes, to cover any unexpected costs and make sure that with every vendor, an English contract is supplied.
Many families decide to bring their children to the Holyland for their coming-of-age ceremony — there are so many meaningful locations. Possibilities include a small ceremony at Masada, followed by brunch with views to the Dead Sea; Torah reading at the Western Wall followed by a party amid the archaeological ruins, or an egalitarian batmitzvah overlooking the Old City in a glassdomed venue.
One of Kaye’s most memorable barmitzvahs took place this summer, with the brief of incorporating Israel’s modern and ancient history. The Torah reading took place at Latrun, a critical hill involved in the capture of Jerusalem and now a memorial to fallen soldiers in the tank corps. The location signified the barmitzvah boy’s commitment to Israel and deep gratitude towards those protecting the land; Latrun also offered views across the Judean hills.
The evening following the ceremony, the guests were bussed to Eretz Bereshit, a stunning venue deep in the Judean desert and yet just half an hour from Jerusalem. While the children formed a drumming circle on an isolated hilltop, the adults
sipped cocktails in a luxuriously tented arena. The children travelled on camelback to re-join their parents and the barmitzvah party continued in full swing as the stars twinkled in the clear desert sky.
If planning any religious ceremony in Israel, it is advisable to contact one of the organisations designed to assist in these matters, such as Tzohar or Itim. Kaye recommends using Itim, a charity that will advise on both barmitzvah and wedding ceremonies — one of its aims is to limit the bureaucracy involved.
Just being in Israel adds a special energy to your day. From its multiplicity of cultures , you can adopt one or two new religious elements to enhance the spirituality of the occasion. And however lavish your banquet, it will still have a laid-back Israeli attitude, a real party atmosphere.
Rustic-style dining at Eretz Bereshit, in the Judean desert Barmitzvah band at Eretz Bereshit