Bar Mitzvah in Israel vs. America | How Do the Costs Compare

After sharing with you the story of our recent Bar Mitzvah in Israel, as well as all the details from my first son’s Bar Mitzvah in Cleveland two years ago, I’ve heard from a number of you who really want to know: How do the costs compare?

Which is more affordable? A bar mitzvah in Israel or one in the US?

There are infinite variables, but I wanted to let you in on the behind-the-budget details of our variables to see how the costs broke down.

Check out this chart for a clear comparison between the costs of our two sons’ bar mitzvahs.

 Israel

 Cleveland

 Bar Mitzvah Lessons (1 year)

 $1000

 $2000

 Tfilin

 $675

 $800

 Friday lunch for OOT guests                      

 $0

 $240

 Friday night dinner

 $360

 $700

 Kiddush

 $2200

 $3200

 Shabbat Lunch

 $435

 $1300

 Seudah Shlishit

 $180

 $190

 Clothing

 $850

 $770

 Photographer & Photo Book

 $500

 $225

 Extra cleaning help

 —

 $250

 Kippot

 —

 $300

Invitations, thank you cards, postage 

 $295

 $320

Benchers

 $75

 —

Party

 $1000

 $1800

Bo B’Yom

 $150

 $40

Host / OOT gifts

 $95

 $180

Candy bags to throw

 $20

 $20

Donation to shul

 $500

TOTAL

 $7,835                   

 $12,835

Now that you have seen the cold, hard numbers, let me give you the short answer to the question of cost:

Our expenses for our second son’s bar mitzvah in Israel were about 40% less than our first son’s Bar Mitzvah, which was in the United States.

However, we ultimately spent roughly the same amount for both Bar Mitzvahs — around $13,000 — because after son #2’s bar mitzvah, we took our extended family on a trip to Eilat. (If you missed that post, click here to read about our trip.)

Now let’s look at the smachot themselves. While there were some differences in how we celebrated, there were also a lot of similarities, including:

  • Three Shabbat meals: For both Bar Mitzvahs, we hosted Friday night dinner, Shabbat lunch and seudah shlishit for our family and out of town guests. The number of guests was very similar for both Bar Mitzvahs — around 35-40 for dinner, and 50+ for lunch. In Cleveland, we had dinner at home, which I mostly cooked, and lunch at the shul, which was catered. (Any food served at our shul had to be provided by a va’ad certified caterer.) In Israel, on the other hand, we hosted all of our meals at the shul, but I cooked almost everything.
  • Kiddush: For Bar Mitzvah #1, we had a dessert kiddush, which was catered by the in-house shul caterer (click here to read about the kiddush). We had about 300 guests, of which probably half were people that we honestly didn’t even know, since the protocol for our shul in America was to invite the entire community. At Bar Mitzvah #2, our kiddush was by invitation, and we had about 175 guests. We served salads, kugels, nosh, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, desserts and a candy table. I cooked and prepared most of the food, and my talented friend Dvora Rotter catered our dessert table.
  • Party: Both boys had parties with about 50 guests. The party in America had a combination of our son’s friends and our out-of-town guests. The party in Israel was just for my son’s friends. His grade is much bigger than our older son’s was in America, so we had 50 guests after just inviting all of his classmates.  We served more food for the baseball party (read about it here), but we had to cook it all; our movie night party in Israel featured just pizza, candy, soda and popcorn, so while I had to do the shopping, I was off the hook for cooking!
  • Clothing: We spent 10% more on clothing for Bar Mitzvah #2, but all in all I’m pretty pleased with our costs. With Bar Mitzvah #1, all three guys wore suits; with Bar Mitzvah #2, only the bar mitzvah boy wore a suit, so that saved a bit. Also, with Bar Mitzvah #1, I was in America and could spend a lot more time ordering, returning, ordering again — and then giving up and shopping in a brick-and-mortar store. With Bar Mitzvah #2, I was visiting family in the US the month before, so I quickly bought all of our clothes — in one shot! (Okay, there was a little bit of back and forth — but nothing like with Bar Mitzvah #1.) 
  • Photography: This is one area where we spent quite a bit more in Israel than in America. Our photographer in Israel was more expensive — although we had her with us quite a bit longer (throughout Thursday morning davening at the kotel, plus another hour + for family photos). I figured you’ll never regret having great pictures of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. (And gosh, looking at the pictures above, there’s definitely no comparing photos taken in the Old City!)

Now that I’ve shared all our financial details in the most transparent way possible, I want to remind you that if you’re in the US and thinking about having a Bar or Bat Mitzvah in Israel, your costs (and plans) will probably look very different.

For example, you will have to fly everyone here, possibly rent a car or minivan (which can run as much as $100 per day, plus gas), and probably pay for a hotel/guest house/or apartment rental. Additionally, your simcha plans will probably look very different from mine.

Most tourists, for example, tend to have their smachot on a Monday or Tuesday, rather than a Shabbat-long affair.  Two years ago, when we were still living in Cleveland and Matan was asking to have his Bar Mitzvah in Israel, we were thinking about having a Monday bar mitzvah at the kotel. We planned to follow it by a seudah (festive meal) in the Old City for 20 or 25 guests. And, of course, we were planning to tour around Israel with our family after the Bar Mitzvah for another week or two.

Pre-aliyah, I had been budgeting at least $15,000 for an Israel bar mitzvah, which would have covered not only the trip, but also the seudah, photographer and clothing for the big day. And I was projecting $1,000 for a simple party for his friends back in the US and another $500 for a small kiddush at our shul to mark the occasion.

In other words, I’m pretty sure that traveling to Israel — even when done on a strict budget — would have cost more than having a modest Bar Mitzvah in America. Of course, when your whole family gets to spend two weeks together in Eretz Yisrael, that really is priceless!

Do you have questions? I’m an open book (or at least a fairly open one!). If you want names and numbers of vendors in Israel, reach out to me by email. I’m happy to share. If you want to run your Bar/Bat Mitzvah-in-Israel-budget by me, I’d love to take a look and give you my feedback.

Comments

comments

Comments

  1. Thank you, Mara! Very interesting info. Our Bar Mitzva cost in US was about $4ooo. But we didn’t have OOT guests or additional party, only Shabbat meals for the guests. Lessons were close to $0, my son studied with our rabbi and with an app. Food was around $2000. Everything is cheaper in Des Moines, IA.

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