It’s All Worth It In the End (Bar Mitzvah Stories & Pictures)

I took the most extended break of my blogging career these past three weeks and I really appreciate your patience with me.

My son Matan’s Bar Mitzvah was September 22nd (Parshat HaAzinu), and then immediately after the first day of Sukkot (I love one day yom tov!), we took our extended family down to Eilat for a four-day family vacation/celebration.

As it turns out, having a Bar Mitzvah in Israel is quite a bit less expensive (at least the way we did it!) than having one in America. So we gave our son a choice: Would you rather have a bigger party, with dinner and dancing, or would your rather have a modest party just for your friends and then go to Eilat with your cousins and grandparents?

It took about three seconds for him to answer: EILAT!

So we took the money we had saved for the bar mitzvah, when we were planning for a party and a fancier kiddush, and spent it instead to treat our family to four days in the desert. It.was.fantastic!

Let me back up and share some fun details and pictures.

Warning: This is a LONG one, so you may want to boil a cup of tea first!

Matan’s Bo B’Yom was the Sunday before his shul Bar Mitzvah, so he was able to have his official-unofficial Bar Mitzvah / Aliyah l’Torah on Monday. We did that at our shul in Israel, and it was very low key, which suited him just fine.

It was a good first run at reading in front of people and he did great. My pictures weren’t so amazing, but it was an amazingly special memory – one which I will always hold dear.

To keep things interesting, Yom Kippur fell in the middle of that week. It was actually a perfect reminder to me to stop and focus on the truly important stuff — in spite of all the craziness over the “details”.

Motzei Yom Kippur, though, I hurriedly got back to my Bar Mitzvah to-do list, including ironing all of our “nice clothes” because on Thursday morning, Matan layned at the kotel.

Kotel Bar Mitzvah

Amazing, amazing, amazing.

Before we made aliyah in 2017, Matan used to tell me that he wanted to have his Bar Mitzvah at the kotel — and now he got to!

After he finished davening, we took family pictures in the Old City with an incomparably wonderful photographer name Kineret (the picture above of him layning and the one of all of us are hers!).

Thursday afternoon was intensive kitchen prep time for me — since I cooked Shabbat dinner (for 35) and lunch (for 45), plus the kiddush (for 150).

The kiddush featured fresh salads (oh my gosh, the table looked stunning, I was so sad I couldn’t take a picture), potato and noodle kugel, a dessert table (courtesy of my exceptionally talented friend, Dvora), a candy table and ice cream.

(Some of you may remember that we had ice cream at my older son’s bar mitzvah, too. It was a huge hit with everyone and the first thing Matan requested when we started discussing his Bar Mitzvah!)

While I did a lot of the cooking in the three weeks before the Bar Mitzvah, all those fresh salads had to be prepped the day before, so Thursday and Friday were a bit stressy. My motto — at 3 am — was “this will all be worth it in the end”. AND IT WAS!

Friday night was pretty low key; after davening, we ate dinner with our out of town guests and then did our best to get some good sleep before the big day.

Shabbat morning, Matan woke up feeling so nervous. Despite having rocked his layning on Monday and Thursday, reading his whole parsha — in front of a couple hundred people — understandably felt very overwhelming to him.

I kept looking over the mechitza at him during shacharit and he was a bit green. I started to worry that he was going to faint up there, but as my husband predicted, all he needed was to get a few words into his layning and he’d be fine. He’s shaky voice made me well up with tears, but after 30 seconds, he was back to his confident self! Sweet boy!

After davening, we set up for our kiddush. You may remember that my older son’s kiddush was catered (it was a requirement of the shul we davened at at the time).

For Matan’s, we spent a fraction to do it ourselves — and were able to serve many more types of foods — but ohmygosh, I was a bundle of nerves as to whether it would all come together. (Caterers get tons of respect from me!)

Fortunately, it exceeded my vision — and was truly lovely.

The room was filled mostly with our family and new friends from our community in Israel, but we were also happy to host family and a number of old friends — including my husband’s closest friend who has known him since their army days (even before I knew him!)

My son finally could take a deep breath and truly smile with relief and hopefully a bit of pride in himself and all his hard work.

And no, my perennial fear of running out of food was thankfully not realized. Well, except for the candy table — but I could have bought 10 times as much and they still would have gobbled it all up!

From one full plate to the next, after kiddush, we sat down with 45 guests for lunch, and then we had a brief two hours of downtime before seudah shlishit. The eating never ends!

As soon as Shabbat was out, I rushed up to the shul where we were hosting Matan’s “friends party”. Typically I wouldn’t have planned a party for motzei Shabbat, but since the next day was erev Sukkot, we didn’t have much choice.

The party theme was “Movie Night” and honestly, the highlight (at least for the boys) was the movie theatre candy I brought back from America. Yes, I was that crazy lady with 120 boxes of $.98 candy from Walmart in her duffel bags!

But it was so worth it! They boys were so cute trying to pick which one they wanted!

We rolled out a “red carpet” and set up a big banner as the backdrop for all the photos (picture magnets, actually), with movie-themed photo props.

During the movie intermission, we served pizza and screened a slide show of Matan’s life. I was blown away by how these 45 boys (from his class and a few other friends as well) sat and intently watched 15 minutes of pictures and videos of a boy that they only met last year. What little menchies!

We finished around 11 pm (yawn!), and handed each boy their photo magnets and a cupcake on their way out.

Sunday morning was all about Sukkot preparations — including putting up our sukkah (we left it for the last moment since we needed that space for hosting Bar Mitzvah guests over Shabbat). Thankfully we had a lot of leftover food from Shabbat, so I didn’t have to do too much cooking.

We enjoyed a quiet yomtov with family — 25-hours of peace amidst the frenetic activity — and then packed our bags for our big trip to Eilat.

After much debate, my husband and I decided to hire a driver and a mini bus for our group of 14 people — ranging in age from two to 75 years. Having a driver was a real splurge, but it made the trip much more relaxing than having to cram everyone into two rented mini vans and fight for parking everywhere we went.

The trip did present a bit of a planning challenge for me. I needed to come up with activities that everyone could enjoy, without being too boring or too challenging for anyone. In the end, I think (hope!) I hit the mark.

Our first night, we stayed in Mitzpeh Ramon — about half way between Eilat and the center of the country. On the way there, we had a brief stop in Sde Boker to visit Ben Gurion’s home and gravesite. I love the tranquility of the desert and there isn’t a better view than from his stunningly serene grave.

It was surprisingly quiet there considering it was Chol HaMoed Sukkot – just us and the ibex!

In Mitzpeh Ramon, we took a super fun (and beautiful) jeep tour into Machtesh Ramon (the largest crater in Israel) and then did a star gazing tour later that night. With a telescope, we were able to see the craters on the moon and the rings around Saturn — breathtaking!

The next morning, we toured the Mitzpeh Ramon visitor center, where they have a lovely memorial to Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut for NASA, who died in 2003 when the spaceship Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry after a 16-day mission.

After, we headed down to Eilat, where we enjoyed snorkeling and an incredible sunset cruise in the Gulf of Aqaba (so amazing to be able to see Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan from the water!).

The next morning, a few of us got up extra early to do a short hike in the Red Canyon. Stunning! If you’re looking for a family-friendly hike with amazing views and just a bit of challenge, this is the perfect option.

My nine year old didn’t come with us, because she has a broken ankle — but I am sure that she and even younger children could have handled it with ease. Older family members might have a hard time with the ladders.

Midday, a small group of us headed to Eilat’s Dolphin Reef for the highlight of the trip for Matan: Swimming with the dolphins. It wasn’t exactly “kosher on a budget”, but the memories are priceless and will truly last a lifetime!

Friday morning, we packed up to head back north for Shabbat, making two quick stops along the way.

First, we visited the Salt Pools, right on the border with Jordan, where a whole flock of flamingoes has taken up residency. Apparently, they used to stop there during their winter migration from Europe to Africa, but several years ago, decided to just stay put; they are now here year-round.

After, we continued north to Kibbutz Yotvata, one of Israel’s two main dairy producers. The tour’s highlight was definitely the refet (cow shed), including getting to visit the babies! So sweet!

We pulled into my driveway with less than an hour ’til Shabbat, so I quickly grabbed leftovers from the freezer (and served mostly warm food for dinner). But as per my mantra — it was worth it in the end!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey through the nearly two weeks of Matan’s Bar Mitzvah celebrations! Frankie and I feel so blessed by him and our whole family. Yes, it was a tremendous amount of work — as are all labors of love — but so very worth the time, money and energy we invested.

Wishing you equally beautiful and meaningful smachot now and always, however you choose to celebrate them!

(By the way, I’ve heard from many of you who are planning to come to Israel for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. If I can be of help with any of the resources mentioned above, please don’t hesitate to email me.)

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Comments

  1. Mazel Tov! Looks like it was beautiful. Lots of nachat

  2. Amazing whirlwind! Mazel Tov!

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