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Bar mitzvahs outside of New York

Passing customs

for The Brooklyn Paper

Dear Cantor Matt,

I know that families sometimes travel to Israel to have their bar mitzvah. Can we travel somewhere else? I think it would be a great opportunity to plan a family trip to a distant location and have our child’s bar mitzvah there. Is it kosher or not?

— Leaving on a Jet Plane

Dear Jet,

Before you check your bags, let me coach you through this decision. I must say, this sounds like a first-class idea. You get to plan a wonderful vacation and celebrate your child’s bar mitzvah. Then, as an added benefit, you’re now spared the entire burden of planning a party, figuring out who to invite, and all the countless other details that go into planning a conventional bar mitzvah.

There is a reason why some couples choose to elope rather than plan a huge wedding — it’s just easier. Yet, before you start combing Kayak for the best hotel-and-air fare packages, let’s take a closer look at the reality of having a destination bar mitzvah.

I like the idea that families are looking for new and creative ways to add meaning to what might otherwise be a cookie-cutter ceremony, because unless you’re already on the plane, it can be really satisfying to shake things up a bit. My biggest worry, though, is that the focus of the process will be less about the meaning of bar mitzvah, and more on the trip itself. For instance, spending a week at an all-inclusive resort and then interrupting one day with a short ceremony on the beach seems to come up a little short for an occasion that’s supposed to commemorate a young person’s new standing in the Jewish community and his responsibility to participate in Jewish rituals. Plus, it’s hard to put on a tallit while you’re holding a piña colada — or have had a few in the sun.

On the other hand, touring a distant city and learning about that location’s Jewish history and visiting relevant sites in advance of a service in a synagogue might be incredibly meaningful. It would certainly be an appropriate way for a young person to feel more connected to Jewish history.

The subject of community is another area of concern. One of the major goals of the bar mitzvah process is having a child consider himself a full member of the Jewish community. Typically, this is easily accomplished through synagogue membership. But even for those families that choose not to affiliate with a temple, it’s possible to find ways to identify and involve yourself with other Jews in your area. You remove yourselves from your Jewish community when you hop on a plane and fly a few thousand miles away. It makes the bar mitzvah more of an isolated occasion.

If you do decide to travel, just make sure you do a lot of planning so you can include a good amount of Jewish meaning. And by doing so you might add a whole new meaning to passing customs.

Cantor Matt Axelrod (Congregation Beth Israel, Scotch Plains, NJ) is the author of “Surviving Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah: The Ultimate Insider’s Guide.” He’s always happy to hear from you and he might answer your question in a future column. You can email him at cantormatt@mattaxelrod.com.

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