Travel and Jewish ceremonies a great match, who knew?

In the days of old, like a few years ago, traditional Jewish coming-of-age ceremonies were held in traditional ways. Study the Torah. Read the Torah. Give a report about the Torah. Something along those lines. Kinda boring but part of the deal. It was the after-party that got all the press. Now, things are changing as families look for new ways to celebrate one of the Jewish faith’s most treasured events, the Bar Mitzvah.

First, quick, loose lesson on the Jewish faith.

When a boy “comes of age” at 13 he has become a “bar mitzvah” and Jewish tradition holds that he now has the same rights and responsibilities as a full grown man. The people that give out drivers licenses, voter registration cards and the like (including the sellers of beer, believe me) disagree but as Jews we’re used to the whole opression thing so we move along. Bar mitzvah also refers to the religious ceremony that goes along with a boy becoming a Bar Mitzvah and the party will follow the ceremony and that party is also called a bar mitzvah. Bat Mitzvah is the girl version which is basically the same deal but for girls it’s age 12 (because “girls are better than boys” as my mother told me countless times)

Got it? Ok let’s move along then.

Now, families are taking turning the traditional “rent a hall and have a party” part into a travel opportunity that involves everything from all-inclusive resorts to cruise vacations. And why not? People travel from all over the world to attend these things, why not make it convenient for everyone?

When Jodi and Alan Katz of Marietta, Ga., began talking about plans for a bar mitzvah for their son, Zach, the idea of reading the Torah in front of 300 strangers wasn’t so appealing to him reports MSNBC. This family did it differently and went on a cruise with 35 friends and relatives.

“It was the best thing we ever did,” said Jodi Katz. “It took away that pressure and anxiety. I could see in his eyes he was happy.”

Indeed, cruise lines, travel agencies and the like are seeing more of this type of business every year as bar mitzvah’s become family vacations.

A match made in heaven? “Not so fast” say traditionalists.

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin sees these vacation-like events as a big problem for Judaism because it removes the child from their local Jewish community which he told MSNBC was the glue that holds the religion together.

“The beauty of the setting doesn’t come from the beach and sunset,” said Salkin, author of the book, “Putting God on the Guest List: How to Reclaim the Spiritual Meaning of Your Child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah.” “It comes from knowing the people in the pews.”

Still, the move to join travel and Jewish ceremonies makes economic sense, gathers important family members to witness the event and joins a movement to make religion relevant.

Rabbi Jamie S. Korngolds nonprofit company, Adventure Rabbi, focuses on teaching about God in nature. Based in Colorado, the group teaches kids traditional lessons using Skype. They also organize ceremonies, as well as hikes and horseback rides in Boulder and skiing at Copper Mountain for guests.

“People are trying to get away from big parties, and they want to focus on the spiritual rite of passage,” Korngold said.

Flickr photo by Justin Jackson