Natalie Cole

Function perfection at the Mount Zion Hotel in Jerusalem

Israel is fast becoming the first choice for a destination simcha. But you might need help from the experts, says Debra Barnes

T he other day we received an invitation to a barmitzvah from a friend in Israel … on a Facebook message! The simcha was only two weeks away so there was no way we could go. The whole thing was typically Israeli – last minute, very casual and obviously they were inviting most of their Facebook friends. How different from a simcha in England – all planned months, if not years, in advance, formal and with a strict guest list: if your name ain’t on the list, you don’t get through the door.

Anyone going through the headache of preparing a simcha in the UK might well be tempted to ditch the British formalities and instead go with the laid-back Israeli flow. The fact is that the Israelis do simchas really well. Israeli-born Natalie Cole (www.nataliecoleevents.com), who worked in events in London for 10 years before returning to Israel to help overseas clients arrange their simchas is well-versed in some of the major differences between holding an event in England or Israel. “Israelis get the food out of the way first and then party until 4am, whereas a British event is broken up with speeches, toasts and sometimes benching which is something you never have at an Israeli event,” she says.

“In the UK, the Jewish function industry is much smaller and celebrations tend to happen mainly at the weekends, whereas in Israel it is more progressed and simchas occur every day of the week. There is also a bigger choice of venues and everything is cheaper, from the hire of equipment, lighting and furniture to the kosher food.”

Deborah Lyons is from Essex and arranged her own wedding in Israel, where she now lives and works as a tour operator. “It was lovely. We had 120 guests come from the UK for our wedding, which we held at Gan Vradim (www.gvradim.co.il/english), a secluded place off a highway in Rishon Lezion, which has the most beautiful gardens and flowers. It was during Lag B’Omer and everything was outdoors.

Deborah Lyons wedding at Gan Vradim

Deborah Lyons wedding at Gan Vradim

 

In Israel, it is usual to take photos before the chupah, which we did at a nearby orange farm, and I think that helps the evening to flow better because you have the reception, chuppah and party without interruptions. Half of our guests were Israeli and yes, you get some who invite themselves, but the flipside are those who don’t turn up!” Natalie is also used to working with Israeli guests. “I manage the guest list through a website. The English RSVP straight away and the Israeli guests have to be phoned and asked. Normally, in Israel, you have a spare table with no chairs and the surprise guests who turn up without being invited get seated at that table, but it is also usual for 10 percent of guests to not turn up at an Israeli wedding. It is my job as an event planner to deal with these things.”

For some English people, one of the great lures of Israel is the guaranteed good weather, but venues have changed over recent years and many prefer to hold their chuppah and reception outdoors in beautiful gardens or overlooking the beach, but have dinner and dancing in air-conditioned indoor comfort. For those willing to go without air-con, it is a simple process to get a permit to hold an outdoor party in the desert and this is also a popular choice. Emma Cravitz chose Israel for her son’s barmitzvah two years ago. “Charlie didn’t want a big party and we wanted to make it meaningful for him and something he would really enjoy, so we decided to go to Israel. I used an event planner called Tova Wald (www.tovawald.com) and she arranged a whole weekend of activities for us and our guests in the north of Israel, including trekking, go-carting, tree top walking and cycling around the Kinneret. We had a BBQ with karaoke on the Sunday evening and the barmitzvah ceremony on Monday, followed by a brunch and big party. The whole thing was really unique and my son loved it.” A self-confessed control freak, Emma found it difficult to manage her nerves while trying to make all the arrangements via email.

“But Tova was incredible and everything turned out 110 percent perfect. There were some lovely touches, too, like us planting a tree in the orchard where we held the party. Holding a barmitzvah in Israel is an amazing experience if it fits with the child. We also wanted to give something back, so Tova arranged for us to visit a special school which has a strong inclusion programme. We knew that they needed music stands, so we brought them over from England with us and presented them to the students, and they played a concert for us. It was really special.”

One obvious destination for a barmitzvah is Jerusalem, but not all families like the crowds and hectic atmosphere of the Kotel, plus there is the drawback of women being excluded from the ceremony and having to stand on chairs to watch from a distance over the dividing fence.

But Natalie has a solution for that too: “I recently organised a barmitzvah at the Davidson Centre, which is a private continuation of the Kotel and where men and women can attend together. The family then had lunch in the old City and the party that evening was a delightful mix of English and Israeli, as was the guest list. It was a black tie dress code and there was benching – the Israeli guests were in shock!”

• Other tour operators: www.simchasuccess.com and www.exodusexperience.com

The other day we received an invitation to a barmitzvah from a friend in Israel … on a Facebook message! The simcha was only two weeks away so there was no way we could go. The whole thing was typically Israeli – last minute, very casual and obviously they were inviting most of their Facebook friends. How different from a simcha in England – all planned months, if not years, in advance, formal and with a strict guest list: if your name ain’t on the list, you don’t get through the door. Anyone going through the headache of preparing a simcha in the UK might well be tempted to ditch the British formalities and instead go with the laid-back Israeli flow.

The fact is that the Israelis do simchas really well.

A memorable Natalie Cole occasion in Israel

A memorable Natalie Cole occasion in Israel

Israeli-born Natalie Cole (www.nataliecoleevents.com), who worked in events in London for 10 years before returning to Israel to help overseas clients arrange their simchas is well-versed in some of the major differences between holding an event in England or Israel.

“Israelis get the food out of the way first and then party until 4am, whereas a British event is broken up with speeches, toasts and sometimes benching which is something you never have at an Israeli event,” she says.

“In the UK, the Jewish function industry is much smaller and celebrations tend to happen mainly at the weekends, whereas in Israel it is more progressed and simchas occur every day of the week. There is also a bigger choice of venues and everything is cheaper, from the hire of equipment, lighting and furniture to the kosher food.”

Deborah Lyons is from Essex and arranged her own wedding in Israel, where she now lives and works as a tour operator.

“It was lovely. We had 120 guests come from the UK for our wedding, which we held at Gan Vradim (www.gvradim.co.il/english), a secluded place off a highway in Rishon Lezion, which has the most beautiful gardens and flowers. It was during Lag B’Omer and everything was outdoors.

In Israel, it is usual to take photos before the chupah, which we did at a nearby orange farm, and I think that helps the evening to flow better because you have the reception, chuppah and party without interruptions. Half of our guests were Israeli and yes, you get some who invite themselves, but the flipside are those who don’t turn up!”

Natalie is also used to working with Israeli guests. “I manage the guest list through a website. The English RSVP straight away and the Israeli guests have to be phoned and asked. Normally, in Israel, you have a spare table with no chairs and the surprise guests who turn up without being invited get seated at that table, but it is also usual for 10 percent of guests to not turn up at an Israeli wedding. It is my job as an event planner to deal with these things.”

For some English people, one of the great lures of Israel is the guaranteed good weather, but venues have changed over recent years and many prefer to hold their chuppah and reception outdoors in beautiful gardens or overlooking the beach, but have dinner and dancing in air-conditioned indoor comfort. For those willing to go without air-con, it is a simple process to get a permit to hold an outdoor party in the desert and this is also a popular choice.

Emma Cravitz chose Israel for her son’s barmitzvah two years ago. “Charlie didn’t want a big party and we wanted to make it meaningful for him and something he would really enjoy, so we decided to go to Israel. I used an event planner called Tova Wald (www.tovawald.com) and she arranged a whole weekend of activities for us and our guests in the north of Israel, including trekking, go-carting, tree top walking and cycling around the Kinneret. We had a BBQ with karaoke on the Sunday evening and the barmitzvah ceremony on Monday, followed by a brunch and big party. The whole thing was really unique and my son loved it.”

Carlie Cravitz's barmitzvah at Kaztrim

Carlie Cravitz’s barmitzvah at Kaztrim

A self-confessed control freak, Emma found it difficult to manage her nerves while trying to make all the arrangements via email.

“But Tova was incredible and everything turned out 110 percent perfect. There were some lovely touches, too, like us planting a tree in the orchard where we held the party. Holding a barmitzvah in Israel is an amazing experience if it fits with the child. We also wanted to give something back, so Tova arranged for us to visit a special school which has a strong inclusion programme. We knew that they needed music stands, so we brought them over from England with us and presented them to the students, and they played a concert for us. It was really special.”

One obvious destination for a barmitzvah is Jerusalem, but not all families like the crowds and hectic atmosphere of the Kotel, plus there is the drawback of women being excluded from the ceremony and having to stand on chairs to watch from a distance over the dividing fence.

But Natalie has a solution for that too: “I recently organised a barmitzvah at the Davidson Centre, which is a private continuation of the Kotel and where men and women can attend together. The family then had lunch in the old City and the party that evening was a delightful mix of English and Israeli, as was the guest list. It was a black tie dress code and there was benching – the Israeli guests were in shock!”

• Other tour operators:www.simchasuccess.com and www.exodusexperience.com