From My Family to Yours: Tips for a Successful Israel Adventure

My father had a way of speaking things into existence long before they would happen. When my father held his first grandchild, my nephew, he said casually, “maybe we should all go to Israel together for his bar mitzvah.” And so it wasn’t really a surprise when, more than a decade later, our extended family did start to have conversations in earnest about planning a big family trip to Israel to celebrate my nephew’s bar mitzvah.

We traveled together in the summer of 2023. In the end, there were 24 people in the group, including eleven kids between the ages of 9 and 14, three children under five, and 13 adults who ranged from mid 30’s to mid 70’s. For all but a couple of the children, it was their first trip to Israel. Almost all of the adults had traveled to Israel before, but some not for many years. Since there were cousins joining from both sides of the family, not everyone was related to each other, or had even met before.

I’m very grateful to my brother and his wife for planning such a special experience for the whole family. Every moment in history in Israel feels auspicious for its own reason, but we are especially grateful that we were able to have this trip before the atrocities of October 7, and we are heartbroken by all that has happened in the last seven months. I’m also grateful that my then nine-year old son was able to experience the joy of being in Israel during what in retrospect were simpler times.

If you also have a dream of creating a family travel experience to Israel, here are some reflections that might be helpful to you:

  • Start early. Plant the seed early that you are thinking about this trip, assessing interest about who might be able to join you. Know that there will be many whom you’d like to join you that for any of a number of reasons cannot be there.
  • Find a vendor to help you with the logistics. My brother and his wife worked with Scopus Tours, a small company that specializes in small independent trips to Israel. But there are bar mitzvah packages and family trip packages available from other companies that simplify the logistics. Like other big projects, you have to find the right balance for you between planning time, cost and customization that is right for your group.
  • Consider the needs and wants of your participants. How much stamina does your group have for physical activity? What is the balance of fun and education that will be right for your group? What is the balance of structured activity versus free time that you need? How will you account for the developmental needs of the different ages of people on the trip? What are family dynamics that need to be considered?
  • If a happy occasion like a b’mitzvah is part of the trip, how much of a focus will be on that aspect of the trip, and how will you craft an experience that befits that child and your family? How will you involve everyone in that part of the trip?
  • Once you are there, let go and be flexible. Things will come up that you didn’t anticipate, and it will still be wonderful. And, trust people to take care of their own needs, opting in and out of aspects of the trip. Our littlest travelers and their parents needed to opt out of some segments of the trip so they could have a good nap every couple of days, and some people needed to leave early or come late to accommodate other demands.

And most of all, soak in every moment, being in Israel, with family. Help the children with you reflect on the experience as you go along, and keep talking about the trip with them when you return.