Although Israelis known for its strong traditional communities, Israel’s Jewish spiritual communities are as diverse in their practices and approaches as are the Jewish communities of America. Many families coming on private tours in Israel hail from progressive home congregations and may feel more comfortable in an egalitarian prayer setting, with or without Mechitza.
Here is a short guide to some of the most well-known and respected alternative Jewish prayer options for your Bat or Bar Mitzvah tour in Israel, using Jerusalem as a focal point. For those interested in alternative prayer options outside of Jerusalem, stay tuned for Part 2.
The most classic and ever-popular location for your ceremony on your Bar/Bat Mitzvah tour Israel is, of course, the Kotel, or Western Wall. But are there alternative Jewish prayer options there? You betcha!
Entering from the Dung Gate or main bus stop, before entering the security checkpoint of the Western Wall (Kotel) plaza you will find a sign leading to the Azarat Yisrael (Robinson’s Arch) platform. This area is administered by the Masorti (Conservative) and Reform (Progressive) movements, and Egalitarian, non-Mechitza prayer, and accommodations are offered.
Also, for an interesting women-led experience, connect with Women of the Wall every Rosh Chodesh at 7:00 in the morning in the main Kotel Mechitza Women’s section (excluding Holidays and Shabbat). Women of the Wall (WOW) was formed 1988, and a Men’s Auxiliary, Men of Women of the Wall (MOWOW), was started in 2013 to support the women during the monthly services.
For those seeking a more modern-Orthodox experience, Shira Chadasha (Partnership Orthodox, Mechitza), offers traditional Orthodox Ashkenazi prayer in your family trips to Israel, but with both women and men leading prayer and reading Torah. Shira Chadasha has strong connections to Jerusalem’s local Shalom Hartman Institute – and it represents a growing trend toward Modern Open Orthodoxy (MOO) Partnership style communities with over 20 ‘Shira Hadasha’ style minyanim worldwide as of 2014, including Yedidya, another local favorite.
Pardes Institute is co-educational non-denominational Institute of Jewish Learning founded in 1972 which currently sits in the Talpiot district of Jerusalem. Students of varying backgrounds and ideologies learn together in Beit Midrash and Community Education Programs. During the academic sessions, Pardes Institute runs three services a day in both Modern Orthodox Partnership and Egalitarian prayer-styles (with, and without Mechitza).
Also worth mentioning are Jerusalem’s Conservative Yeshiva and Hebrew Union College, which ordain Conservative and Reform Rabbis locally, and can also be a great support when seeking local Rabbinical support for your Bar or Bat Mitzvah tour in Israel.
Nava Tehila (Jewish Renewal, non-Mechitza) runs an uplifting musical Kabbalat Shabbat service, one Friday per month, in the downstairs Spitzer social hall of Kol Haneshama Reform Congregation on 1 Asher St in Baka (opposite the Oranim Pierre Koenig Delek petrol station). The service features prayer, song and dance; and acoustic musical instruments are used on Shabbat. Each prayer is preceded by a brief explanation in Hebrew and English and followed by a brief silent meditation. Summer and High Holiday services are conducted under the trees of the Jerusalem Nature Museum behind Emeq Refaim, and their unique Simchat Torah service is not to be missed.
Kehilat Zion (Conservative/Masorti, non-Mechitza) is a unique inclusive community of Jews from varying backgrounds and customs including Sephardi, Ashkenazi, Orthodox, and Secular, and the congregation is heavily involved in social action assisting people of all faiths and nationalities in the greater Jerusalem community. The musical services feature Western and Oriental melodies, although no instruments are played on Shabbat itself. Featuring modern piyutim (spiritual poetry) and older forgotten prayers from pre-Talmudic times in Land of Israel services are conducted entirely in Hebrew, but there is a strong Anglo contingent within the community.
We at Dekel Tours know how important it is for you to design your private tours in Israel in a way that is most authentic and personally meaningful to you. We hope you find in the above list some interesting resources to help you plan your trip and your coming-of-age event in a way that speaks to your unique expression of Judaism.
However, if you’re looking for something specific that’s not on the list, please let us know! There many more meaningful Jewish options available for your family trips to Israel than can possibly be mentioned here, and it’s our fun and privilege to help you find just the right ones!!