With “destination” weddings and functions a growing trend, there are a huge number of advantages to holding a wedding — or a barmitzvah or batmitzvah, for that matter — in Israel rather than, say, the South of France.
The first is that the entire simchah industry is geared up for kosher events, so there are myriad supervised, licensed caterers to choose from. Before thoughts of a multi-coloured smorgasbord of felafel, hummus and gefilte fish float into your mind, let me assure you that the new generation of Israeli caterers represent foodie heaven.
Today, the cuisine and the stunning presentation will please even the most demanding and stylish consumers. Israel also offers a wide range of potential venues. It is probably safe to discount wedding halls on the grounds that they are not sufficiently different from anything available at home, so the two options are hotels and wedding gardens.
Hotels are a particularly popular option for those coming from overseas is to hold their simchah in Israel. There are very practical reasons for this: the country has an abundance of them at every price level and every grade, from the most luxe five-star properties for lavish, no-expense-spared celebrations, to charming but modest places where a party for 50 would be perfect.
This tiny country also offers a truly dazzling choice of hotels — in Jerusalem, where many leading properties have terraces perfectly located for a chupah or party with views over the Old City; on the shores of Kinneret; in the far south offering vistas of desert, mountain or Red Sea and on the Mediterranean, all the way from Tel Aviv to Haifa and beyond.
Depending on the time of year and the location, you may choose to have a chupah outside, followed by dinner and dancing inside, or to hold the entire event outdoors. The most popular option — and one that hotels are adept at organising — is a party around the pool, either just before or just after sunset, where shimmering water, a softly blowing canopy, clever lighting and artfully arranged banqueting tables provide a sublime setting for a marriage ceremony or — minus the canopy — a spectacular barmitzvah or batmitzvah party.
One key advantage for UK residents choosing a hotel for a simchah in Israel, is that all the major chains, both domestic and international, as well as many of the small, independent hotels, have a dedicated banqueting team who will arrange virtually every detail of your function — a big plus if you prefer not to make too many pre-simchah reconnaissance visits. I should say at this point that it would be very difficult to make a simchah in Israel without at least one recce — two would be better — to see the venue and for face-to-face meetings with service suppliers.
My daughter Lucy and her fiancé Oliver decided last year that they wanted their wedding to be in Israel in one of the beautiful wedding gardens which dot the country, rather than in a hotel.
We made a decision — despite my fairly in-depth knowledge of the country as the JC travel editor — that the operation would be impossible without the input of a wedding planner. We chose Anglo-Israel Events, a well-established event-planning firm run by Ra’anana-based ex-Elstree resident Joan Summerfield and her associates.
Ms Summerfield, who has 15 years’ experience of Israel and Israeli suppliers, is the perfect consultant for British clients. She understands that our needs are somewhat different from those of locals and has developed expertise as well as relationships with service providers who will not disappoint UK clients with the highest standards. She sources venues, hotels, caterers, photographers and bands, as well as the minor players — florists (known as decorators in Israel since they create the whole look of a function), hairdressers, make-up artists, coach firms, printers and all the other people required to make a function go off perfectly.
By the time we went out for our first wedding visit last December, Ms Summerfield had drawn up a list of about eight gardens that fitted Lucy and Oliver’s criteria of a water-side or beachside setting. Her expertise was also invaluable in knowing which gardens would be the right size for us, since Israeli weddings are often for 600 guests and anything too vast would have been inappropriate.
We visited seven of the proposed gardens, eliminating four on the spot and taking home notes, video footage and still pictures of three for the soon-to-be marrieds to make their choice. They picked out an exquisite garden, called Kav Hamayim, which is in Mikhmoret on a section of unspoilt, virtually deserted Mediterranean coast, set between Netanya and Caesarea.
On that visit, too, Ms Summerfield arranged for us to interview caterers, photographers, videographer and her recommended decorator, Patti, a lively Argentinian-born former architect who, on the big day, transformed Kav Hamayim from a beautiful ve-nue to something completely magical, that dazzled and impressed everybody.
There is an in-house caterer at the Kav Hamayim, but we used Tel Aviv-based Efroni Fernando, whose food not only tasted utterly fabulous but was presented in an elegant style, with a strong Japanese influence.
Beyond the actual wedding, barmitzvah or whatever, there are other bolt-ons which add immeasurably to the atmosphere and make the celebrations so much warmer and more fun. These include Friday-night dinner for your guests, a Shabbat-morning call-up and breakfast and a pre- or post-wedding party, brunch or barbecue (we made a beach party in Herzlia).
On flights, we worked with El Al, who were immensely helpful and flexible, and on accommodation, with Tel Aviv-based operator Isram, who negotiated a special rate for our guests at our designated hotel.
One of the most useful things we did was to hire a mobile phone for the week of the wedding (we contacted email@example.com). This cost 65 cents per day, and with dozens of calls (including to UK landlines and UK mobiles) and the final bill was £29.
We also found a wedding insurance policy valid for Israel from MRL Insurance (see the website: www.mrlinsurance.co.uk/wedding). The end result of all the work was quite the most magical and memorable simchah, not only for all those directly involved, but for all the guests. If you want something that, truly, you and your guests will talk about for a long time to come, I cannot think of a better guarantee than making your simchah in Israel.