Heading abroad for a Jewish rite of passage

By Felicity Long
Calabria, ItalyYou've heard of destination weddings. Now, thanks to a mix of old traditions and high-tech savvy, an agent in South Easton, Mass., has developed a niche arranging destination bar and bat mitzvahs.

Ellen Paderson, founder of Bar/Bat Mitzvah Vacations, a division of Smiles and Miles Travel, became interested in the concept about six years ago in the Caribbean and, when the idea took off, expanded her destinations to include Calabria, Italy.

"I started arranging two or three trips a year, and it has increased every year," Paderson said. "Now I arrange at least 15 to 20 per year."

She said she chose Calabria because its Jewish community dates back 2,000 years, and the actual ceremonies take place in front of a 220-year-old, hand-carved table at the center of a 400-year-old synagogue in the center of the town.

As anyone preparing for this milestone in a child's life knows, the instruction phase can be arduous for students. To ease the process, Paderson works with Barbara Aiello, Italy's first female rabbi, to prepare the youngsters for their role via Skype.

The American-born Aiello heads Ner Tamid del Sud, which opened in 2007 as the first active synagogue in Calabria in more than 500 years.

Paderson makes the travel arrangements for family members traveling to Calabria for the event and coordinates logistics with Aiello to Skype the event for those who want to participate virtually.

Paderson works with other travel agents on a service fee basis, organizing the bar/bat mitzvah details while they arrange the travel and retain the commission.

A typical Italy trip is about 10 to 12 nights long, Paderson said, and accommodations range from three- to five-star, depending on the family's budget.

She looks for hotels within walking distance of attractions, she said, and pays special attention to room arrangements, based on family preferences.

Because the trips are customized, rates vary, but an average 10-night trip in four-star hotels with several sightseeing tours costs about $2,000 per person, she said, not including airfare.

In addition to officiating at the ceremony and arranging for pre-event instruction, the Aiello offers customized, behind-the-scenes tours of the area.

Paderson has arranged for the rabbi to take a family on a tour of Timpone, the Jewish quarter in the city of Nicostro in the Lamezia Terme region and a Hebraic heritage tour of Venice that included the Jewish ghetto and synagogues, along with a gondola serenade and visit to the Murano glass factory. Daytrips to Florence, Pisa, Lucca and Vinci as well as to an ancient synagogue in Rome are also available.

Paderson can arrange bar/bat mitzvahs with the rabbi in other destinations in Italy, including villas, country houses and hotels in Rome, Venice and Florence and even on cruise ships. Other destinations include the Caribbean and Costa Rica.

Go to www.barmitzvahvacations.com.
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