The Wedding Planner: Destination Israel

Having a destination wedding at a beautiful location in Israel may seem like a piece of cake but there's usually months of planning involved and cultural differences to overcome.

Beach wedding (photo credit: Avner Zarfati)
Beach wedding
(photo credit: Avner Zarfati)
For thousands of years Israel has been the most significant place in the world for the Jewish people. For this reason, having a Jewish wedding in the Holy Land carries momentous meaning. That is if you are looking at the spiritual religious aspect.
But Israel is also a place where East meets West, where the sky is clear for about eight months of the year and where various landscapes are accessible within a two-hour drive.
Therefore, getting married in Israel carries the potential of being an exotic, fun and spiritual experience all at the same time.
Some think having a destination wedding (due to its smaller size) is comparably inexpensive. In this respect, don’t think of Israel as a place when you can "close the deal" for 5,000 dollars. Transportation and accommodation are high and wedding services are not cheap either.
However, for those looking for a unique experience and those who have lots of relatives living in Israel it's a superb location, as well as a great excuse for a family reunion.
Sea View  Wedding (Asaf Sultan)Sea View Wedding (Asaf Sultan)
Having a destination wedding usually brings a conflict between what you are used to and what the norm is in the country that you come from. Having a wedding in Israel is slightly easier because despite there being a number of differences, there are also many similarities when it comes to Jewish traditions.
In Jewish communities around the world there is often a noon ceremony at a synagogue and a dinner and party in the evening. In Israel it's customary to have an evening ceremony followed by dinner and a party.
If you and your guests are all from abroad you can gladly keep this format, have the Huppa in a nice synagogue and have a dinner and party in the evening.Location, location, location
There is a whole range of beautiful functioning synagogues in Israel to match most tastes and prayer styles (Sephardic, Ashkenazi or other). The problem is that the Gabbai (warden) may not be used to holding such events and it can become somewhat complicated if you don't have an Israeli (Hebrew speaking) friend who can help you. In this case, it's advisable to hire at least an event coordinator. 
An even more unique experience is to have your ceremony in the ruins of one of Israel's ancient synagogues such as Birya forest, Baraam or Tzipori, Katzrin. But these are options that will almost certainly require a skilled production company.
On the other hand, you can always have it "the Israeli way" and have a combined event with the ceremony, dinner and party to follow. There are plenty of locations and venues throughout Israel but if you've already travelled this far you probably want to enjoy the special view.
Jerusalem has several locations that are breathtaking such as Esh Hatora rooftop overlooking the Kotel, the Mamila Hotel rooftop and Beit Shmuel overlooking the Old City, The mount Zion Hotel Villa, David Tower (for bigger weddings) and even the Rockefeller Museum.
TelAviv beach wedding  (Avner Zarfati)TelAviv beach wedding (Avner Zarfati)
Just outside of Jerusalem you can enjoy the mountains view at Bustan Abu Gosh or Rama's Kitchen.
Tel Aviv on the other hand has its beaches so you can enjoy the sunset at places such as Bait al Hayam in Jaffa, Arca and Trask at the Tel Aviv Harbor. Kochav Hayam in Sdot Yam, Kachol in Haifa and the Palm Beach hotel in Acre are all also great options the Mediterranean coast line in view.
It's important to remember that according to the Jewish laws the sunset is the change of day time and the ceremony can be either 30 minutes before or after sunset. Talk to your rabbi and set the exact time for the ceremony, and make sure all guests attend on time so you won’t miss the moment you've planned.
The ceremony
In Israel you can have only a religious ceremony and not a civil one and therefore you need to have a licensed Orthodox Rabbi to conduct the ceremony. The Orthodox authorities have a certain procedure to make sure it is done according to the Jewish law. When it comes to visitors from outside of Israel they take greater precautions and you need to get the registration process done between 90-45 days prior to the wedding. Since you may not anticipate future problems I strongly advise to start the process three months prior to the event.
To make the necessary arrangements for these certificates, contact your local congregation Rabbi and they will advise you which documents you need to provide in order for them to issue these certificates.
Usually it requires:- Your Parents’ Ketubah (Jewish Marriage Certificate).- Your birth certificate with both your parents’ names.- A letter from an Orthodox Rabbi confirming that he personally knows you and that you are Jewish and single. - Two Jewish witnesses, that are not close family, who have known you for at least five years.- Three passport photographs.- Payment of some sort for issuing the certificate
Useful information can be found on the Nefesh B'Nefesh (NBN) website.
If you would like your congregation rabbi to marry you, you have to make a formal request to the Rabbanut and they will check if he is authorized to conduct marriage ceremonies. 
What not to wear
If you are marring an Israeli, be prepared for the informal attitude many guests take when it comes to dress code.
Despite some cultural differences it's important to make the wedding truly unique by adding your origin wedding traditions. One of our brides was from Estonia and when doing some research we discovered there's a lovely custom that the bride says farewell to her maiden name right after the ceremony. The wedding had a Jewish emphasis and was conducted by three rabbis, so we asked them to add one more tradition and after the seven blessings. The bride and groom held two doves and one had a small note with the bride's maiden name and they set it free to be followed by a group of Breslau Hassidim dances.
Doves used as part of wedding ceremony (Assaf Sultan)Doves used as part of wedding ceremony (Assaf Sultan)
Due to many of the cultural differences and range of customs that exist, it's important to go over every detail. From how many seats you want at the Huppa (since in Israel it is usually for about 20-30% of the guests), to how long each course will take, to the décor and the order of ceremonies.
If you don’t have a Hebrew speaker who can help you, it will be much easier for you to work with English speaking vendors, and I strongly recommend you hire an English speaking event planner, in order for you not to freak out or to over exhaust yourself.
Not just the main event
While usually weddings are all about the bride and groom, destination weddings are also about the guests you bring with you from abroad. You need to think about their accommodation, their transportation and their well-being through the days prior to the wedding. Some of our clients even ask us to provide makeup and hairstylists for their guests.
Think about having a wedding website or blog that can help the guests visualize the experience. Try to include as many details as you can: What is there to see and do? Have you blocked off hotel rooms, or do they need to find their own? Will they need to take taxis or rent a car, or will you arrange transportation? What’s the weather usually like? How formally should they dress for the wedding?
Tel Aviv wedding (Nomi Yogev)Tel Aviv wedding (Nomi Yogev)
If it is their first time visiting Israel arrange a day tour for them to places such as Jerusalem and the Dead-sea or the Galilee and the Golan Heights. Make a list of recommendations for places to hang out and interesting sightseeing options. Make any wedding related happenings an event for them: Shabbat dinner, Shabbat Chatan, Henna – all to create a memorable time for them as well.
Having a destination wedding to Israel is the best experience. You will probably have to visit Israel at least one time (9-6 months prior to your event) and set a venue the hotels and the basic vendors so it will be an ongoing adventure for you, and a special journey for your guests.
Osnat Eldar is the owner of SIGNATURE EVENTS boutique which specializes in weddings and special events. With over 18 years of experience she brings you interesting insights when coming to plan your dream event in