Some life-cycle moments in the relationship between grandparent and grandchild offer an exceptional opportunity for intimacy and bonding. The B-Mitzvah rite of passage is one such occasion, and a skip-gen trip — just you and your grandchild — can be an extraordinary experience for both of you.
Why take a B-Mitzvah trip?
For grandparents, the answer can be emotional or spiritual: as we get older, liminal moments such as the B-Mitzvah of a grandchild infuse life with meaning. The uncertainty about whether we will be here to celebrate the grandchild’s next major life-cycle event — often marriage — can intensify our desire to connect, now.
For grandchildren, the payoff of traveling solo with a grandparent on a B-Mitzvah trip is three-fold: (1) It’s a great way to see a new place, (2) It offers the possibility of developing a deeper emotional bond with a loving grandparent, (3) The teen has the opportunity to expand their intellectual horizons and explore aspects of their personalities under the watchful eye of an adult who is not their parent.
Where do I start when planning a trip?
After consulting with your grandchild’s parent, begin with a conversation with your grandchild to explore their interests. For example, do they enjoy outdoor adventures like hiking or water sports? Do they have a passion for history or archeology? Arts and crafts? Are they mostly interested in famous landmarks and sites? Would they prefer simpler accommodations or a nice hotel? Do they like meeting people, or would they prefer to be alone with you? For example, if outdoor activities are appealing, you may want to try camping in Canada, or if you’d rather see famous landmarks, Europe is calling your name.
Once you have an idea of the type of activities that will appeal to you both — and you have considered practical matters such as the kind of trip you can afford to take and when your grandchild can get away — turn your attention to locale. If you’re traveling abroad, research travel companies and guidebooks that might have a packaged trip that suits you. Here are a few options to get you started:
- World Jewish Travel – World Jewish Travel (WJT) is a unique non-profit organization that provides an innovative and comprehensive digital platform to promote Jewish travel and help users discover and experience Jewish culture around the world. Two helpful features of this website are a cultural calendar of events in a variety of places and a helpful blog with reviews and ideas.
- If Israel is your chosen destination (see below for reasons to choose Israel), visit Israel is Beautiful, a virtual touring platform that offers a library of almost 100 virtual tours of the sites and people of Israel. The website can be very helpful in planning an itinerary for your Israel adventure.
While packaged group trips with reputable travel companies are convenient, consider customizing your own itinerary. A travel savvy website that will definitely appeal to your grandchild and give you good ideas for Jewish-themed international travel is owned and operated by Drew Goldberg. Goldberg, whose site is called DrewBinsky.com, has visited all 197 countries recognized by the United Nations. You can read about his Jewish travel experiences in this Times of Israel profile.
How do I add a Jewish values or mitzvah component to our trip?
A creative way to add Jewish content to your trip is to discuss a range of Jewish values (or character traits) with your grandchild and then pick one to guide your planning. For example, if caring for the environment is an important issue for your grandchild, you might explore together the Jewish values bal tashchit and shomrei adamah, which teach that it is our responsibility to care for and tend to the environment. Using a Jewish values perspective to guide your travel, you can seek out environmental protection programs in nearby states or abroad. Here are a few options to help you learn about and pick a meaningful Jewish value:
- Making Mensches: A Periodic Table – This site lists and explains a variety of Jewish values/character traits in the format of a periodic table.
- Nine Core Jewish Values
- Mitzvah Chart – Jewish Values for Kids
You might also consider exploring the website and services of a trip provider who specializes in travel with purpose. Such organizations include https://bbyopassport.org/, https://nftyisrael.org/, https://journeys.uscj.org/life-changing-summer-travel-worth-planning-for/, and https://tzedekamerica.org/.
If your grandchild is doing a mitzvah project as part of preparing to become B-Mitzvah, consider planning a trip that explores and reinforces that cause or initiative. For example, you might travel to a place that provides or stages help to families in Ukraine or to those who have suffered the effects of a hurricane in the Caribbean.
Why is Israel the ideal destination?
A trip to Israel with you as a companion may help your grandchild develop a lifelong interest in, or even relationship with, our Jewish homeland. If your grandchild is in a formal Jewish education program or studying with a tutor or learned elder, they may be immersed in Jewish content that a trip to Israel will bring to life (bible stories; the history of Israel; culture, including music, dance, and culinary arts; the Hebrew language). Preparing for the visit might also encourage you to have nuanced and even complex conversations together about the country and its diverse peoples.
Learning more about Israel and its history can also help with your grandchild’s B-Mitzvah preparation as they reach a deeper understanding of and context for their Torah portion.
Some families find great meaning in traveling to Israel for a B-Mitzvah ceremony at the Western Wall, Masada, or other historically significant site.
Click HERE to read how to plan a trip to Israel with your teen grandchild.
How can we share the highlights of our trip with family and friends?
The phone in your pocket is all you need to capture the memories of your trip. Share your photos, videos, and even recorded thoughts and reactions by uploading such content to Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Other ideas to help you share your experiences are:
- Create a travel blog with Google Docs that you can share with your family and friends. If a Jewish value perspective guided your journey, begin with an explanation of that background.
- At the end of each day, interview each other (video or voice only recorder) to capture your feelings. These reactions will be cherished for years.
- Create a shared album on the free app Bublup and invite family and friends to join.
- Make a photo album on any of the main photo hosting sites, such as snapfish.com and Shutterfly.com.
- Create a journal, and each day keep a record of some favorite moments of the trip.
- At your grandchild’s B-Mitzvah ceremony or celebration, consider showing highlights from your trip on a video screen, and, together, share short (perhaps even humorous) narration. Or collaborate with your grandchild to weave experiences from the trip into the d’var Torah (speech based on Torah text).
The benefits of skip-gen travel — especially on the occasion of a grandchild becoming a B-Mitzvah — are many. Grandparents get to see the world anew through the eyes of their grandchildren, and grandchildren get to experience a different side of their grandparents — Grandpa the adventurous, Bubbie the explorer, or Savta the silly. How much more so if it’s a trip to Israel with meaningful historical, cultural, or religious Jewish experiences. Perhaps most important is the meaning we add to our lives knowing that we’re investing in the future, creating knowledge and connection that will live beyond us.
With gratitude to teen reviewer Annelia Ritter.
Mark Levine is a retired Reconstructionist rabbi who enjoys traveling with his wife and can’t wait to include his grandchildren in the journeys.
Banner courtesy of Pexels
Jaffa and Holy Bagel Cafe by Terry Kaye
Teens in Israeli market by Todd Gutnick
Be the Change mural by Stephanie Fink
Grandparent, grandchild, and reindeer by Seth Buchbinder