Book Review: Planning bar mitzvah in Israel This book is a handy way to start

Is it really possible for a family in the Bay Area to plan a bar or bat mitzvah thousands of miles away in Israel? In this age of fax machines, e-mail, and ever-decreasing long distance telephone costs, it certainly seems to be an option.

But don't try to do it without Judith Isaacson's and Deborah Rosenbloom's comprehensive "Bar and Bat Mitzvah in Israel: The Ultimate Family Sourcebook."

Whether you know exactly what you want the celebration to look like, or are searching for ideas, this book is well worth a glance.

Isaacson, a public relations consultant, and Rosenbloom, a writer and lawyer, have done their research.

They begin with a compelling story of Rosenbloom's son's bar mitzvah, which included laminated booklets, special handmade pottery bowls in guests' hotel rooms, and a camel ride in the Negev to connect celebrants to the young man's Torah portion.

The Rosenblooms spent a five-month sabbatical in Israel prior to the event, a luxury most people cannot afford.

Nonetheless, with the wealth of information contained in Isaacson's and Rosenbloom's paperback volume, and a telephone, a bar or bat mitzvah in the Jewish state becomes a definite possibility.

The book is logically organized, beginning with a brief description of bar and bat mitzvah customs and protocols and ending with a full listing of Web sites and e-mail addresses for the computer-savvy reader.

This is particularly helpful for those unable to visit Israel prior to the event. But don't worry if you cower at the thought of a keyboard. The book contains full listings of street addresses, phone and fax numbers.

The book will tell you where to find rabbis of all denominations. If you or your child is disabled, there is a special section just for you.

The special tips contained in the book are priceless. For example, the authors remind you to bring sensitive film (400 ASA) to certain synagogues, such as the Italian Synagogue in Jerusalem, because no flashes or video cameras are permitted.

Most impressive, however, are the innovative and often charming ideas about where and how to host your special celebration. Though the book is specifically geared towards b'nai mitzvah planning, many of the suggestions would perfectly suit a wedding, anniversary or birthday celebration.

Isaacson and Rosenbloom dedicate a chapter to Torah tie-in adventures that, like Rosenbloom's son's camel ride, incorporate specific biblical verses.

Some of the suggested adventures include desert archery, rafting or kayaking down the Jordan River, and nighttime desert jeep tours. Another chapter is dedicated to ancient synagogues in national parks and even recommends a theater company that will send "guests" dressed in period costumes who can take active roles during the event.

For those without the time or inclination to plan, the book recommends several sites offering pre-packaged events that include a prayer service, reception and creative adventures. At Kfar Kedem Mishnaic Village, for example, guests put on clothing suitable for village life in the Galilee 500 years ago.

After the service, guests can ride donkeys, grind wheat, press olive oil and stamp grapes for winemaking.

While it takes a certain amount of faith to plan an event as significant as a bar or bat mitzvah from miles away, the uniqueness of the Israeli experience may make the adventure worthwhile.

Beginning the adventure with Isaacson and Rosenbloom's book is a smart step.