Jerusalem — Only in Jerusalem could a single events venue offer an educational celebration in a Bible museum and a bash in the VIP lounge and movie theater.
That venue is the Cinema City Jerusalem Events and Convention Center, a sprawling, splashy complex with 16 movie theaters and halls on the lower floors, and a biblically inspired museum on the roof. The latter offers larger-than-life-size renderings of the most well-known biblical figures and scenes as well as a huge wooden Noah’s Ark.
Since Cinema City opened its doors in February, hundreds of families, corporations and organizations have held events there, and some of them use both the upper and lower venues, unlikely as that sounds.
Simmy Allen, Cinema City’s director of international marketing and events, admits the juxtaposition creates an eclectic effect, but one no more eclectic than Jerusalem itself.
“We’re a one-stop shop for popular and traditional culture that reflects Jerusalem’s diversity,” Allen said during a tour of the Bible City exhibit, where pairs of animal figurines stand next to a Noah’s Ark the size of a building.
“Being in Jerusalem, we wanted to provide a more substantive exhibit in addition to the movie theaters. Here people relate a lot to Judaism and Israel, even if they’re not very religious or even Jewish,” he said.
Though Bible City attracts all kinds of visitors, including many Christians, it’s an especially popular venue for Modern Orthodox bar/bat mitzvahs because its guides excel at making the attributes of the biblical characters seem relevant to modern life.
During the half-hour tour, guides discuss Abraham’s great hospitality to strangers and Jacob’s strength of character and faith, and what people today can learn from them. It is more a conversation than a lecture.
The bar/bat mitzvah child has the option of leading part of the tour (in coordination with the staff) and delivering a d’var Torah or other type of speech. There is also the option to watch a short animated film produced by Cinema City about the history of Jerusalem.
Both the museum and dining area are outdoors (though it’s possible to stay dry inside Noah’s Ark, which seats up to 100 people), so having a simcha there during the winter months could be a gamble.
Allen believes the 62 larger-than-life-sized scenes help put a “human” face to the many figures that appear in the Bible.
“It’s nice to be able to read the stories and the text and all the commentaries, and then to see an image in front of your face. Obviously no one can tell us what Adam or Eve or Abraham or Moshe looked like, but we provide a point of context.”
Bible City, with its spacious patio space, can offer a celebratory kosher meal for more than 400 guests.
Down below, the Cinema City theater complex offers a very different way to celebrate. Its halls have hosted bar/bat mitzvah parties, private family parties, birthday and anniversary parties, private film screenings as well as client appreciation meetings, seminars and conventions.
The day I visited dozens of Israeli police were attending a conference in the complex, and a representative of an Orthodox rabbinical organization was checking out conference space.
Bar/bat mitzvah parties with a minimum of 35 guests are often held in the funky VIP lounge, where huge chandeliers, movie scenes, Romanesque statues and a glass panel featuring the 12 Tribes of Israel somehow come together in an appealing way.
For about $25 (100 shekels) per person, a group receives a generous buffet dairy meal that includes pasta, quiches, a salad bar, mini-pizzas and an assortment of tempting desserts, including individual Ben & Jerry’s ice cream cups.
Following the meal the guests are escorted into one of two VIP movie theaters, where comfy digitalized reclining seats and the movie chosen by the bar/bat mitzvah child await, along with popcorn and drinks.
The theater will screen a homemade video about the child (something featured at many Israeli simchas) in the theater at no extra cost.
Larger parties can be accommodated in Cinema City’s larger hall and in one of its larger theaters. All are in brand-new condition and immaculately clean, a rarity in Israel.
A few months ago Jerusalemite Robin Sirkin, whose family made aliyah from Cleveland in 2011, held her son’s bar-mitzvah party at the VIP lounge and theater and loved everything about it.
“It was self-contained, it was one price and we didn’t need to provide additional entertainment since the movie was the core event. Unlike my daughter’s bat-mitzvah party, where we had different activities stations and a band, this was easy, painless and everybody was happy. It was a great value,” Sirkin said.
She did splurge on one extra: a photographer for family portraits and guest pictures that were turned into magnets guests could take home.
“The kids had a fabulous time and the bar mitzvah boy thought it was the best party ever.
“Plus,” Sirkin said, “I didn’t have to clean up.” ✦