Travel to Israel has changed dramatically. When I first got into this business about 20 years ago people wanted to see the sites, learn the history, bring the Bible alive, have a spiritual experience and retain a deeper understanding of Israel’s people, land, and struggles and connect with them on an intimate level. Most people still want all of this while touring Israel, but today they want even more.
At one time, about 50 odd years ago, a trip to Israel was all about giving support to those people who chose to settle the Land of Israel before and just after World War II. These people wanted to live in their ancient homeland, they wanted to build and establish a country for Jews that would be like any other country. No one was sure if the Zionist experiment was going to succeed. Later, as Israel seemed to become an established entity, absorbing millions of Jewish refugees from all over the world, and building and excavating national parks connected to the history of humankind, Israel became a place of pilgrimage. Jews and Christians alike wanted to see their “holy” sites mentioned in the Bible, being revealed in these national projects and reinterpreted for the modern world. In the 1970’s and 80’s tourists began to flock to Israel to see and feel these sites. Israel had built hotels, roads, attractions, however still entrenched in its socialist roots, the food and services remained for the most part, sub-par to say the least. If tourism was going to be ratcheted up a notch something had to change.
The 1990’s brought massive change to Israel in the guise of a huge wave of Russian immigration coupled with a freeing up of the once socialist strings of government and a slow embrace of the free market economy. This started a high tech boom which brought investment into Israel. Couple this new found wealth in Israel together with its young, native born Israelis embrace of capitalism and travels from their post army trips, and you have the makings of a cultural revolution which we are only now starting to realize. Service. Quality. Luxury. Excellence. All virtues that never existed in the service industry in Israel, things that were never even understood are now, finally, available if you know where to look. But this isn’t enough. For the luxury traveler today these things are important and even necessary but are not the goal of one’s trip.
The traveler to Israel today wants to “experience” the country, immerse themselves in its culture, new and old. Travelers want to get to know Israelis personally on every level and still see the historical and religious sites and having that spiritual experience. They also want to get great service and stay in a fabulous hotel and eat the best local fare, listen to the local music, dance in the latest hot spot and drink in the trendiest bar. You can’t do this from the window of a tour bus or solely through your tour guide, however fabulous he or she may be.
So how do you, today’s traveler, attain this perfect trip? Well, you can spend hours, days and weeks on the internet doing your research, contacting your friends who have just returned from Israel in the last couple of years and try to see everything, that everyone has said was a “must see” OR you can bring what you know to us and let us bring what is new, engaging and beautiful to you and let us craft that perfect itinerary together with you. Tell us what you want to do and let us find the right people, places and things.
So what are some of the “new” things that we are experiencing now? Well as you know all the rage these days are culinary tours, tastings, workshops and the like. Many of you have already experienced the incredible Machane Yehudah Market tasting, tour and cooking workshop that we do with Chef Tali. Well, there are similar but different experiences across Israel today. Learn how to cook in an Arab or Druze Galilean Village in someone’s home, visit a moshav or kibbutz where you will pick your own food in the fields behind the chef’s house and learn how to cook with a famous Israeli chef in his own kitchen, or perhaps just let our gourmet “mobile chef” cook for you in some of the most picturesque locations in Israel.
Many of you have had breakfast or dinner meetings with Israeli security and military experts of every rank, Palestinian & Israeli journalists, Reform Judaism activists and others. Today you can meet with newspaper editors, famous authors or politicians, visit new immigrants, hospitals, schools and clubs. You can see how the real Israelis live, what are their concerns, challenges, needs and drives. These interpersonal experiences are the key to understanding Israel, Israelis and the future of the Middle East.
One of the more popular experiences that we have been offering lately is “A Day in the West Bank”. Too many people have a preconceived perception of what the West Bank, or Judea & Samaria is, and what needs to be done to solve the Israel-Arab conflict and it all has to do with that area. Well its not so simple. Why don’t you see for yourself? We will arrange for you to be guided by an Israeli, an Arab-Christian Israeli who speaks perfect Hebrew, Arabic and English and who is allowed to cross checkpoints and borders and introduce you to Israeli settlers, Palestinian refugees all in their own homes as well as the IDF soldiers at their checkpoints and on their bases in the territories and you will see for yourselves the reality and challenges that face all of these people. I am sure that whatever your perception is of Israel and the Palestinians, it will change after this day.
You can also visit the small, funky galleries of Tel Aviv with a local art expert/guru. Shop in the trendiest parts of Tel Aviv with a “stylist” and meet with well established and up and coming Israeli designers in their studios. Or how about digging with world renowned archaeologists, privately, on the remains of an ancient biblical town. Go into the depths of the Israel Museum with a curator and see treasures that the general public never sees. Dive off the coast of Caesaria and scuba your way through King Herod’s sunken harbor.
Lastly, the latest trick I have up my sleeve is our launch of our Jewish Heritage Tours of Europe and North Africa. I have teamed up with several select experts from Wendy Perrin’s WOW List to create exceptional Jewish themed itineraries that can be done just before or after an Israel trip, coupled together in a way that tells a seamless story, or can be done as the start of a stand alone trip to that destination together with other experiences.
I wish you all a happy, healthy and peaceful 2016 and I hope to see you this year in Jerusalem!
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