On your next trip to Israel, why not dive deeper into the values you care about and discover the many corners of inspiration that will help make Israel yours?
People often ask the staff of Israel Experts, a boutique travel agency that provides groups and families with highly innovative travel experiences in Israel, to recommend a book to read, music to listen to or even a movie to watch before their trip.
We always prefer to read the texts at the actual relevant sites, as opposed to reading them back home in the U.S. Why? Because reading the Binding of Isaac from Genesis while looking over the City of David towards the Southern Steps, or reading Yehuda Amichais The Jews after wandering the land for ten days, adds so many layers of meaning. And we love layers of meaning, explains Shai Pinto, CEO of Israel Experts.
But if we had to make a recommendation, which often raises eyebrows, we would suggest watching the movie Mr. Gaga – and no, we dont mean Lady Gaga, he continues. Mr. Gaga tells the extraordinarily beautiful story of Ohad Naharin, the world renowned Israeli dancer and choreographer. Indeed, Israel Experts believes that the story of Israel is also the story of dancers and choreographers, and not just the story of pioneers and paratroopers.
Experiencing culture hands (and legs) on
To really get to know Israel, one must go beyond the classic tourist attractions and the common experiences, to the story of those who rebuilt Jewish culture in the modern world. Since a nations art and cultural offerings generally provide a window into what animates, excites, and disturbs its citizens, Israel Experts likes to weave elements of fine arts, music, and dance into their tour programs.
Itineraries therefore include such special highlights as visits to the dance company Vertigo in their EcoVillage studios on Kibbutz Netiv Halamed Heh, a meeting with Carmella Ruben (Reuvens daughter-in-law) at the Reuven Ruben Museum in Tel Aviv, a tour of the Photo House guided by the grandson of famous Israeli photographer Rudi Weissenstein, or tea with the ceramic artist Marcelle Klein at the Benyamini Ceramics Center. The point is to enable you to engage with modern-day Israel, as Jews in this Old New Land.
Eat well – do well
Israelis are known for their entrepreneurship spirit. Some Israeli entrepreneurs, in their search for meaning and desire to give, have linked their enthusiasm for start-ups to a social agenda, creating initiatives that help them do well by doing good. Israel has truly become a shining light unto the nations of socially responsible businesses.
Many social enterprises are related to the culinary arts. Israel Experts tours often include visits to restaurants and to food industry businesses that make a social impact. Examples include Mataim in Zichron Yaakov and Ringlebloom Caf in Beersheva, establishments that employ at-risk youth and train them to be cooks. Both are supported by the Dualis Social Investment fund. Another example is Liliyot, an upscale restaurant in Tel Aviv that has literally saved the lives of numerous youth who were provided a last-chance in the restaurants training and employment program. And they all serve great food and love to meet groups.
Wine lovers, especially those enchanted by the concept of a social enterprise, are always excited to visit the Tulip Winery. The winery is located near Haifa in Kfar Tikva (Village of Hope), a kibbutz-like community for adults with developmental and emotional disabilities. The villages residents work in the winery, as well as in the other businesses located in the community. Visitors enjoy a wine tasting and a conversation with some of the winerys employees.
Speaking of food . . . Israel must be the only country in the world with a youth movement named for a beloved childrens confection. But that is, of course, what one might expect when young people feel empowered to decide, bottom up, to work for change. When a group of teenagers decided in 2002 to create a youth movement for young people with physical, developmental and emotional disabilities, they decided to name it Krembo Wings, after the popular and very sweet winter-time Israeli snack, consisting of a fluffy, marshmallowy substance on a cookie base covered with chocolate. Krembo Wings is today a youth movement that provides weekly social activities for thousands of disabled youth together with their able-bodied peers.
Israel Expert groups visit with these young people to see what it means to be empowered, included, to be a part of rather than apart from. These are powerful visits which bring tears to the eyes of visitors, as they experience the beauty of what a good society can be.
Israel Experts tourism is as much about what creates meaning as about giving pleasure to the visitors. A society must be measured by the way it deals with those who are weak or struggling. We are only as good as the lives of the weakest among us, as good as the solutions we find for those who cannot cope without support.
It was with these thoughts in mind that in 2001 a group from Kibbutz Harduf created the Hiram rehabilitation center for people coping with mental illness. Kibbutz Harduf is one of the more unusual kibbutzim in Israel, combining traditional kibbutz ideology with a commitment to the principles of anthroposophy.
Located far from the bustling city, Hiram enables the serenity needed for undergoing a rehabilitation process in a quiet and protected place, within rural surroundings, far from the stresses of life and the feelings of urban solitude. A visit to Hiram is not only an inspiration in terms of the people you meet, both the professionals working there and the residents, it is also a visit filled with physical beauty, from the products of the crafts workshops produced at Hiram, to the gorgeous organic farm that also serves as a therapeutic garden.
Pluralism in action
Israeli society continues to struggle with the formidable task of creating a more inclusive society, one that strives for increased tolerance, pluralism, and mutual respect. Go beyond the obvious and choose to engage with some of these initiatives during your next visit.
One such initiative is Moona – A Space for Change, the brainchild of former IDF fighter pilot Asaf Brimer. The organizations workshop/laboratory and offices are located in the Arab Israeli town of Majd al-Krum in the Upper Galilee. Reflecting the diverse population of the region, Moona brings together teens and young adults from Jewish and Arab communities to increase their knowledge of advanced robotic and aeronautic technology. Working with sophisticated equipment, under the tutelage of local engineering students, these mixed Jewish-Arab teams develop high-level projects for international competitions that they are delighted to share with visitors. At Moona, they do not discuss co-existence; they live it.
Tolerance and pluralism of course extends beyond the political realm. Given Israels location in the Middle East, and its rootedness in Jewish tradition, some visitors are sometimes surprised to discover that Israel is one the most gay-friendly countries in the world. In addition to meeting with some leading LGBTQ activists and hearing about the ground-breaking work they and their organizations are doing, Israel Experts participants can take part in an experiential Pink Points Tour of Tel Aviv. During this tour, you learn not only about the history of LGBTQ rights in Israel but also about critical milestones in the development of a movement.
There is some irony in the fact that what most tears at the Israeli society also provides seeds for reconciliation. This finds clear expression in the efforts of Women Wage Peace. In Israel, this unique group brings together Jewish Israelis and Muslim Palestinians, members of the National Religious camp and secular Peace Now activists working toward the common goal of pressuring their leaders to discuss peace. They may not agree on whether there should be one state or two, the role of religion in daily life, and the root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but they do agree that the concept of peace must not be dismissed as an unachievable ideal. On your next trip to Israel, sit down for an intimate discussion with members of Women Wage Peace. Hear about what brought them together and what also keeps them apart.
These are just a few of the experiences Israel Experts likes to share with its guests in Israel. There are many, many more. There is no other country like Israel in the world, no other society so unique in layers, and you have an open invitation to go beyond the obvious and dive deeper into meaning and place.
Israel Experts experienced tour operators spend a large part of their time taking people around Israel, introducing them to the country they love so much. We know that it is work, but for us one of the oldest clichs in the book is true: it is a labor of love. We feel very privileged to be able to have our work be something which creates meaning for ourselves and, we hope, for those who travel with us, concludes Isreal Experts CEO Shai Pinto.
So help shape this meaningful visit for you and your community by choosing to make Israel yours with the experts.