I sat down with Daniel Rubenstein to discuss the interesting path that led him from the United States to Israel and from a career in Israel advocacy to his current role as a licensed Israeli tour guide. Daniel holds a degree in Middle Eastern studies, worked for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington, and immigrated to Israel in 2011. Daniel served in the Spokesperson’s Unit of the Israel Defense Forces, where he pioneered the unit’s use of social media during the 2012 and 2014 military campaigns against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. His contribution was showcased in the book War in 140 Characters. Eschewing a reactive policy that attempts to respond to every accusation directed at Israel, Daniel discussed his “bottom up” and “show, don’t tell” guiding philosophy. His approach is based on the seemingly simple principle that guides should focus less on the things that they know and more on what their guests don’t know. Lastly, we discussed the many contributions of the Birthright program and the reasons why he, like previous guests, have opted to take a step back from guiding Birthright groups. Daniel can be reached via his website dprpr.com, on Twitter at paulrubens, and on Instagram at rubyguidesisrael.
I sat down with Ihab Zeidan and we explored the question of where culture, religion, ethnicity, and language intersect and what role this plays in Ihab’s guiding as a member of the Druze community. Ihab lives in the town of Usfiya located on Mount Carmel on the outskirts of Haifa and it is one of 17 or so Druze-majority villages in Israel. For those who are not familiar with the Druze religion or its beliefs, Ihab is a fantastic guide with a deep knowledge of his culture and traditions, as I am sure will be obvious to anyone who listens to this episode. The Druze self-identify as Arabs, and in addition to Israel, large Druze communities exist in Lebanon, Syria and less so in Jordan. Druze have long suffered discrimination and persecution but they pride themselves on being loyal and patriotic citizens of the countries in which they reside. Together we explore these cross currents in an episode that provides another important perspective to understanding this region and the challenges that guides face when guiding the Arab Israeli conflict. You can contact him at: email@example.com
I sat down with Kamal Mukarker, a Palestinian tour guide and educator who is preparing a new generation of Palestinian tour guides. We had an in-depth and far-ranging discussion about his family’s background, the upheavals that they have suffered due to the last 100 years of conflict, his mother’s upbringing in Germany, the state of the Christian community in the Holy Land and broader Middle East, tour guide training in the Palestinian Authority, normalization, the difficulties surrounding the “occupation”, the recent Abraham Accords, and the struggles that tour guides currently face due to the continued coronavirus crisis.
Kamal Mukarker is a leading tour guide for English and German tourists, as well as a fixer for anything one might need in the West Bank. Part of what he does is inviting tourist groups to his home in Bethlehem for a traditional meal, where he gives talks during mealtime on life in Bethlehem in general and the Christian culture of it in specific, thus giving tourists an insider’s perspective on the lives of Palestinian Christian. He opened a floor in his home building for smaller families to stay and enjoy the evening dinner and breakfast with or without his family. A great opportunity for families that want to explore the West Bank in 2 or 3 days. He also loves to take Jewish families around and link the historical Judea and the Torah stories with the current land today. Feel free to write him an e mail at Kamal_mukarker@hotmail.com or by WhatsApp: 00972597806477 or give him a call at 00972 546336477.
In this episode, I spoke with Dr. Yaron Ovadia to discuss his experience as a tour guide specializing in Islam and Middle East Studies as well as his his fieldwork among the Bedouins of the Judean Desert. Dr. Ovadia recalled his experience as a nature guide, his academic interests and decision to pursue a PhD and his thoughts on the pros and cons of the tour guide training course. In addition, we spoke in depth about the anthropological nature of his fieldwork among the Bedouin. Lastly, we spoke about the possible pitfalls of bringing tourists to visit these communities, the recent Abraham Accords with Bahrain and the UAE, and his thoughts about how we will exit from the coronavirus crisis. Dr. Ovadia may be reached by Facebook https://www.facebook.com/yaron.ovadia.391 and will be releasing a book based on his research in the near future.
Naomi Ehrlich Kuperman, my guest for this weeks episode, has been guiding for over 40 years and kindly reached out to me to share her passion for guiding. Naomi and I had a far-ranging conversation that touched on the tour guide training course and how it has not kept up with the times, relations between guides and drivers, her experience of guiding Germans and how this has changed over time, and how she survived and overcame previous crises such as the first and second Intifadas and the First Gulf War. In addition to guiding, Naomi is a Board member of Moreshet Derekh, the incoming tour guide association and shared some of the recent political successes surrounding unemployment benefits and retraining for guides. Last, but not least, she shares some sage advice to young tour guides that they would be wise to heed.
I drove down to Moshav Pedaya, which is about 30 minutes outside of Tel Aviv to have tea with my friend and colleague Rotem Shahar and to discuss her fascinating journey from the soil science lab to being a licensed tour guide in Israel. In this episode, we discussed a broad range of subjects including the role of gender in guiding and career in general, her favorite types of tourism, why she has decided to take a step back from Birthright, and how she has carved out a niche as a virtual tour guide during the pandemic. You can find her at rotemguide.com and contact her there about presenting virtual tours or trips to Israel.
NOTE: The interview with Rotem begins about 10 minutes into this episode.
I sat down with Daniel Sigalov and we discussed his family’s struggle to emigrate from the Soviet Union to Israel and how this has impacted his life and his firm belief in the promise of capitalism as the most effective way to ensure prosperity and the common good. We debate the role of government interventions in the tourism industry, such as the requirement for tour guide licensing and the certification of tourist vehicles. Daniel shares some of his entrepreneurial initiatives such as the Haifa Free Tour that he founded, his You Tube channel, his plans for regular tours from Haifa, and Israel With Fun website (Israelwithfun.com). Last, but not least, we discuss his extensive hat collection and how he sees his role as a tour guide and storyteller.
In this interview with Amir Katz, we cover a broad range of topics starting from his upbringing in the States, his Israeli roots and how he found his way to Israel, the importance of building relationships with guests as well as the challenge of being emotionally present while on tour. In addition, we talked about guiding the Arab-Israeli conflict, educational tourism, and Christian pilgrimage tourism. Amir shared with us his latest tourist initiatives – from a wine tour app in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, to group wine tasting tours and a wellness tourism project with his wife and yoga instructor Devra Katz. To learn more about Amir and these projects, please check out his website My Israel Wine Tours (https://myisraelwinetours.com/)
For this episode, I drove down to Jerusalem to interview licensed tour Guide Peter Gokhvat, who has been camped out and on hunger strike across from the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) and the Finance Ministry for over 40 days. Soft-spoken and humble, Peter discussed his upbringing, immigration to Israel from the former Soviet Union and laid out the demands that tour guides have regarding the current coronavirus crisis and the need for a clear, government-backed, exit strategy. He also brought us up to date on his recent meeting with the Minister of Tourism and other Members of Parliament (42 in all) who have visited the protest encampment and the steps that the government is taking to address the crisis.
Since the start of the coronavirus crisis, Dr. David Gurevich has been ahead of the curve in seeing the potential of online events to provide a virtual space for guides. So, it seems only appropriate that we met over Zoom to unpack what he has learned from this experience, as well as to discuss his activism on behalf of tour guides struggling to obtain their unemployment benefits. In addition, we discussed the benefits and potential pitfalls of being a tour guide with an academic background and why it is that guides are so central to tourism. A graduate of Haifa University, Dr. Gurevich is an archaeologist who conducts research on Jerusalem, studies Second Temple Judaism and the history of the first archaeologists. He also studied Christianity and ritual murders! He has published numerous articles and spent a year at Harvard University as the recipient of the prestigious Fulbright fellowship. If you wish to contact him to learn more about the events that he hosts or to invite him to lecture, he can be reached at: www.israelincolor.com