Gayle Kerman: Excellent tour guide enhanced trip to Israel - The Buffalo News

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Gayle Kerman: Excellent tour guide enhanced trip to Israel

It was the last night of a 10-day whirlwind tour of Israel. Thirty people ranging from teenagers to the young-at-heart had made this journey together. Some members of the group had previously toured Israel, for others it was a first visit.

For my husband and me, this was pretty much the first vacation that didn’t focus primarily on a bathing suit, a beach towel and a book. The group also included three rabbis from our congregations who shared personal experiences about Israel.

On this last night, we were dining together as a group with our tour guide. Near the end of the meal, one of the rabbis posed a question to each of us: “What was your favorite part of the trip? I’ll give you a few minutes to think about it and then we will go around the room and share.”

This trip had been jam-packed daily from dawn to dusk with stops around the country at well-known sites: the Kotel, Dead Sea, Masada and Golan, and at lesser-known sites: one of the world’s largest recycling facilities formerly known as Garbage Mountain, the home of a Druze family who hosted us for lunch, the Yemin Orde Youth Village, which houses more than 400 children from around the world who have suffered trauma and poverty, and Yad LaKashish, a nonprofit organization that employs and empowers the elderly.

We had visited a veritable smorgasbord of venues – and I haven’t even mentioned the amazingly delicious food, which would fill another article entirely.

As I waited my turn to respond to the question, I listened intently as the others shared their highlights. The answers were as diverse as the group, but an underlying thread was the mention of our wonderful tour guide, Jeremy. He wasn’t being praised just because of his presence at the dinner. It was simply that our tour wouldn’t have been the same without him. He was a walking/talking encyclopedia of knowledge with a great sense of humor and a British accent to boot. He had a passion for his job. He epitomized the phrase: “Do what you love, love what you do.”

Jeremy was a master storyteller. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He made us thirst for more. He made us think. He made us question. He made us wonder. None of us will be the same, thanks to him.

As a children’s librarian, I love to read and my list of favorite books is lengthy. I might like one for its suspense, one for its humor, another for its vivid language and one for its historical significance. If the texts are well-crafted by a master with a passion for writing and they move me in some way, they get added to my pile of favorites, which just keeps growing.

I felt the same way about this trip. I had many favorites, thanks to Jeremy and our rich itinerary. Hearing an Ethiopian Jew recall the memories of her pilgrimage to Israel as a young child moved me to tears, as did visiting the graves of fallen soldiers still in their teens. Viewing the ancient mosaics at Zippori National Park and ascending Masada made me want to learn more about ancient history. Floating in the Dead Sea and applying a mud-scrub from the mucky bottom made me laugh.

If you’re lucky enough to be able to travel to a new and unfamiliar place, grab a good tour guide. It could make all the difference. You’ll come away with many favorites and with the feeling that you’ve just finished an amazing book.

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