Q&A: Which Tour Guide Course is the Best?

My tourguide class on Mount Meron, overlooking Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) and Tzefat (Safed).

I recently received a question from a reader, Baruch, about the various courses for tour guides in Israel, and I felt it would be relevant to share my answers with all of you. Following my response, he also had some follow-up questions, which I will also share and answer here.

But let me preface what I write by saying that I don’t have that much knowledge of the other courses, other than mine. I know a bit about a few, and will try to give as much info as I have. But this is far from a comprehensive answer!

So here is what Baruch wrote to me:

Shalom Joel,

I’ve checked out your blog some and wondered which program (in Hebrew or English and if it matters much) is the best for the Israeli guide course in Jerusalem and why…

1. Bet Sefer L’Tayarut (Israel School of Tourism; Givat Ram)
2. Derekh Eretz/Lander (Givat Shaul)
3. Archeological Seminars (Talpiyot I think)

Thanks much!
And good luck!

This is a question that I’ve actually answered a number of times in person as well. Let me start by saying that option #3 above (Archaeological Seminars) is unfortunately no longer an option. Though the company still exists, they no longer run their tourguide course. I know this, because I actually have begun working for them on the Dig for a Day program that I wrote previously about here.

Archaeological Seminars’ course was the first English language tour guide course in the country and I have many friends who went through their program. If they were still running it, I very likely would have taken their course. Alas, it is not an option at the current time. Perhaps it will be again some day in the future!

That being said, let me discuss the other two options. I am only going to talk about courses in English, since those are the ones I know the most about, and since most people reading this blog (I suspect) will be interested in those.

As far as those other two, I can’t say which is actually “better.” I can only describe the differences as I perceive them. For starters, Bet Sefer L’Tayarut seems to have a more diverse student body — more Arabs and non-Jews. Lander College (where I go) tends to be more more Orthodox Jewish (though not exclusively).

Still, my class remains somewhat diverse in other ways. We have at least one non-Jewish person (and a few whose religious background I don’t know, but who may or may not be Jewish), and at least a couple of Jews who would not likely identify as Orthodox. We have no Arabs. By country of origin, we have students from at least seven different countries that I can think of off the top of my head, and perhaps more. The age range spans from a few students in their early 20s to a few in the late 60s or possibly into their 70s. At 39, I am approximately the median age in the class. And in terms of prior careers and life experiences, we are also quite a diverse group. Nonetheless, we are still rather homogeneous in terms of our religious practices.

Speaking to my friends in BST (as I will now refer to Bet Sefer L’Tayarut), I understand that they have more diversity on that level. They have Arab students (both Christian and Muslim, I believe), as well as a greater mix of observant and more secular Jews.

So if diversity in your class is something you value, BST may be your better choice. If it is not your primary concern, or if you specifically prefer to learn with mostly Jews of a more observant bent, then Lander may make more sense.

By the way, just for accuracy of knowledge, BST is run by Haifa University, and holds its English language course in Jerusalem on the Hebrew University campus in Givat Ram.

Another difference between the two programs comes into play on our siurim / trips. Our program goes into the shdachim / territories of Judea and Samaria more than any other course, to my knowledge. In general, the areas of the country that each course visits are mandated from the Ministry of Tourism, but there is some flexibility.

Lastly, based just on a gut feeling, I think that the administration at BST might be a better one than at Lander. Lander’s administration is good in general, but my (unscientific) feeling is that BST’s might be more professional overall. Take this last one with a grain of (Dead Sea) salt, since I have less knowledge of the administration of BST.

Baruch followed up with a few other questions:

What about better lecturers? Are you satisfied with the Lander lecturers? Are they top-notch or just okay?

I’ve already been teaching Historical Geography of the Bible for a number of years but just thought to add a guide license. Do you think Lander is flexible as far as participation (not showing up for everything)?

I heard that Lander doesn’t go into churches, is that true? Do they do a better job at Jewish sites?

In my opinion, the education I am getting in the Lander program is truly top notch. I am extremely happy with what I am learning in the course. With few exceptions, I consider the lecturers to be excellent and the tour guides for our various siurim are also generally outstanding. And since that is the main thing I am looking to gain from this course, not the other things, I have no real complaints. My guess is that the same holds true at BST, and thus the decision on which course to sign up for may be based on the above distinctions between the courses, without them being seen as making one course better or worse than the other.

In terms of flexibility regarding missing some lectures or whatever, I would guess that the answer would be the same in any course. The Ministry has a lot of oversight in these courses, and they have strict attendance requirements. This holds true both for classes and trips.

Meeting with one of the Fathers outside the Church of Saint Anne / Bethesda Pools

Finally, it is true that we do not enter churches as a class (due to religious reasons — many Orthodox Jews do not consider it permissible to enter a church). However, we need to know about churches for the Ministry exam, and at least some of the students in my class will likely guide inside churches in the future. So how is this handled?

We do go into the courtyards of churches, and the like, and discuss any relevant information. In most cases, time is allotted for those who do wish to go in and see for themselves to do so, while the others stay outside. And of course we learn all about Christianity (and Islam and Israel’s “minority religions”) in class. Is this a perfect solution? Probably not, but I think it does offer enough flexibility for it to work for the most people in the class without harming the experience of others too much.

Whether or not we get a better experience at Jewish sites would be difficult for me to say. My guess is that we get deeper into the background texts than others do, which could potentially be a good thing. And as I said earlier, we do visit a number of sites (mostly of Biblical significance) that other courses don’t. But whether this makes for a “better job” of covering Jewish sites or not is likely a matter of personal opinion.

I also received some similar questions from another reader, Anat, who will be moving to Israel soon from California. So I wanted to answer a few of her questions that were different from Baruch’s. She asked:

How did you choose the Lander program? If you had to do that over, would you still choose Lander?

Why are these courses so long? Why only once or twice a week? Is there any other courses that are full time so that I can finish sooner?

While you are in the course, what are you doing for a living? Part time job? Is that feasible? Is there a lot of homework? Assignments?

And, one last one for today, did the Jewish Agency/Nefesh b’Nefesh pay for a portion of your course tuition? If I remember correctly, I was told they will cover 80%, yes?

All good questions, Anat! Firstly, the way I chose Lander (in all honesty) was that it was starting, and I didn’t want to wait for the BST course to start. Obviously, I visited and sat in on a class before I chose to join the program, but it seemed good enough for my purposes. I knew a couple of students in the class that recently graduated from Lander’s course, so I asked them about it too, and they all seemed happy. Would I do it again? All things being the same, yes I would. If the BST course were starting at the same time, I would at least consider it, but in the end I might end up choosing Lander again anyway. To tell the truth, I think both programs are probably excellent, so things such as schedule or the other issues I mention here might be what would make me choose one over the other.

I don’t know of any courses that cover the material more quickly. I think the reason they take around 2 years and only meet on a part-time schedule is that you really need to do a lot of work outside of class. After each week’s tour, for example, you have to write up a full report on the tour, including the places you saw, all relevant information you learned there, routes to get where you went, and even timing of the drives. Most people will do at least some amount of further background reading on various points from the day before they even begin to write the report. So that alone takes a tremendous amount of time and effort, and that’s not even counting all the work for the classes themselves.

I would say it is nearly impossible to work full-time while you are in the course. Personally, I have been a freelancer for the bulk of my adult life, so I continue to do that, working at various jobs while I am studying in the course. Other people do some night work, or might be retired. Others work part time. But without a doubt, that is definitely one of the big challenges that you will face in this course — figuring out how to live while studying. And it is also one of the main reasons I know why people don’t join the course even though they want to.

Lastly, the question of getting money for the course from outside sources is a complicated one. For starters, Nefesh B’Nefesh does still (to the best of my knowledge) offer some grants for new immigrants, but to my knowledge they are not earmarked for anything specific. You can certainly consider using it to pay for tuition, but that would obviously depend on your specific needs. What you probably were thinking of was that the Misrad HaKlitah / Ministry of Immigrant Absorption offers (in theory) money to new immigrants for “professional retraining.” I say “in theory” because they have had many budgetary issues lately, and though I am technically eligible to receive some money back from them (I think it is more like 40-50%, not 80%, by the way), I still have not been able to collect. It remains to be seen if I will actually be able to, though I am hopeful.

I should say, however, that for what you receive in this course, the cost of the education is much lower than it would ever be in the States or England, for example. My course came to about 21,000 NIS and next year I think the tuition is scheduled to go up to around 25,000. That’s something like a little more than $6000. For that money, you receive two years worth of class time from experts in their fields, weekly trips all over the country (including transportation of course) and a number of 2-3 day overnight trips (including accommodations and meals). A similar course in the States would probably cost at least twice that, if not more.

I hope that this answers Baruch’s and Anat’s questions, as well as those of others who come across this in their searches. Please feel free to email me or add further questions in the comments to this post!

Comments

  1. Aaron Shaffier says:

    Actually the subsidy from the Absorption Ministry is 80% of the first year’s tuition. I have still not gotten mine because the budget for this subsidy has run out for the year. The person at the Ministry told me to try back in a month when they will have their allocation for the coming year.

    • Fun Joel says:

      Uh… 80% of the first year is 40% of the whole thing, which is what I said! πŸ˜‰

      And yeah, they told me the same thing. I am calling them monthly now, hoping to get it at some point!

      Thanks for chiming in Aaron. Hope break is going well for you.

  2. Hi
    I am thinking about becoming a tour guide but being a single mom and a new immigrant with no family help makes it a bit difficult to come up with such high course fees. Do you know of any way I could get a scholarship or any other installment plan for this course?

    • Dear Zsuzsa,

      I am SO sorry that I never responded to this comment. Meant to but it just fell through the cracks and completely slipped my mind. Sorry.

      That being said, I’d love to respond now. To my knowledge, there are no scholarships out there, but worth asking at the schools themselves. As I mentioned in the post, there is supposed to be money from the Ministry of Absorption, though I have yet to get it from them.

      If you are looking for an installment plan, you might consider doing what I did. I took out a student loan for the course, but stretched it out over a 12-year span. Obviously this means I am paying high interest, and the total will be higher. But the way I see it, I currently pay a very low amount (something around 250 NIS a month), and once I am licensed and making money, I will be able to pay off the remaining amount long before it is due.

      If I can answer any other questions, feel free to let me know!

      Cheers,
      Joel

  3. Do you get any help in terms of finding employment after the completion of the course? I realzie that tour guiges are mainly independent, but is it realistic to do this work full time and make at least 8,000NIS/month after I would receive my licesne? Also, can someone list classes in Hebrew? I live in Rehovot.

    Thanks,
    Eric

    • Hey Eric! I really wish I could be of more assistance, but unfortunately, I don’t know that much about the Hebrew classes. I know there are MANY more. Perhaps a Google search would help. Or perhaps check with the Ministry of Tourism.

      I believe that Beit Sefer L’Tayarut runs classes in Jerusalem, Haifa, Tel Aviv and Beer Sheva. Check http://www.tayarut-school.co.il/

      Bar Ilan may also run a program, and/or any of the other major universities.

      Regarding help finding employment after, I am not familiar with much. It may depend largely on the program. But I can say that since, as you correctly mentioned, most tour guides work mainly independently, it would be more a matter of networking than anything else. You need to be in contact with tour operators, as well as trying to build up your own client base.

      In terms of how much you could make monthly, it depends on a whole host of factors. It depends how good you are for starters, because that will largely determine how much work you get. But obviously how many days a month you work is the big deciding factor.

      The standard rate for tour guides is approximately $250-350 per day (and it is usually quoted, like that, in dollars, not in NIS). Often you get tips as well, and if you also do more work in terms of booking the whole tour (i.e. working as, instead of with, a tour operator), some people get more money for that. Also, if you train to get a special drivers license, and actually drive the tourists around in addition to guiding them (rather than booking a bus or van with a driver), you usually get more money for that as well.

      Does this add up to 8000 NIS/month or more? As I said, it really depends on how much you work over all!

      Hope that helps, and feel free to email me if you have any further questions! πŸ™‚

  4. This was a super-helpful article! Fantastic!

  5. Thanks for the ‘inside info’/tips, Joel.

    I am veering towards the School of Tourism course, because I prefer a more ‘democratic’ approach, but the courses in general sound great!

    Thanks again,

    Mike

  6. Stephen says:

    I have taken early retirement and have just made Aliyah from the UK. I am considering the Jerusalem Tour Guide courses in English and have been passed your link by NBN. I too am juggling Lander and BST. I class myself as nominally Orthodox but Chiloni in practice. I am veering towards Lander as it is better placed geographically and the one night a week is preferable. Are your comments re Lander class composition still as pertinent as they were in 2010 and do you think my profile would fit Lander?

    • Fun Joel says:

      Stephen — Mazal tov on your aliyah. I do not know whether or not the class makeup and stuff are the same now as they were then, though I have little reason to think they have changed significantly. That being said, I don’t see any reason why you would “not fit” in Lander and both give good educations overall. So if there is a major reason why you’d prefer either one of the classes, I would take it with no hesitation about the other specifics. In other words, they are different, but not different enough to make a major difference.

      B’hatzlacha!

  7. Danielle says:

    I made Aliyah last year and am still in Ulpan, I have decided to become a tour guide but am struggling to decide between the two tour guide courses. I am jewish but I want from the course to be well rounded and find my interests leaning further towards Christianity in the Holy Land. Would you say that BST would be better for this persuit or do they both cover it reetively the same?

    Also I am I also going to have to find finding by taking a Student Loan, any advice on how this works in Israel? The Misrad HaKlita has again run out of money for this year (2013).

    • Fun Joel says:

      Dear Danielle,

      Mazal tov on your aliyah! In general, they both should cover Christianity relatively the same, since the curricula of the courses is set overall by the Ministry of Tourism. That being said, when I was in the Lander course they did not enter churches on tours. They were supposed to give us time to go in on our own, and this sometimes happened, but not always. I do not know if that is still the case. Not a major difference, but definitely something to think about.

      Re: student loans, I took one out for the course. The school office should be able to point you in the direction of a company that can handle it. I believe mine comes via a company called Klal Mimon, or something like that. Just be aware that the difference is that interest rates fluctuate instead of being set from the start.

      B’hatzlacha!

  8. Hey, I’m currently studying in Hebrew university, holding a student visa. Somebody told me that only the Israeli citizen can take those courses, is this ture? Can a foreign student like me take tour guide course?

    • Fun Joel says:

      Hey there Ezra!

      To my knowledge (and things may have changed) this is partially true. I believe you must be a citizen or permanent resident to take the exam at the end, to become a licensed guide. But you do not need to be one already during the course. When I was in the course, there was a guy who made aliyah towards the very end of the course in order to take the exam.

      That being said, there may also be certain exceptions for speakers of foreign languages that are in demand — I know that there are some guides out there already who are not citizens, though I do not know if they have permanent residence status or not,

      Hope that helps, and best of luck!

  9. Thanks a lot for ur assistance. Just wondering a few question, how many times does the new course begin every year? Is it only in November, or there is another one in the Spring?

    • Fun Joel says:

      Since there are many different schools, there are different schedules. Some run multiple classes simultaneously (a first year and second year, a Hebrew and an English, etc), and some run one course, finish it and start a new one. Some schools compress the whole thing into a year and a half. Bottom line, I have heard of classes starting in Nov/Dec, Jan/Feb and May/June, but not all schools will always have courses starting at all of those times. Best bet is to contact the schools you are interested in directly.

  10. Yael Guery says:

    Hi Joel,
    I would like to ask if there is a way that i could find out wether I am suitable for the tourguideprofession, before the tourguidecourse starts. For instance can one talk to a counselor of the institutes about this?
    Thanks and shalom,
    Yael

    • Fun Joel says:

      Dear Yael,

      A good (and important) question. You can try to ask the people at the schools, but know that they are also a business and so may be interested in just getting enough people to sign up for the course.

      If you have any friends who are successful tour guides, you might ask them. If not, send me an email and I can tell you my thoughts.

      Best,
      Joel

  11. Hi..
    I would like to ask…
    I’m from Asian and this August i will get My temporary Resident, Its possible to take tour guide course?
    and any idea where to study in Tel-Aviv ?

    Thank you for your advise

    • Dear Yuda,

      Thanks for getting in touch! Unfortunately, the answer is that I just don’t know. I would ask the school, and or ask the Ministry of Tourism via their website.

      In terms of where to study, are you looking for a course in English or Hebrew? If English, there are only courses (that I know of) in Jerusalem. If Hebrew, I THINK there is a course run out of Tel Aviv University, though I am not 100% sure.

      Sorry I can’t be more helpful, but hope this at least helps a drop!

      Good luck!

      Joel

  12. Hi Joel,

    Thank you for a great web site! Would you know where I could get / borrow / buy the class materials in English? I am in a Hebrew tour guide course and doing OK ut being able to review the material in English would help considerably.

    Thank you very much!
    Helena

    • Hey there, Helena! I tried responding the other day on my phone (was out of town) but it didn’t work.

      Anyway, as you know, there are no specific materials or text books for the course. So it would be difficult to say where you could get class materials in English. What I can say is that there are many great books in English on virtually any topic you may want to learn about. If you are looking for something specific, feel free to ask!

      Good luck in the course!

      Cheers,
      Joel

  13. d can you send for to me fied trip one modlle report how to write the report i am new in tour guide ncourse in engilsh

    • Eyal — good luck in the course.

      There is no one way to write a tour report, so I wouldn’t want to send you one, in case your rakaz wants something else. Ask your rakaz what type of report you should be writing.

      • Hi Joel, Firstly, the information posted here is absolutely wonderful for a new oleh (1 yr 3 months) considering this as a career. I just have a couple of questions I was hoping you would be able to answer.
        1)I live in TA where the school only has classes in Hebrew; my Hebrew is almost fluent, but I’m still wondering, do you know of any Anglo with a good level of Hebrew, has taken the classes in Hebrew and not passed?
        2)Was there anyone in your class who commuted from TA?
        3)Once you graduated, did you start (or do you recommend) working for someone else? And if you are independent does the tour guide have to open an esek murshe (pay VAT), and as a result probably need an accountant?
        Finally- what percentage of the people in your class actually passed the exams on the first go? And if you fail, are there makeups a little while afterwards?
        Thanks so much in advance…I’ll recommend you to my sister who lives in Houston next time she’s here with her family, and if you do tours in Judea and Samaria, I may use you myself! Cheers, Avi

  14. Annabelle says:

    Thanks for this post, i found it really helpful! BUT I’m a bit stuck

    I really want to do the tour guide course in English but the course that used to be in Tel Aviv is now only in Jerusalem, and the one at Wingate Netanya is now also only in Hebrew.

    Is there only the option to study in English in Jerusalem?

    Should I attempt it in hebrew (i can speak conversational hebrew) and they said i could do the exam in english.

    any advice appreciated!

    • Dear Annabelle,

      There IS a course in English in Jerusalem, but it JUST began, so not sure if you can join it late, or if you’d have to wait a while for the next one. It is from Beit Sefer L’Tayarut on the Givat Ram campus of Hebrew U. If you can’t find the info, let me know and I will get it for you.

      Beyond that, I typically recommend AGAINST doing it in Hebrew, no matter how good your Hebrew is. I feel that there is already so much for you to learn, that you don’t want the added challenge of dealing with the language. And also, if you do the course in Hebrew but guide in English, there will be words that you will need to relearn, since you don’t know the technical terms in English, and you can;t use the Hebrew terms.

      Feel free to email me with any further questions you have! πŸ™‚

      J

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