A Light at the End of the Tunnel

Israel Tourism. Tour Guide. Fun Joel Haber. Beit Shean Amphitheater - Vomitorium.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel (taken at Beit Shean amphitheater)

I wanted to update you all about the exam process. For starters, I am proud and excited to announce that I passed the written exam! I got the news on the morning of January 1st, so what a great way to start the New Year! In fact, the test was very straightforward, with no real curve balls (as I wrote previously), and there was a fairly high passing rate.

Additionally, earlier this week I received the appointment for my meeting at the Ministry of Tourism for my oral exam. I will actually be the first in my class (I believe) to present — 9 AM on Thursday January 26, in just over 2 weeks. I feel relatively well-prepared, but I definitely have more work to do in preparation. Both in terms of preparing my guiding, and my itinerary for the day, as well as general prep for the open question section of the oral.

So what about those numbers? Of the 22 people from my course who took the written exam, 17 passed. That’s over 3/4 passing, and the Lander Hebrew Tour Guide Course that was concurrent with mine had 19 of 28 pass (about 2/3). Those are both very high pass rates. However, looking beyond the numbers, I have to look at the 5 people in my class who failed. I know that at least a couple of them were among the better and more knowledgeable students in my class — students who have lots of unofficial experience guiding as well. But I also know that at least a couple of them had a weakness in test-taking skill/strategy. And that is probably why they failed. All I can say is that it is a real shame that such talented people will have their license delayed by at least 6 months (the next time the written test will be administered) just because of test-taking abilities. Of course, I don’t know a better way for the Ministry to handle this, but it is still a real shame.

Now on to the Oral Exam. Firstly, I wrote previously about what is on the oral licensing exam. I’ve decided to do my guiding point at the Sidonian Burial Cave located at Maresha (in Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park).

Choosing a guiding point is key, and for many people is a largely strategic decision. I chose this site for a few reasons. First and foremost, since I work at Dig for a Day at Maresha, I am very familiar with the overall site. This will hopefully help me answer any of the other questions they may ask me about Maresha-Beit Guvrin. But I also didn’t want to choose a topic that comes directly from the Dig for a Day program, since I felt it might be a drop too “rote” for me, and I wanted to guide on something that I know well, but not that I’ve guided a million times already. I want it to feel fresh in my presentation.

Maresha Sidonian Burial Cave. Cerberus painting. Beit Guvrin. Israel.

A painting of Cerberus, the 3-headed guard dog of the underworld, inside the Sidonian Burial Cave at Maresha

Secondly, I like sites that are multidimensional, meaning that they have more than one topic that one can speak about. Not as much as some of the other sites I considered, but the Sidonian Cave certainly has a number of topics I can discuss and weave together. The site relates to the multicultural character of the city of Maresha in the Hellenist Period, as well as the significance of writing in archaeology. Plus there is art, mythology, anthropology and even some illicit romance that can be brought in too.

My itinerary will focus on sites throughout the Shefelah — the Judean Lowlands, including various archaeological sites from different periods, and other sites of interest that relate to the geographical region. I want to capture the defining characteristics of the Shefelah.

So, how am I preparing for this part of the exam?

Well, for starters, I’m making sure that I know the whole National Park like the back of my hand. I know a lot already, but I am trying to know everything. In addition to doing lots of research using academic texts and the web, I am compiling a list of questions I need to find the answers to, which I will ask Ian Stern, the head archaeologist at the Maresha dig.

Secondly, I am compiling a good set of visual aids. I’m not just referring to those which I plan to use in my presentation itself (which is essential, by the way), but also other ones related to Maresha and Beit Guvrin, and to the rest of my day’s itinerary.

Thirdly, I will be going back to the site one day next week. The park is huge, and though I know much of it, there are still a few parts that I have never visited. I want to check them out. Also, I want to take a bunch of good pictures for potential use as other visual aids.

I’ll also be meeting up again with my study partner who I was preparing for the written exam with. We will continue to review information that we didn’t go over before the written. That’s more for the open question part of the oral exam. I know that they can ask me anything, and I want to have as wide a knowledge-base and understanding as possible.

Finally, I will need to plan out my polished narrative for my actual presentation. I have a good idea of how I want to present everything, but I need to make it top notch. As you may know, I come from a storytelling (screenwriting) background, which helps me a bit in crafting a good narrative. This is true both for the overall structure of my presentation and for the way in which I deliver the information. Much in the same way that I drew on my experience in teaching test preparation to help me succeed on the written exam, I hope to draw on my screenwriting background to help me on the oral.

So keep your fingers crossed and say a silent prayer for me. If all goes as planned, I’ll be an officially licensed Israeli tourguide in just over two weeks! And then you can look for some changes around here. I am in the process of developing this into a full website, beyond just the blog itself, and I’m also having a logo drawn for the website and my future business! Wish me luck!


  1. Abigail Frances Pickus says:

    Good luck, Joel! You’re going to be an awesome guide!

  2. Ilana Sinclair says:

    Really cool Joel. I’m sure you’ll do great!

  3. Best of luck…but your passion and skill are going to be quite sufficient!

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