A Walking Tour on Yom Yerushalayim

MMY girls and Fun Joel, Israel Tour Guide at the Haas Promenade / Tayelet

Me and the overseas students from MMY Seminary at the Haas Promenade / Tayelet

As many of you know, today is the 45th Yom Yerushalayim / Jerusalem Day, the holiday that celebrates the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967 during the Six Day War. In celebration, I was asked to give a tour to a group of overseas students in a gap year program here in Jerusalem. They are studying for the year at the MMY Girls’ Seminary, and they are located in my neighborhood. So the tour was supposed to both focus on the subject of Yom Yerushalayim, but also to tell them more about the neighborhood they’ve spent the year in.

I’ll briefly review the whole tour, but I want to really focus on our last stop, at the Tayelet, or Haas Promenade.

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A Tour of Wineries in Eretz Binyamin / Samaria

Tanya Winery vinyeards. Ofra. Fun Joel Israel Tour Guide.

The vineyards of Tanya Winery in Ofra

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting five different wineries with some other tour guides and friends. The wineries were all located in the region of Eretz Binyamin — the area that was designated in the Bible for the tribe of Benjamin. Today it is part of the region known as Samaria, and there are at least 7 or 8 wineries in this small part of the hill country, a mere 25 miles or so apart. But before I get into the wineries themselves, I want to talk briefly about Israeli wines overall.

I love the story of the wine industry in Israel. Clearly one of the oldest and most famous industries in the land, winemaking was always an important identifying feature of Israel. Images, for example, of the spies sent by Moses to explore the land of Canaan, and their reports of giant grape clusters spring to mind. In fact, that very image is the logo of both Israel’s Ministry of Tourism and the largest wine producer in the country — Carmel Wineries.

However, with the arrival of Muslim rule, which lasted for about 1100 of the 1300 years prior to the 20th Century, Israeli wines virtually disappeared. Since Muslims are prohibited from drinking wine, virtually all Israeli wine production ceased, with perhaps a minor resurgence during the 200-year period of Crusader rule in the land (1099-1291, with periods of Muslim rule inside that time frame as well).

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Why Visit Israel?

Israeli flags and Jerusalem String Bridge. Fun Joel Israel Tour Guide.

Sun, Flags and the String Bridge - Jerusalem

On this Yom HaAtzmaut / Israel Independence Day, I’d like to write about something that might seem obvious to some of my readers. But it is far from obvious to all. Why visit Israel at all? Seems that as a licensed Israeli tour guide, it is something that I should think about and have an answer to.

Lucky for you, I do!

I raise the question, because yesterday I had the pleasure of being interviewed by a university student from the Netherlands who is writing her thesis on tourism in Israel. Among other things, she asked me an interesting question.

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What Is… Shawarma?

Turkey Shawarma Roasting on a vertical spit. Fun Joel. Israel Tour Guide.

Look at that succulent roasting meat on a spit. Yummmm...

I love food. I love eating it and I love cooking it. Most people would consider me a “foodie.” And Israel has so much amazing food that it is a foodie’s dream country.

That’s one of the reasons why Israeli culinary tourism is one of the niche areas I’ve been developing for myself, in addition to the general tourism that most people want. Winery and brewery tours, visits to other boutique food production facilities, guided tours of shuks (outdoor markets), trips to agricultural installations (both current and historic) and of course meals in some top-notch restaurants. Any of these options can contribute to a specially designed culinary tour, or worked into a general itinerary for a little spice.

But my approach to food and the foodie mentality is not snobbish. To appreciate the culinary offerings of a country, one must often look at the meals of the common man. Working-class restaurants and street foods are among the truest culinary delights that most cuisines have to offer. And this is no more true than here in Israel. Which brings me to this specific post.

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Israel Mystery Photo #18

Israel Mystery Photo. Tour Guide Fun Joel Haber.

You Either Know This or You Don't. Period.

Firstly, I need to apologize about how long it has been since my last post. Been very busy, but that’s no excuse for neglecting you, my faithful readers. I’ll try to be better.

I’m happy that everyone who responded to the last Israel Mystery Photo correctly identified the location as Beit Shean. It means I accurately identified the photo as an easy one to figure out, and it also means that many of you have been to one of the more significant and impressive archaeological sites in Israel.

The current Mystery Photo will be a bit more difficult to identify. I don’t think anyone will be able to figure it out from context. Rather, I think it is going to be one of those pictures that you’ll identify if you’ve been there, and will have no clue if you haven’t. So don’t feel bad if you don’t recognize it.

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Israel Mystery Photo #17

The next Israel Mystery Photo. Fun Joel. Tour Guide.

A lot of you will probably recognize this

I’m in a good mood, so I am giving you guys a fairly easy Mystery Photo this time. If you have ever been at this site, you should recognize this. And even some of you who have never been might be able to guess it!

Why am I in such a good mood, you may ask? Because I passed my oral exam! I am proud to say that I am now officially a licensed Israeli tour guide! I’ll post more about the exam soon, but I did want to let you all know, and thank you for all of your support and kind wishes. Next step for me is to now fill out the paperwork, and start the process towards getting my actual physical license.

But now on to the heart of these Mystery Photo posts — the part where I write about the previous Mystery Photo!

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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.

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This is Not a Political Post

Mughrabi Bridge, Jerusalem, Old City. Israel tour guide. Fun Joel Haber.

The Temporary Mughrabi Bridge in the Plaza of the Western Wall (photo courtesy of Flickr user Ariela R.)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I hate politics.

But living in Israel and working in the field of tourism, it is fairly difficult to completely avoid dealing with political issues. Nearly every visitor has heard things about the political situation and/or sees things that relate to the issue. So they will inevitably ask some questions.

And it would not be right for me to ignore these questions. So the way I handle them is to respond in as objective a manner as possible, all the while recognizing and admitting that it is actually impossible for anyone to be truly objective. I try to relate the facts as I see them, and try to keep my opinions out of things. When Israel does or has done something wrong, I admit them. But when I see lies or misrepresentations that damage Israel’s image, I will speak out against them as well.

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Review: The Written Exam (Dec. 2011)

Title Page of the Israel Ministry of Tourism licensing exam for potential tour guides

The cover page of the written licensing exam

As most of you know, I took the written portion of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism licensing exam for tour guides this past Sunday, December 4. (For my posts on preparing for the exam see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.) Since one of the focuses of this blog is to provide information to others who are interested in taking the tourguide course in Israel, I wanted to fill you all in a bit on this past administration of the exam.

For starters, I will say that I feel really good about my performance on the exam, and am fairly certain that I will pass. Obviously, there is no way of knowing for sure until I hear back from them (probably in another 2-3 weeks), but I’ll say that I’ll be relatively surprised if I don’t pass. Mainly this is because, while I would not say this exam was easy, I don’t think it was particularly tough, nor did I think there was any part of it that was “out there” or designed to screw with us. It was fairly straightforward, and I feel like I was about as prepared as I could be. I can’t really imagine getting a test that would be preferable to this one, which is why I would be disappointed if I failed this one.

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Israel Mystery Photo #16

Menorah Mosaic. Israel Mystery Photo. Tourism. Tour Guide. Fun Joel Haber.

Look carefully at this one!

For those wondering how the test went on Sunday, I’ll be writing another post soon in which I review the exam. But suffice it to say that I feel fairly good about my performance on it and am just waiting to hear whether or not I passed. Results in a few more weeks, I guess.

And now on to the previous Israel Mystery Photo. As 3 of 4 commenters answered correctly, the photo was taken at the 9/11 Memorial in the forest on the northwestern outskirts of Jerusalem. It is a place that I’d been wanting to visit for a while, and was very happy to hear about even before I visited. I was finally able to get there a few weeks ago, and was not disappointed.

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