From scavenger hunts to interactive tours where you choose the next stop, Israeli guides have cooked up some virtual fun.
We miss you here in Israel. And so do all the incredibly knowledgeable Israelis who make their living as guides to Israel’s unique tourist sites, cuisine, and culture.
While hoping for a return of tourists – may it be soon! — many of them have found creative ways to bring the land alive from afar.
We review nine fun options below. For eight more excellent ideas on touring Israel from the comfort of your home, click here.
- Tour in a Bag
“I’ve been guiding for 20 years, and suddenly I was all dressed up with no place to go,” Esti Herskowitz tells ISRAEL21c.
“I love to play and create, and so I had to do something to connect my passion for guiding with the people I guide.”
She and her husband Ben, a graphic designer, invented Esti’s “Roaring & Touring” Tour in a Bag.
The activity kit, with a Jerusalem lions theme, includes supplies such as clay, fabric, puzzle pieces, and yarn, plus instructions to create a lion mosaic, mask, and flag among other crafts designed for school-aged children.
It contains a trivia quiz, Israel map search, Hebrew and English word search, a lion story and quiz, a matching game, an “unmask the Israeli hero” game, and more.
Since the end of July, orders have come in from places including Chile, England, Canada, Philadelphia, New York, Seattle, Miami Beach and Detroit.
- Choose Your Own Adventure
With its free 10-day guided tours of Israel on hold, Taglit Birthright Israel offers “Choose Your Own Adventure,” a first-of-its-kind interactive online tour created by Eko — the Israeli media and technology company that teamed up with Procter & Gamble to make an interactive ad for last January’s Super Bowl.
The online tour led by Israeli guide Navee allows you to shape your itinerary in real-time. For instance, you can choose to “visit” Masada or the Western Wall; an Arab bistro or a vegan restaurant; Birthright’s Tel Aviv Center for Israeli Innovation, or a local winery. You can surf on Tel Aviv beach or float in the Dead Sea.
In each location, Navee introduces local Israelis to provide a deeper perspective on Israeli culture. The tour takes about 10 minutes and you can do it again and again with different choices each time.
“Since mid-March, we’ve reached 4.4 million people around the world,” said Noa Bauer, VP of Global Marketing at Birthright.
“Today we invite the thousands of Birthright applicants whose trips were canceled, as well as past and future Birthright participants, their families and loved ones, to take part in a virtual tour of Israel using unprecedented technology.”
- Online/offline scavenger hunt
Over the past decade, 34,500 people have participated in one of Tali Tarlow’s popular ScaVentures engaging and educational scavenger hunts in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Safed, Masada, and other locations.
Tarlow and her team now offer Quarantine Quest 2020, a variety of team-based virtual ScaVentures you can play at home with teammates from anywhere, for ages eight to adult. Each game includes offline challenges each team must complete and document.
Quarantine Quest choices include Israel Trail Dash, Yom Yerushalayim, Shavuot, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Birthday, Corporate Group, Pesach, Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Lag Ba’Omer, custom, and more. Each game takes about 90 minutes and is guided by a ScaVentures professional.
- Virtual week-long mission
Jewish National Fund-USA is offering virtual Israel missions led live by a staff of 27 licensed Israeli tour guides.
Each “busload” of participants experiences a week of touring biblical and modern Israel, famous tourist sites, off-the-beaten-path sites, JNF projects, and hidden gems.
Among stops is the Old City of Jerusalem, the Ayalon Institute (War of Independence secret bullet factory) in Rehovot, Rosh HaNikra, Acre (Akko), JNF’s Sderot Indoor Recreation Center, Beersheva, and Timna Park.
Your $50 Zoom experience includes one hour of “travel” Monday to Thursday followed by a break and then a social dinner/cocktail hour. Fridays feature a one-hour pre-Shabbat experience. Proceeds benefit tourism in Israel.
- Birding from your bedroom
Get a front-row virtual seat to the magnificent show of bird migration in Israel, and other live nature webinars courtesy of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI).
So far, more than 20 Zoom events have included “The Secret Lives of Israel’s Wild Mammals” and “Birds and Birding of the Holyland,” live bird ringing (banding), and tours of bird observatories in Israel and abroad, including the Jerusalem Bird Observatory.
To register for upcoming events or to watch past webinars
- Live interactive virtual tours
This tour company is called Amazing Jerusalem, but the 27 tours you can take from your armchair explore the breadth of Israel. Among the choices are trips geared to Christian tourists, such as “In the Footsteps of Jesus in the Galilee” and “The Hidden Years of John the Baptist.”
Actual tour guides present these hour-long Zoom tours with the aid of panoramic views, Google Street View, 3D satellite views, and maps. There is time for a Q&A. You decide how much to pay and donate it via PayPal.
- Machane Yehuda with Tali
In normal times, Chef Tali Friedman takes tourists through Jerusalem’s famed Machane Yehuda Market choosing ingredients to taste and take to her atelier in the heart of the market to cook Mediterranean delicacies.
Friedman, who also chairs the Machane Yehuda Merchants’ Association, says the pandemic has devastated the market, where a typical day would see thousands of customers, both Israelis, and tourists.
So she created an 80-minute Video on Demand workshop, Feast Market, that takes the experience online.
Participants pay to watch the workshop on iOS, Android, Apple TV, Roku, or Chromecast. They get a quick tour of the market and then follow Friedman to her kitchen, where she demonstrates six recipes for an authentic Jerusalem feast. Additional on-location cooking workshops are planned.
- Virtual Israel Travel Series
The America-Israel Friendship League sponsors monthly live-streamed explorations through photos, maps, and stories presented by tour guide Reuven Solomon. Since April, seven regions have been explored in hour-long segments: Haifa and Nazareth, the Galilee, Akko, Masada, Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Tel Aviv-Jaffa. Registration is free; donations welcome.
- Video voyages
Some tour guides have put their knowledge and experience into videos exploring different parts of Israel.
Experience Israel with David Hyman features YouTube video tours such as Montfort Castle, Ramon Crater, Red Sea swimming, Red Canyon hike, Negev stargazing, Zippori, Acre, Jerusalem’s Old City, Zichron Ya’akov, Nazareth, Yodfat, Caesarea, Safed, Tel Shimron and Nahariya. One option is “Bible as a tour book” and another explores an underground cave church.
Joe Yudin of Touring Israel has done about 30 video podcasts with personalities from Israel’s tourism industry such as the manager of Tel Aviv’s storied Norman Hotel, Inbal Baum of Delicious Israel, and TLVStyle’s Galit Reismann.
Yudin’s series of five-minute video tours created since the start of the pandemic include, among others, Masada, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate, Via Dolorosa, David’s Citadel, and a rooftop tour of Jerusalem’s Old City.
Tour guide/educator Uri Feinberg also posted some five-minute Israel tours on YouTube. The one below brings you to Katzrin in the Golan Heights, a bit off the beaten track.
Husband-and-wife tour guides Gadi and Amy Ben-Dov created a Virtual Israel menu of customizable lectures and tours via Zoom. Varied selections include “Israeli Culture through Poetry and Song,” “Judaism and Christianity: Intersecting Histories” and “The Jewish Superhero Justice League.”
About the Author:
Abigail Klein Leichman is a writer and associate editor at ISRAEL21c. Prior to moving to Israel in 2007, she was a specialty writer and copy editor at a major daily newspaper in New Jersey and has freelanced for a variety of newspapers and periodicals since 1984.