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The Importance of Jewish Travel Tours in Strengthening Our Jewish Identity

As Jews around the world face a new wave of anti-Semitism, it’s time to strengthen and reaffirm our Jewish identity. Jewish travel tours and Jewish travel are a great way to explore your own Jewish roots and to help your children and grandchildren connect to their precious heritage.

When the Allies liberated Europe in 1945 and exposed the horrors of the death camps, the civilized world recoiled in shocked disbelief. As the true evil and scale of the Holocaust became apparent, and the Jewish people grieved, a new and defiant mindset emerged. In the nascent state of Israel, Jewish soldiers vowed “Never Again” and demonstrated their willingness to fight; whatever the odds. The Israelis were also ready to strike anywhere on the planet in defense of Jews.

During the postwar economic boom, Jews in the US, Canada and Britain (and other prosperous and enlightened countries) experienced unprecedented good times. The decent majority of society largely rejected the anti-semitism of previous generations and many new doors opened. US Jews integrated into the mainstream and took advantage of every opportunity that life offered. Jews in America punched above their weight and made major contributions to public and professional life.

One consequence of assimilation and professional success (through social integration and mixed marriages) has been the dilution of Jewish identity. US Jewish communities are nowhere near as homogenous as they once were and, in an age of globalism and social media, people feel increasingly disconnected from their Jewish roots and heritage. Jews are far less likely to live in tight knit Jewish neighborhoods and are less likely to attend Shul regularly.

 

The Impact of the October 7th Pogrom on Jewish Unity

 

The terrible pogrom of October 7th – and the events that followed – shattered the complacency of many Jews around the world. Mass pro-Palestinian demonstrations featuring incitement to violence and the celebration of Jewish deaths, vitriolic online anti-semitism, and the duplicitous denial of Jewish suffering by academics and official bodies have almost swept aside the (apparent) golden age of tolerance and assimilation that Baby Boomers took for granted.

Initially shocked and stunned, the Jewish community, and its non-Jewish friends and allies, have responded with unity and spontaneous initiatives to fight back against the anti-Semites and terrorist supporters. The battle is an uphill one, but it is at least being fought and the momentum is growing as business leaders and consumer groups use their influence to push back against the bigots.

The sudden urgent need for Jewish unity and collective action, and new questions about Jewish identity, has focused many minds across the diaspora. As they figure out how to combat anti-Semitism and liberate Israeli hostages in Gaza, many Jews are questioning their own relationship towards their Jewish heritage and realizing that they have become disconnected from an important aspect of their own history and culture – and, by extension, their own personal identity.

Defining and Connecting with your Jewish Identity

It’s important to accept that there is no single Jewish identity or culture. Your interpretation of your Jewish heritage, and your place in the wider Jewish community, is a unique personal journey. What is important is that we give our children and grandchildren a thorough grounding in Jewish history and culture, exposing them to all its beauties and achievements, as well as its many tragedies.

As the pace of assimilation grows, and kids are saturated with a mass of diverse information and other cultures via the internet, we need to find new ways to help them connect to their heritage. The exciting adventure of Jewish travel is possibly the single best way to do that. Customized Jewish travel tours that provide guided explorations of ancient Jewish quarters in Europe, and walking tours of important Jewish sites can transform a young person’s concept of their own identity.

Gil Travel has decades of experience and some amazing contacts in Eastern and Central Europe, and across Israel and the Middle East. Even though the war in Gaza and the tense situation in the region has affected the local tourist trade, Jewish travel in countries like Poland and the Czech Republic is still very safe. Gil Travel can work with you to create a tailored tour of your ancestors’ home towns and cities in Europe, accompanied by expert local guides.

A walking tour through Jewish Prague, Warsaw, Krakow and many other centers of Jewish culture and learning, is a profound and often moving experience. Gil Travel will do everything to help you get the most out of your visit. They will ensure that your tour includes the perfect hotel for your needs, as well as a great kosher gastronomical experience. One of Gil’s most innovative services is providing historical family research conducted by local historians.

Skilled researchers will visit archives and record offices to compile a report on your European family tree, complete with profiles of your ancestors and their addresses. Many of our clients are then able to visit their ancestors’ graves in the surviving Jewish cemeteries, and see the actual houses that they lived in. Just walking around the Jewish quarter where your family lived and worked is a wonderfully poignant and fascinating experience.

Although there is a natural focus on Eastern Europe (simply because it’s where most American Jews originated) Gil Travel can organize customized tours to (almost) every country that has – or had – a Jewish presence. There are thriving Jewish communities with their own rich architecture, culture and cuisine all over the world. That includes South America, India and Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. Not to mention the single most popular destination for Jewish travel tours – Israel!

Jewish Travel for Kids and Teenagers

Jewish American kids can really benefit from a trip to Israel, or to the birthplace of their European ancestors. It’s not just a case of travel broadening the mind and expanding personal horizons, Jewish travel creates a unique opportunity to connect with thousands of years of history and heritage. Kids who experience the depth of their Jewish heritage at a formative age will have a much stronger sense of Jewish identity – and personal identity – as adults.

We all need to know where we come from, and how history shaped our present circumstances. For Jews, given the brutal history of ancient occupations and persecution, the Holocaust – and the ugly realities of October 7th and beyond – a connection to the past is especially important. It’s not an easy or a pleasant day out, but a Jewish heritage tour to Europe should ideally include a visit to Auschwitz or to another important Holocaust memorial site like the Anne Frank House.

It’s vital to educate Jewish youth about the Holocaust and the best way to do this is to show them the places where it occurred, and encourage them to imagine themselves in that situation. However, the purpose of a Jewish travel tour for kids and teens isn’t to harden them through exposure to the horrors of the past, it’s to give them some wisdom, and a pride in their heritage and a lifelong interest in the wonders of Jewish culture.

Celebrate a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah in Israel

When we arrange a customized Jewish travel tour for our children or grandchildren, we can enrich them with a gift that is precious beyond words. Perhaps one of the most profound experiences that we can offer young teens is a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah in Israel. Gil Travel can draw on its superb local connections in Israel to arrange a secular or religious ceremony. The event can include a party with full kosher catering, or it can be a simple ceremony for family and close friends.

It doesn’t matter whether you opt for a traditional religious ceremony in a synagogue or at the Wailing Wall, or a secular Bar Mitzvah in a kibbutz function room. A Bar or Bat Mitzvah is about being acknowledged and accepted as an adult member of the community – and publically accepting the responsibilities that it entails. This is a very old ritual that has evolved over many generations, but the essence remains unchanged.

When the ceremony is conducted in Israel, it will take on a whole new significance and meaning. Your child or grandchild will return to the US with the seeds of a new understanding and perhaps a deeper spiritual connection to Israel and to the Jewish world. They’ll still be the same 12 or 13 year old kid, but you may see a new thoughtfulness and a growing maturity by the end of the trip.

A customized Bar Mitzvah tour also includes plenty of opportunities for Jewish travel in Israel. Unless you have family that you want to visit, the first destination will always be Jerusalem. It is the spiritual center of Judaism and is integral to the Bar Mitzvah experience. A customized tour takes in the Wailing Wall, as well as a choice of archaeological and historical sites like the City of David and the Southern Wall and possibly some of Jerusalem’s most prestigious museums.

The North of Israel is particularly beautiful and contains sites like the city of Safed, an important home of Jewish mysticism and the religious center of Tiberias alongside the Sea of Galilee, with its ancient synagogues. Israel is a lot more than the sum of its religious heritage and historical sites. Gil Travel’s customized Jewish travel tours can be designed to travel through some of  Israel’s most spectacular nature sites. The people of Israel have worked a modern miracle with agriculture and reforestation and the land is blossoming.

Perhaps the most important aspect of a Gil Travel Bar Mitzvah tour in Israel isn’t the chance to experience thousands of years of history, or to see places that are mentioned in the bible. The Bar/Bat Mitzvah youth builds a strong connection to Judaism and their Jewish heritage by experiencing a modern Jewish state and meeting the Israeli people. It’s an especially profound experience right now, as the Jewish people pull together and fight back against a terrorist regime that seeks their destruction.

A Jewish travel tour anywhere in the world can be a powerful and life changing experience, but a trip to Israel this year takes on a special value. It’s not just a way to connect with your own heritage and with the cultural treasures of Judaism, it’s an opportunity to show solidarity with the people of Israel and with Jews everywhere.

By choosing to visit Israel this year, you are making a personal statement. It’s a chance to stand and be counted and to send a message to those who seek to kill or oppress Jews. It also sends a message  to their collaborators and accomplices in academia, the UN, NGOs, and the media who have sought to cynically minimize and deny the suffering of Jews since October 7th. A trip to Israel is not just a chance to make a connection with your Jewish heritage, it’s a chance to affirm it.

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