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The Quirks of Israel—Tours to the Promised Land

June 28, 2022

by: Peter Fast, National Director, Bridges for Peace Canada

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From the pen of Peter Fast, national director of Bridges for Peace Canada and the future CEO of Bridges for Peace International, comes the third installment of an exciting new series entitled the Quirks of Israel. Join Peter on a journey through the wonderfully peculiar culture, traditions, heritage and daily life of this singular nation as he unpacks, introduces and celebrates the quirky aspects that make Israel so wonderfully unique.

Many Christians I’ve met have desired to see the Holy Land, the Land of the Bible, the Promised Land or simply Israel. Some have had that desire since childhood. It makes complete sense. If anyone has a love for the Bible, it should be natural to want to visit and walk the land of the Bible.

Some people go to Israel alone or with friends. Others go with a spouse or as a family. They go for a variety of reasons; whether they’re Christian, Jewish or just anybody who is keen to see what Israel is all about. Some people go to backpack the Israel Trail or the Jesus Trail. Others go to photograph Israel, celebrate one of the biblical feasts, study at a university or yeshivah (religious school), lay on a beach, serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), volunteer at an amazing organization like Bridges for Peace, attend a conference or participate in a program. Another reason—probably the main reason—people of all backgrounds and stripes go to Israel is to tour. In 2019, the year before COVID-19 hit, over 4 million people visited Israel. The majority were Christian tourists.

I’ve been at Ben Gurion Airport many times, waiting on arrivals, when suddenly the doors will open with a whoosh and streaming out will be hundreds of Nigerian Christians. The men are typically dressed in elegant suits, while the women wear the most colorful clothing. The Israelis waiting on arrivals will gawk at them in wonder. It’s like watching a magical parade. Everything, from the suits, ties, dresses and head wraps make for an incredible sight that ushers in a hush over the hall, as if it has suddenly turned into a sacred space. These African tourists will stream in, their faces lighting up with smiles as if they can see the sunshine of Israel through the exit doors beckoning them. Then, like a stampede, jubilant and animated Israeli tour guides will direct them out of the airport to their bus with typical phrases like, “Welcome to Israel, my friend! Welcome, welcome, welcome! I have a brother, Asaph, who lives in Abuja. Do you know him? Where? You have a sister in Toronto? Ah! Best place in Canada. My brother, Eli, lives there. Have you ever heard of Winn-e-peg?”

To enjoy a tour to Israel, there are a few vital necessities. The first is the tour guide. Anybody who’s been on tour to Israel will know that the tour guide will either make a tour memorable or turn it into a disaster. My experience in Israel is full of great and amazing tour guides, but there are special gems. A good tour guide will be a people magnet, a dynamic and knowledgeable speaker with a silly side to relate to the tour participants and give them an incredible time. A wonderful relationship is often formed between the tour guide and tour participants, which might last well beyond the tour.

I had a tour guide who looked like an Israeli Elvis Presley, and although I never worked up the courage to ask him to sing “Return to Sender” or “Jail House Rock,” he was brilliant. He even talked like Elvis. Perhaps Elvis really is alive and making a living in Israel as a tour guide.

Connecting to your Israeli tour guide is amazing and important. They are professional, since Israel has high standards and all the guides have to go through rigorous schooling. They don’t just grab some guy at a falafel stand and give him a tour guide badge. These are gifted people.

The second vital necessity is the beloved bus driver. Israeli tour busses are typically luxurious, with air conditioning and Wi-Fi, and usually come with their own driver at the helm. These drivers are simply phenomenal. Nothing phases them. They are highly professional, and nearly always have a brilliant smile.

These bus drivers really go above and beyond. They’ll even pull over so you can buy a box of cherries on the side of some dirt road from a Druze family. Be warned, though. If you don’t share the cherries with your driver, he’s bound to abandon you.

I also have to mention that all the bus drivers have a mysterious side to them. They seem to be incredibly popular and part of an inner circle of Israeli society. The bus driver possesses the ability to make anyone in Israel laugh, whether police, IDF soldiers or a monk or even a nun at the Mount of Beatitudes. People just can’t seem to resist the bus driver. Even your own tour guide will roar with laughter as he’s shouting and pointing out the window, engaged in a dramatic conversation about where to eat while explaining the entire history of Masada and how many cisterns they found on the mountain.

The bus driver is a little like a superhero who’s a part of his own Avengers network. They have scores of chums, mates, pals and friends everywhere you stop all over Israel. You’ll be popping out after lunch to go to the bathroom, peruse the gift shop or simply gaze at the beauty of Israel when you’ll hear it…It usually starts as a quiet group chuckle, maybe some Hebrew or Arabic words that you don’t understand. As you go investigate the chuckle, you’ll find your bus driver hanging out with his friends, always drinking coffee. There will be hearty laughter, followed by talking in low tones—almost a whisper—followed by a cackle of shouting, more laughter and a leg slap.

What you have just witnessed is the inner circle of a bus driver’s life. These inner circles exist all over the country, at every archaeological site, hotel, restaurant and coffee shop. If you get close enough, one or two of your bus driver’s friends may gaze up at you, and your driver may acknowledge you with a nod and a slight curl of the lip that barely resembles a smile. In that moment, there’s an invisible line you do not cross. It’s safe to walk by, maybe tip your hat in a greeting, but never approach your driver’s inner circle and say, “Hey guys! What are you talking about?” Simply tip your hat, smile, nod and walk on by.

Do that, and you’ll have the most incredible bus driver, the most amazing Israeli tour guide and the most memorable tour experience in Israel.

Scan the QR code or click here to join Peter Fast for the video series the Quirks of Israel.

Photo Credit: Click on photo to see photo credit

Photo License: Tour bus photo

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