Top guide Yoni Zierler from StandWithUs has found a unique way to bring visitors to the Holy City, and the result is exciting and emotional.
When was the last time you got to walk the streets of Jerusalem? And when will the next time be? One of the tragedies of Covid-19 has been the distance it has put between those who love Israel and the Holy Land, as flights were grounded around the world, leaving Ben Gurion Airport a shadow of its former self.
Satiating would-be tourists desire to be in Israel therefore requires creativity and that's where expert guide Yoni Zierler and the global Israel-education organization StandWithUs come in. In addition to a slew of daily digital content and live shows for their followers they have now designed a fully live and interactive tour for people watching back home. This isn't a slide-show, it's the real deal. LoveLoveIsrael spoke to Yoni, who is Director of the StandWithUs Strategic Tourism department, named StandWithUs Discover, to find out more:
"We are calling this Jerusalem: LIVE" and it is a real, live, private tour for communities and large online group events. I have been guiding for many years and this is a really exciting new development."
Yoni Zierler's StandWithUs Facebook tours have been enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people and this new venture is an exclusive personalized tour broadcast in real time from Jerusalem’s most famous sites.
"For me personally this is a very special project because it allows me to do what I love. A lot of tour guides now are dealing not only with the fact that they aren't able to make a living, but for many of us this is our life: guiding is like breathing. Until now it was like being a fish out of water until I was able to go back into the field and show people Israel - to connect them, or re-connect them, with the sites of Jerusalem."
"Without a doubt, the most powerful moment is being at the Kotel. When you walk down those stairs, and the online audience is 'walking' with me, I have this challenge of preparing those watching both historically and spiritually to ensure they have a special experience without them actually being able to put their hands on the stones."
So how does he achieve that? "In the walk down to the Kotel, I lead the group in song!", Yoni answers. "We may be apart but we sing together! We walk down with a song about standing together in the gates of Jerusalem".
Many groups are encouraging participants to email in their notes for the Kotel, which StandWithUs then prints out for Yoni to place in the cracks of the Western Wall. "This is one of the most special aspects of this tour." Yoni says, "It's an incredible moment because it gives me super-powers: in Judaism we are told that anyone who is a shaliach - a messenger - has this aura. You hear of people giving others money before they go on flights to be a shaliach mitzvah - to give charity on their behalf and until you fulfill that mitzvah you are protected, so you're protected on the flight. So when I have these notes, I have this incredible honor, privilege and super-power of being the shaliach for all of the people who cannot now make it to Jerusalem and to the Kotel and I get to bring their notes and their prayers to there."
"They can see it: they see through the camera that I am putting their note in the wall and they can speak it too: we turn the mic and allow people to to say a tefilla (prayer) or well-wish. I know it's powerful for the people on the other end too. We had one girl who is in third-grade in Los Angeles who was watching together with her school and when I was putting the notes in the Kotel, I read the kids names one by one so that they would see their note being placed there. Her mother told me later on that as I was reading the names, her daughter was holding her breath waiting for her name to be called and her note to be delivered."
"Due to Coronavirus, it takes a little longer to get to the Kotel, there is a line there that there never really used to be. During one tour I used that time to take some comments from those watching. One after another, people were expressing gratitude, saying that they had never been to Jerusalem, they had never been to Israel before in their life and so it is extra special for them to come on this tour with me."
All tours are guided in private groups of up to 50, and combine history, storytelling, and trivia for an unforgettable experience that is fun for all ages.
Each tour is tailored to the needs and desires of the group, and the tour can address multiple audiences. These include introducing students to Jerusalem’s history from up-close, or getting synagogue or church groups inspired, to learn or pray together. The tour is also a great way to celebrate a Bar or Bat Mitzvah with a special virtual outing, to commemorate milestones with loved ones or to reunite with family and friends while exploring shared heritage sites
You can click on this link to book and reserve the experience for your group and if you have questions or special requests you can email: Discover@StandWithUs.com
---> For booking and more information visit: https://www.standwithus.com/discovertours