"It was truly the best travel experience
I have ever had." – Pamela Schwab

Multicultural Tour of Israel

Israel is known all over the world as the “Jewish State.” Yet the truth is that only 75% of the population is Jewish; the other 25% holds an incredible array of diverse religious and ethnic people and traditions.  Among the smallest groups are the Samaritans, who number 700, the Alawites (2000) and Circassians (4000) and lesser-known religions and sects such as the Black Hebrews and the Ahmadiyyans.  Larger groups include the Druze (110,000) and Bedouins (170,000).  And of course, there are large numbers of Christians and Muslims.  Israel even hosts the world center of a religion apart from Judaism and Christianity, that of the Bahai faith.

The Jewish population itself reflects enormous diversity.  As Jews returned to the Land of Israel from all over the world, they brought with them distinct cultures and subcultures, including some excellent food.  Israel is the perfect place to learn about the global Jewish experience.

Jewish Multiculturalism

the-people-the-jump Playing with Ethiopian-Jewish children.

A tour focusing on Jewish multiculturalism could include any of these exciting cultures – plus many more.

    • Ethiopian Jews: Only “discovered” by the rest of World Jewry in the 19th century and brought to Israel in the incredible Operations Moses and Solomon, the story of the Ethiopian Jews is one of the most fascinating Israel has to offer. Meet the people, volunteer with children, try the food and even explore the culture at the new hands-on Ethiopian Heritage Museum (under construction).
    • Sephardi (Spanish) Jews: From the 4 Sephardi Synagogues and the Sephardic Education Center to special community synagogues still in use such as the Yanina synagogue and the stunning Ades synagogue in the incredibly diverse Jerusalem neighborhood of Nachlaot, and the effect of the exodus from Spain on the mystical city of Tzfat, Sephardi Jewry is one of the great Jewish cultures to explore here in Israel.

Kabalah-Yemenite-Jewish-teacher--274x198

Discussing the Kabalah with a Yemenite-Jewish teacher and chef extraordinaire.

    • Yemenite Jews: Visit the heavily-Yemenite town of Rosh HaAyin – perhaps even volunteer in a school – and wander through the local market where falafel and shwarma take a back seat to malawach and jachnun.  There could even be an opportunity to learn Yemenite Jewish dance.
    • Iraqi Jews: Visit the Babylonian Heritage Center in Or Yehuda and see what might be the 1st book of Ezekiel – written by the prophet himself – in Jerusalem.  A visit to a center run for and by Eastern Jewish women can also possibly be arranged.
    • Indian Jews: From the Museum of Cochin Jewish Heritage to being hosted by a family for a traditional meal, the Indian Jewish community is definitely worth exploring.
    • Tunisian Jews: A visit to the incredible mosaic-laced Tunisian synagogue in Akko is a must.
    • Italian Jews: The Italian Jewish museum in Jerusalem is a small treasure as is the Italian synagogue (still in use) which was brought from Italy to Israel completely intact.
    • Ultra-Orthodox Jews: The Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim is a fascinating step back in time to Eastern Europe of the 18th century.  The multi-faceted Ultra-Orthodox world is a fascinating one to explore, one that will excite all the senses.  As always, there may be an opportunity to meet some of the locals, to learn about the dress and customs and where they came from and visit some great bakeries.

Jew-from-Iran-

An  Iranian Jew at an arts center for the elderly.

  • Kabbalistic Jews: Learn about the real Kabbalah – Jewish mysticism – and how it has affected the lives of all different kinds of people throughout the ages in the holy city of Tzfat.

It could also include visits to quasi-Jewish groups such as the Karites (who reject the Oral Law of the rabbis), Samaritans (who still offer the Passover sacrifice on their holy mountain, Gerizim) and the Black Hebrews of Dimona (African-Americans who believe they are descendents of the tribe of Judah).

There are also wonderful museums dedicated to the global Jewish experience, most notably Bet Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People (formally known as The Diaspora Museum) which includes sections on important historical Jewish communities worldwide, models of synagogues the world over and a Jewish music center as well as several other ethnography museums and exhibits in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Israeli Multiculturalism

While obviously including the Jewish multicultural experience above, Israel has much more to offer those in search of a diverse demographic landscape.  A tour seeking to explore this aspect of Israel could include any of these major groups:

beautiful-Bahai-Gardens--208x198

Visit to the beautiful Bahai Gardens in Haifa.

    • Bahai: A must site for anyone on a tour to Israel is the amazing Bahai Gardens in Haifa – recently recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site along with the Bahai holy sites in Akko.  Spend some time in total serenity and learn about this fascinating religion whose holiest sites are found here in Israel.
    • Bedouin:  From traditional hosting ceremonies and “hafla” meals to camel-riding and camel-shopping, sleeping in tents and desert walks, from heritage centers to meeting families, the traditional Bedouin lifestyle comes to life in Israel.
    • Christians:  Israel has dozens of Christian denominations and of course the main religious sites in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth.  But there are also interesting groups such as the Carmelites and Armenians to visit, desert monasteries and fascinating museums such as one in Jerusalem which shows the fashion of monks throughout the ages and churches.  Enjoy the special architecture of the Ethiopian church in Jerusalem and the Syrian Orthodox church of St. James where the local guide sings for you in her native language of Aramaic (the spoken language at the time of Jesus).
minority-of-4000-people-livingCircassians are a fascinating minority of 4000 people.
  • Circassians: Learn about this interesting group of 4000 people and their struggle to keep their culture alive while in their Diaspora.  From walking tours of the old village alleyways and exploring their heritage centers and interesting dress and martial skills, to viewing their incredible dancing and being hosted at a traditional meal, the Circassians are a fascinating group of people to meet.
  • Druze:  As a local religion – the vast majority of adherents live in Israel, Lebanon and Syria – the Druze may be the most unknown – and secretive – of any of the people in Israel.  From dining and cooking experiences and lectures on culture to overnight stays or even just visiting their colorful markets, the Druze are people you definitely want to get to know.
  • Muslims: The 3rd holiest city in Islam is Jerusalem, which is home to the beautiful Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.  Because non-Muslims are currently not allowed inside those buildings, a visit to Akko’s important Al-Jazzar Mosque could be an opportunity to explore the inside of a Muslim prayer space.  You might also want to include a trip to the former Muslim capital of Ramle.
  • Templers: Not to be confused with the Knights Templars of the Crusades, learn about the rise and fall of this group from Germany – what brought them here in the 1870’s, what they gave to the country and why they do not live here anymore.  A little hint:  It may have to do with the marches of the Hitler Youth in Jerusalem in the 1930’s…

Visits to the Ahmadiyyan center in Haifa, homes of Sufi Muslims in Jerusalem and foreign workers organizations in Tel Aviv can all be arranged as well.

As always, with any of the tours, you can mix and match things that interest you from any of the sites and ideas listed above along with any of the other tours listed on the rest of the site.   Of course, I will always be there to help you put it all together, whatever you desire, into one incredible – and unforgettable – journey.

Read more in depth information about the incredibly diverse people of Israel.

.