Holy Land Pilgrimage with Gila




Gila's Tips for Tours

Tips for Leading Holy Land Tours from A to Z

Leading a group to the Holy Land for the first time is a life-changing event.  It enables you to build church leadership by spiritual bonding; to educate your Sunday School teachers; to develop an appetite for further Bible study among your congregants; to reach “the seekers” as they travel alongside other believers; and to bond with church members as you all share this deep spiritual adventure.  And the material benefits you receive as a tour leader can allow you to return to the Holy Land on a regular basis.

Below are my A to Z tips for successful tour leading culled from working with hundreds of tour leaders from all denominations over the past thirty years.  Today I have a cadre of dozens of tour leaders with whom I have developed deep friendships as we have experienced the Holy Land together, in abundance and in famine, over ten or even twenty years.  I have guided their parents and their siblings and watched their children grow.

A skilled experienced guide understands your priorities, helps you make the right decisions, keeps your tour on schedule, protects your group and oils the appropriate palms so that your Holy Land tour runs smoothly.  As a result, you enjoy lots of meaningful time at the holy sites.

I invite you to join my growing family circle of tour leaders.

ASK WHEN YOU ARE UNCERTAIN.  If you request me as your guide, I will be very happy to coach you through the entire process of organizing your tour.  I suggest you contact me by email and we can have a lively conversation before you come.  You'll have all the answers to questions your participants are asking.

I get lots of nitty-gritty questions about safety issues, but not only.  I am asked about recommendations of tour agents, wholesalers, hotels, opening times for sites, subjects for devotions, what to bring, electric current, you name it.  When I am not on tour myself, my replies come to you quickly.
BRING YOUR BIBLE WITH YOU ON TOUR.  You never know when you are going to see a coney (that’s a rock rabbit, also called hyrax) and will want to share the reference (Psalm 104:18; Proverbs 30:26).  Or you may see a gorgeous woman bathing on the roof and want to quote Second Samuel 11:2.

Coneys at Ein Gedi

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

"...the rocks are a refuge for the coneys"  Psalm 104:18

CHOOSE YOUR GUIDE WISELY.  Do you want a guide who is enthusiastic, passionate, funny and learned?  Then why don’t you choose me?!!  You may have microphonitis and want to preach and teach at every site.  If so, then you’ll need to request what’s called a “mute guide.”

Tour the Temple Mount in the company of Abraham and Isaac, David and Solomon, Jesus and the disciples, the angel Gabriel and Mohammed.  Meet many other luminaries, both real and legendary.

Gila's Temple Mount tour is now available as a written 24-page PDF with a Temple Mount plan, guidelines for passing the security check and ten recommended reads on the Temple Mount from Gila's bookshelves.

DECIDE YOUR PRIORITIES.  Then communicate them to your travel agent or tour organizer so your itinerary matches your needs and the appropriate arrangements are made.  Is biblical archeology your primary interest?  Worship on site?  Daily mass? Quiet time for your group?  Healing?  Singing?  Shopping?  Hiking?

ESTABLISH SOME RULES, especially about punctuality.  Set a time for participants to be on the bus for departure every morning.  Then pull out.  Be firm.  Remember, if someone on the bus keeps the group waiting for five minutes each time, you may find yourself arriving at the last site every day when the gates are locked.  The sun only stood still for Joshua!

One tour leader quotes Judges 17:6, “There was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”  And then he adds, “And there was total chaos!”
FOLLOW THE GUIDE.  We joke that this is one of the “ten commandments” of tourism.

Always follow the guide!

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Follow the guide, or you may end up in the wilderness for 40 years!

GUARD YOUR HEART ABOVE ALL ELSE, for it is the source of life. (Proverbs 4:23)  Listen to your heart during the pilgrimage.  It will guide you in making decisions and in leading devotions.
HAVE FUN.  Remember, this is your vacation, too.  It’s an opportunity to renew your spiritual batteries, deepen ties with family and friends, and engage in true Christian fellowship.
INSPIRE YOUR PEOPLE.  Especially if this is one of the first tours you are leading, you’ll find it worthwhile to prepare some thoughts in advance so the daily devotional on-site will be meaningful to you and your people.

Renewal of wedding vows in Cana

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Father Phuong conducts a renewal of wedding vows for 16 couples in Cana

JUDGE NOT THAT YE BE NOT JUDGED. (Matthew 7:1)  You will be visiting a country where the majority of residents are members of two other faiths (Judaism and Islam).  Dietary laws (kashrut) will be different from what you are used to.  (For example no milk or cheese is served with meat dishes.)  You may be asked to cover your head, uncover your feet, or be forbidden to laugh, depending upon which religious site you are visiting.  Rubbing elbows with Middle Eastern culture is part of the adventure!
KEEP THE PULSE OF YOUR GROUP IN MIND as you tour.  In terms of scheduling, you may discover one site of high spiritual value where you want to spend more time. Go for it!  When it’s raining you may want to shorten a tour – or when there’s a high energy level to lengthen one.  Flexibility is the key and the itinerary is only the frame of the tour.  Constant communication with your guide is crucial.
LEARN A COUPLE OF HEBREW AND ARABIC EXPRESSIONS like good morning, boker tov (Hebrew) sabah el-hair (Arabic), thank you, todah (Hebrew) shukran (Arabic) and good-bye shalom (Hebrew) ma salamay (Arabic).  You can learn more phrases in Handy Hebrew for PilgrimsNine Gates to the Old City lists the names of all the gates of Jerusalem’s Old City in both Hebrew and Arabic.
MAKE ALLOWANCES FOR CULTURAL NUANCES AND DIVERSITY. Sometimes what you think you see or hear and understand is the polar opposite of what really happened. It’s been said that two Israelis having a normal conversation in Hebrew sounds like five Americans having an argument. Once during a long bus ride when people were dozing, the driver and I had a perfectly ordinary five-minute discussion in Hebrew about an event that had happened the day before. We were animated and waving our hands. (How can you have a real conversation, if you are not gesturing wildly with your arms?)

When we exhausted the topic, we fell silent. Ten minutes later, the tour leader sitting behind me asked, “When are you going to make up?” At first I was clueless. Then seeing my puzzled expression, she said, “You just had an argument and are not talking. When are you going to make up?” The driver and I burst into laughter, and she joined in, when I explained we were just having a normal chat.
NEVER PASS UP A BATHROOM!  This is another of the “ten commandments” of tourism.  I always joke, “You’ll never know whether you’ll see another bathroom till the end of the day!”
ORGANIZE A SONG COMMITTEE and bring songbooks.  Perhaps someone in your church choir will be on your tour who can keep everyone in tune.  I recently had someone on tour from Australia who had composed a song which she sang at the Garden Tomb and moved everyone to tears.  You may have participants who will jump at the opportunity to sing on stage at the theater at Caesarea or Beth Shean.  You may want to include some of the hymns sung on the Via Dolorosa, the approach to Jerusalem, and or even the words to Israeli songs like Hava Nagila.

PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT IS GOING ON in the group.  This will help you and the guide make decisions about adapting your touring day to the particular personality of your group.  In the summer of the millennial year 2,000, I guided four tours, week after week, with the same tour leader, using an identical itinerary.  Members of each group were students in his 7-year course, reading the Bible verse-by-verse from Genesis through Revelation.  Yet each tour was radically different from all the others because the interaction of the different personalities within each group created a unique dynamic.  It was truly amazing.
QUESTION WHAT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE TO YOU.  You are the leader of your flock and if you have questions, perhaps members of your group do as well.  I welcome the maximum amount of communication possible with my tour leader.

READ YOUR ITINERARY CAREFULLY.  Some agents go on automatic pilot when writing and costing your itinerary.  Check to see that the boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, the wilderness safari tour, the “Jesus boat,” Hezekiah’s tunnel, and/or the rabbinical tunnel tour are stated specifically on your brochure.  Else you may find yourself without a reservation and what’s worse, you and your people may have to dish out the cash to cover the entrance fee.

Don't miss the sail on the Sea of Galilee!

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

The boat ride on the Sea of Galilee is a must!

SET AN EXAMPLE in enthusiasm, promptness, courtesy, tolerance.  Your group will follow your lead.

TIP ($$$) GENEROUSLY for services rendered graciously to your group above and beyond.  Hotel porters, reception and dining room staff will expect a gratuity, as will your guide and driver.  Your tour organizer or your guide can advise you about what is customary.  The tour leaders I work with on a regular basis give me their tip envelopes, knowing that the gratuity will reach exactly the right people who provide each service.

My tour leaders have noted the red-carpet welcome my group receives on arrival, and the quick agreement by the head waiter to out-of-the-ordinary early or late breakfasts or dinners for our group.  For example, at Nof Ginosar, by the shores of the Sea of Galilee, hotel staff happily cooperates in facilitating our wine, juice and cheese get-acquainted meetings, our colorful outdoor picnics (organized by the driver and me!) and our spectacular sunrise devotions facing the Sea of Galilee.

UPLIFT YOUR GROUP SPIRIT with song, praise and a word of prayer.

Praying for peace over the "road to Damascus"

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Praying for peace overlooking the "Road to Damascus"

VALUE YOUR DRIVER AS WELL AS YOUR GUIDE, and all others who give you courteous, exceptional service.  Compliment galore!

WARN YOUR GROUP TO CAREFULLY GUARD THEIR WALLETS AND PASSPORTS, particularly in Jerusalem.  Like every major pilgrimage destination in the world, we have a core of talented, professional pickpockets.  Remember Jesus was crucified alongside two thieves. (Matthew 27:38)  Perhaps they had been picking the pockets of trusting pilgrims from Galilee!

XPECT THE IMPROBABLE.  When you travel overseas, there are millions of details that need to jive coherently so that the tour goes smoothly.  A sense of humor, “street smarts” and flexibility will go a long way towards making your pilgrimage a rave success, regardless of unexpected storms, airline delays or lost luggage.

Just as an example, last year on one of my tours, there was a snowstorm in Chicago which caused two women to arrive a day late.  They were childhood best friends and one was just widowed.  Their luggage didn’t arrive with them and by their second day, one set of luggage was still in Chicago.  When I reported the sad news to the participant, she started to cry.  She didn’t even have comfortable walking shoes with her.  And shops were soon going to close for the Sabbath.

When veteran tour leader Dr. Jimmy was apprised of the situation, he immediately organized a shopping expedition for the two women.  We ordered a taxi to meet us at Capernaum to pick up the tour leader and the two women.  While we sailed over to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, they were shopping in the major department store in Tiberias.

While they were buying shoes, Dr. Jimmy snuck over to the lingerie department and bought them both shocking pink tank tops and bikini underwear inscribed “princess.” When they rejoined us for St. Peter’s fish, the two women laughingly showed us Dr. Jimmy’s surprise purchase.  This funny incident picked up their spirits and greatly facilitated their integration into the group.  Their luggage arrived the next evening.

YEARN FOR THE HOLY LAND when you go home.  Remember Psalm 137, “If I forget thee O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning, if I do not put Jerusalem above the highest of my joys.”

ZERO IN ON THE MOST IMPORTANT OBJECTIVES OF YOUR PILGRIMAGE.  Stay focused and your tour will be a life-changing event for you and your people!  And you will be back for more, my friend.

Copyright 2007, 2016 Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed to reprint in any medium.

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More tips for Memorable Holy Land Tours
Holy Land Jargon Temple Mount Tips
Gates of the Old City Hebrew for Pilgrims
Dead Sea Scrolls:  A to Z What to Bring on your Pilgrimage
Walk to the Garden of Gethsemane Mark Twain's Tips for Pilgrims




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