A Customized Israeli Experience

by Alanna Berman | October 2011 | 8 Comments »

By Alanna Berman

Israel tour guide Erez Strasburg likes to say there is “a story behind every door.” In other words, each of the native Israeli’s clients touring his home country has their own personal history and interests that can uniquely shape their travel experience. For Strasburg, learning about his clients’ passions and interests is as important to his business as a map.

Personal tourism, as Strasburg calls it, intertwines the major historical and cultural landmarks common on any Israel tour with stops at sites that speak to his clients’ interests. So although he always incorporates places like Masada, Jerusalem and the Dead Sea into his clients’ itineraries, he likes to make sure they don’t experience a “cookie cutter” vacation.

“Getting to know Israel outside of the mainstream tours and fostering that personal connection to Israel is what brought me to personal tourism,” he says.

San Diegans may remember Strasburg as the Jewish Federation of San Diego County’s shaliach from 2002-05, during which time he began thinking about personalized tours of his home country as a way to bridge the gap between Jews of the Diaspora and those of Israel, he says.

“In America, they study the history of Israel according to the wars,” he explains. “[When you ask someone] about the history of Israel, the answer is 1948, or 1967 or 1982. I want to show the real Israel, through a person’s passions and what they are interested in. By connecting people to their history [here], and showing them how they are connected to Israel today, it bridges the gap [between us].”

While that task may seem daunting, considering the many different personalities and interests Strasburg inherently encounters in his clients, he says he calls upon his skills as an interviewer to really get to know someone before their arrival in Israel.

“In any business, you really need to know your customers,” he says, “but in my case, I need to listen to people to find the Israel that is in their heart. I call the customers and stay on the phone for a long time before I really understand who they are, what their history is and what their passion is.”

He then gets to work planning day trips and outings for tour groups, and no two tours are ever the same. From private culinary experiences in locals’ homes and yoga in the desert to photography excursions and bar mitzvah groups, Strasburg specializes in matching his clients’ itineraries to their unique interests.

“The thing I love the most is taking bar mitzvah groups on tours, because there is so much heritage in the ritual itself, and I really learn the story of the family,” he says, “[While] I can match any group’s interest, you really have to be creative sometimes, and that is one of the strengths I have as a tour guide.”

No group is too large or too small for a personal tour of Israel, and Strasburg welcomes all ages and interests. While Strasburg says he invests a lot of time and research into his clients’ tours, he also employs other tour guides whose expertise differs from his own to be sure he can give all visitors to Israel the most  customized experience possible.

“The best way for tourists to understand, connect and enjoy Israel is by immersing themselves in the culture,” he says, “and what better way to do that than with Israelis that share similar interests. By connecting one on one with Israelis, by going to a private home…or off the beaten path, visitors can find connections that they otherwise wouldn’t have, and in this way, we continue to build bridges between people and places.”

 

Erez Strasburg, Tour Guide

Personal Tourism

www.personaltourism.com

erez@paragon-conventions.com

erezstrasburg@gmail.com

972-54-256-6877

8 Comments to “A Customized Israeli Experience”

  1. Ori says:

    Erez planned a wonderful day in Jerusalem for our family with two young children. Before we even left the States he sent us a scavenger hunt so we could prepare the children. He then weaved in the theme of freedom to the entire day (it was Passover) and used the scavenger hunt to introduce the city to the kids. Upon our return, he sent the kids a YouTube video capturing our day. In addition, he served as a resource for other ideas of things we might do on our visit. He is extremely nice, knowledgeable and thoughtful, and we would highly recommend him!

  2. Ann Jaffe says:

    Erez created a perfect trip for my two daughters and myself. One daughter was in Israel doing a gap year program, the other could not remember her earlier trip. We needed to do both the typical and the unusual. From the Blind museum, special underground walking tour, music he had us listen to on Masada, the cooking class and special Moroccan Party only touch on the memories created that will last us a lifetime, although I plan on asking him to help us again this spring. he understood what each of us wanted and blended the trips activities so we were all more then content! Looking forward to working with Erez again! Thank you!

  3. Bruce Cohen says:

    The title of this piece “Customized Israeli Experience” is perfect for my experience with Erez. I went on a fabulous 3 generation trip to Israel, which included my parents and my sons. Erez was able to find interesting creative things for all 3 generations to do at each point of the trip. I recommend him for anybody looking for a guide in Israel. His ability to have people ranging in age from 20-80 all enjoy themselves was very impressive!

  4. Craig Lambert says:

    Erez was our guide for a very special part of our trip to Israel. I told Erez that we were looking for something off the beaten path and a bit unusual. Erez had recommended a place in Israel called Mitza Ramon. I had met Erez years before when he was the Shaliach for the United Jewish Federation in San Diego California. On our way down to the crater we would make a surprise stop at town off the beaten path where Erez had heard of about a Bedouin women starting a new business enterprise in the middle of a Bedouin community in the Negev desert. The owner Marion was away, but we are able to meet with her sister Amna. Amna was dressed in traditional Berker clothing. The owner, Miriam, is 39 years old and has learned from her grandmother how to create oils and creams from flowers and plants in the desert. Miriam’s story is unusual in that it is very rare and even dangerous for a Arab Bedouin woman, to own their own business. For doing so she has been ostracized for community. However, after some time her family sees that she is making money and are now starting to come around and be more supportive. Miriam has created a number of products which she sells called Miriam of the Desert. She sells by word-of-mouth but would like to expand. She has created skin creams and ointments for all clients of ailments and skin problems. Amna shows us around the garden which is used as Miriam’s testing ground. For the products themselves she often goes to the desert and picks wildflowers. Miriam has studied in England where she learned about organic growing. We then go into a traditional Bedouin tent with the products lined up neatly on shelves. Amna talks about each of the products. After purchasing many of her products Jan offered to try to help connect her with an organization that may help Middle Eastern women trying to start businesses. After a fascinating meeting we get into the car and head off for a next surprise

    Our next stop was a small goat ranch also in the middle of the Negev desert. Erez explained to us that Chavat Coranmal is a ranch that is part of a new Israeli entrepreneur movement. Families are moving to the desert and try and to create something on their own in the desert. This is in contradiction to the community efforts that have been made in the past. Prior to now it was impossible to make it in the desert on your own without the support of an entire community. As we walk around the ranch we are surprised to find a very clean wonderful store filled with all types of code cheeses to choose from and a wonderful café restaurant where we are able to sit down and have lunch. We had a delicious and lovely lunch overlooking the desert sitting on blankets and pillows outside looking off to the mountains.

    From here we head over to the Negev community of Sde Boker. This community has grown up into a real community with a community center that includes a bike shop, coffee shop and a variety of artisans in an industrial park. There is even a new 5 star hotel springing up which will certainly draw business and more people to the desert. Erez feels this could be the next Sedona.

    For our next surprise, Erez brings us to a small winery. Again this is part of a new movement of entrepreneurs in Israel trying to make it alone in the Negev. The winery, called the Vingard of Ovat produces between 5 to 8000 cases per year. It is amazing to see so many grapevines being grown in this area. Yale and his wife are the owners and live here with their children and a couple of workers who help with the winery. They started the winery in 2002. Halel is one of the workers and she shows us around. She takes us where the wine is being made and we have a nice wine tasting among ourselves. The wine is amazingly good. Halel then takes us to their store buy some wine. There are Cabernets, Merlots and Rosé’s to choose from. We buy 3 bottles of wine and then take a walk around the property. There are also 2 lovely guest houses. The guest houses are fully furnished and the property is filled with wild flowers and fruit trees.
    Our next stop is the town of Mitzvah Ramon. We stopped for an hour to see the burial site of Ben Gurion and walk around the perimeter of the crater. It’s a very romantic spot in Jan and I have a seat on a swing overlooking the crater. We then head down into the crater to the Bedouin tent where we we will stay for the evening. We are greeted by Suliman who brings us traditional Bedouin tea and then serves us a lovely dinner. We sit in the Bedouin tent and eat large pieces of pita bread with 7 different salads. We open up a bottle of wine that we purchased this afternoon from the winery. Afterwards Jan and I retire to our Bedouin tent. We are awakened by the flapping of our tent from the wind and again later from the barking of dogs chasing away the coyotes. We awake the next morning ready for a 6-hour trek into the crater itself. We feel so fortunate to have Erez as our guide. He is very familiar with this area and takes us to parts of the desert that we would never have ventured to by ourselves.

    By this time it had become very clear that Erez had really personalized this trip specifically for us based on what we’ve asked for and what we told him about ourselves. We packed our water, our lunch consisting of bread, goat cheese and honey and off we go. We spend the next 5 hours hiking the Mt Ardon Trail. Jan is busy taking photos of the desert flowers including Smelly Star, a Couple Bush, a Forever Forever plant, a Pagona and a Chumaa. Erez is an encyclopedia of knowledge. He seems to know about all the plants, bushes and the history of this area. One unexpected exciting and frightening moment came when Erez came very close to stepping on a viper. It’s a good thing he was paying attention. We see some very large tracts and assume it’s a gazelle. The desert is amazingly beautiful and quiet. Once on top of the mountain we stopped for lunch and I spontaneously decided to do some yoga. After 5 exhilarating yet exhausting hours we head back down a challenging trail return back to our vehicle and head off for the Adi Center in Beersheva to see a social service program Ashalim. We combine our vacation with some educational work to understand this program for wayward teenage girls. We meet with Maya of JDC international, Dovrat , the program manager, Ashelan also with JDC, Arigar and Peri both social workers. They tell us about many of their programs developed for teenage girls at risk. The program is funded by the government of Israel and the JDC. The goal is to improve the lives of teenage girls exposed to risk and promote their ability to prosper and flourish. One of their programs called Girls on the Map helps to raise awareness about Israeli girls in distress and ensure a range of programs that adequately respond to their needs and address different aspects of their lives. The center we are in works with high risk girls such as those living on the streets, using drugs and involved in risky relationships. There are many wonderful social service programs here in Israel. This one serves a very important purpose.
    Erez, all we can say is thank you and we would recommend you to anyone.

  5. Tova Saul says:

    I have seen Erez in action and he is definitely one of the best guides in Israel, and everything written in this article is true. He is also a sincere, unpretentious, and kind person.

  6. Lynn Norton Robins says:

    What a lovely piece wrtten about my good friend Erez Strasburg. If he seems more amazing than humanly possible–it is becasue he is all that and more. His tireless energy and personal need to find the right fit for you and your fellow travelers to Israel goes unmatched. I have recomended Erez to many varied groups and individuals since meeting him in Decemebr of 2005 when he was the life saving tour guide for our daughter’s bat mitzvah trip–with 40 family members and friends! Some first-timers to Israel, and some repeat visitors–not to mention the various ages of childeren to adults (9 to 79). If that was not a survival “test” I’m not sure what is!
    I appreciate the good friend he has since become. A few years later Erez hosted my daughter and friends for a shabbat while she attended a 4 month long high school program in Israel. I believe he gets particular satifaction helping recent college graduates find a place to gain some work experince in Israel in thier particular field of interest, yet I know he has often made the “Israel experience” life changing for his guests, and always provided the best memories for story telling that will last lifetimes. Erez is one of Israel best kept secrets–that is until now!

  7. Lior says:

    Hello Erez,
    You are more than welcome to send me your business card
    so I can add you to the new list of professional Israeli travel guides
    at IsraelTravelMagazine.com (still under construction..)
    Cheers

Leave a Comment