Visiting Israel on a virtual tour
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Visiting Israel on a virtual tour

With Israeli tourism grounded by COVID-19, JNF is offering an online alternative for Australians and has enlisted the services of a veteran tour guide.

Photo: Hadas Parush/Flash90
Photo: Hadas Parush/Flash90

FOR many years Israeli guide Zeev Kedem has led JNF tours around Israel, but this year’s planned missions have been put on hold due to COVID-19.

So JNF Australia decided to hold virtual JNF Missions, bringing the attractions and people of Israel into lounge rooms around Australia via Zoom, and turned to Kedem to take the reins as the tour guide.

The inaugural virtual JNF Mission involved more than 60 households from Victoria, NSW, Queensland and WA and began on June 21 with the first of four weekly tours taking participants across all parts of Israel, ranging from former prime minister David Ben-Gurion’s Negev home and burial site in Sde Boker to the Anzac Memorial Centre which was inaugurated in 2017 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Anzac conquest of Beersheva.

The final leg of the Zoom tour is on July 12, with a second four-week virtual JNF Mission starting on July 19.

Tour guide Zeev Kedem (left) with kibbutznik Ronen at Kibbutz Kishorit.

Kedem, 68, has been a certified guide with Israel’s Ministry of Tourism since 1973 and has worked with JNF for more than 30 years in administrative roles as well as a guide.

“My work with the JNF took me to places which most Israelis and tourists do not know, and this makes JNF tours very special,” he said by phone from his home in Netanya, 30 kilometres north of Tel Aviv.

“The tours are a combination of the normal tourist sites, unusual attractions and meeting Israelis. There is so much to see, regardless of which part of Israel you visit, and so many wonderful people to meet. It’s important for me to share the knowledge I have acquired over a lifetime.”

Kedem said he liked to plan tours that interest regular visitors as well as first-time tourists.

“I have a group of Israeli friends and for the past 20 years I have been taking them to different places, and we never travel to the same place twice. And we have a way to go as there is so much to see in our small country.”

Although Kedem retired from full-time work with the JNF a few years ago, he likes to keep himself active by leading tours, although the current global crisis due to COVID-19 has put a halt to tourism.

“It’s very sad for those working in the tourism industry who are really suffering,” he said.

The Hula Valley in the Upper Galilee is famous for its spectacular birdlife and is one of the Israeli attractions on the virtual JNF Mission. Photo: AJN file/Emmanuel Santos

Kedem was born in Israel and graduated from university with degrees in Jewish history and Israeli education. In 1971 he joined the IDF and served in an elite combat unit until he suffered a back injury.

“I spent two months in hospital, but was lucky not to come out paralysed,” he said.

“I recovered but was told that I could not remain in the army and could choose to work as a guide. At first I led military tours and in 1973 became a certified guide.”

After leaving the army Kedem spent three years as a manager of a community centre, then worked as the director of a cultural centre in the Galilee and also worked in the United States as an emissary before he joined the JNF in Israel.

“The JNF is involved in so many areas in Israel – you find its footsteps in so many projects, so that makes it easy when you plan a JNF tour.”

Kedem said there were many Australians who made return visits on the JNF Missions.

“Even people who have visited before will see something new every time – that’s what is unique with Israel. And most importantly, we like visitors to meet the people of Israel.”

For more information about the virtual JNF Missions, visit jnf.org.au/tour.

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