Roy and Brenda Tanzman of Long Branch are looking forward to the end of November, when they will be taking part in the Heart and Soul tour to Israel with the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey, but not with the anticipation of first-time travelers.
Ms. Tanzman, co-chair of the upcoming mission, said she had felt that excitement back in 1977, when she made her first trip. Since then, the Tanzmans have visited Israel more than 25 times. And they are not alone. According to the Israel Ministry of Tourism, approximately 45% of those entering the country on tourist visas are returning visitors.
Why do so many keep going back? Why is this country different from all other countries?
One reason might be that tourism in Israel is very different from other popular vacation spots. Only about 25% of those traveling to Israel come to sightsee, which is what is commonly thought of as tourism. Most others come for business and to visit family and friends.
Close to 20% come for religious reasons, according to the Israel Bureau of Statistics. Yet these specific categories, while informative, do not explain what draws close to half of visitors to Israel to come back again and again.
While 75% of tourists to Israel come individually, a trip as part of a tour group can provide experiences that are out of reach of the average individual and are often unable to be repeated.
“When you go with a group like the Federation, you gain entree to some places and to special parts of others that would not otherwise be available,” said Marlene Herman of Edison, co-chair of the mission. Herman pointed out that the tour will certainly cover the high points and that there will even be two buses—a “dual track” based on the differing interests of the group. However, there will be much more emphasis on immersive experiences, such as a food and cooking tour of Mahane Yehuda and an introduction to the high-tech fashion industry.
These are new opportunities that previous travelers will have to return to experience. “Every day, there is something new in Israel,” she said.
“There is always something different to visit,” Tanzman agreed. “The geography—the mountains, the beaches—make you feel as if you were visiting several different places, and it’s changing all the time. If you went a few years ago, you wouldn’t recognize it.”
Seeing, learning and traveling are all part of what people experience on multiple trips to Israel, but what brings them back is the feeling of the special connection between Jews—especially American Jews, who make up the largest percentage of visitors—and Israel.
Herman sees the upcoming trip as an opportunity to strengthen those links, as well as using them to enhance the trip. She cited the example of a rabbi from Highland Park who owns a store in Jerusalem and an occasion on a previous trip where a member of the group was able to meet her Israeli penpal in person for the first time. “We want to make those bonds closer,” she said.
“The feeling you get when you are there is one you get no place else,” said Ms. Tanzman.
“There is more history in Israel than anywhere else in the world, and there is no place like Jerusalem,” her husband said, “but Israel is not static. In Europe, you are seeing the history of what Judaism was. In Israel you see what Judaism is.”
For Herman, too, the feeling is unique. “I just want to get the sand between my toes and smell the air,” she said.
For more information on the Heart and Soul tour, including a detailed itinerary, go to jewishheartnj.org and click on Heart and Soul Journey to Israel.
SUE KLEINBERG is a contributing writer to Jlife Magazine from Monmouth County.