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Discover 2020: Bringing Israel to the People and Turning Challenges into Opportunities

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As the tourism industry came to a halt, it was time for Discover – StandWithUs’s strategic tourism department to rediscover itself, shifting to the digital world to bring Israel to the people

By JOSH HENDERSON

Few industries have felt the impact of the pandemic like the tourism industry. With flights grounded and tour groups canceled, tour guides, tourism companies and the whole industry has been paralyzed – worldwide! 

This left Discover, the StandWithUs strategic tourism department, with a tremendous challenge: “How do we continue educating people about Israel without participants physically being here? Can we continue offering an authentic perspective and understanding of Israel’s ancient connection to the Jewish People and its modern-day issues and successes when they are so distant?” 

Standing at the end of this difficult year, the Discover team is proud to answer: 

“Yes, we can.” 

As the world shifted to a virtual digital world, Discover said they “understood we had to jump on the digital bandwagon as well, creating ‘Jerusalem LIVE’.” 

“This special program broadcasts in real-time and on-site harnessing a blend of history, storytelling, and trivia, to deliver an engaging Israel experience to private groups from all around the globe,” the teams Yoni Zierler and Josh Henderson explained to IsraelNewsStand.

Over the past year, the Jerusalem LIVE program digitally hosted participants from around the world. We took them on interactive real-time tours at some of Jerusalem’s most famous sites including the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, the historic Mishkenot Sha’ananim and Nachlaot neighborhoods, and even along the security barrier in Gilo.

“To date, we have guided nearly 3,000 participants, from diverse synagogues, schools and communities across the world through the historic city of Jerusalem, and revolutionized the way in which people learn about Israel from afar,” they said. 

Featured Image: Yoni Zierler, Director of Discover and master tour guide together with cameraman and colleague Josh Henderson in the heart of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City during a broadcast to the United Kingdom.
Above Image: Yoni Zierler guiding in the Cardo in Jerusalem’s Old City. (Credit: Courtesy)

Overwhelmed with feedback, Executive Director of the Baltimore Zionist District Caren Leven, was just one of many to express how this tour was “truly one of a kind.” 

“Our organization has been running many virtual tours over the past few months,” she explained. “However, the LIVE streaming was a unique experience and really enabled our members and community to feel as though we were walking the streets of Jerusalem and for a moment standing and praying at the Western Wall. Thank You StandWithUs!” 

For Patti Ray from Loyola University Chicago, the beautiful singing by Zierler at the Western Wall was a special and unexpected addition. 

“I did not expect to be standing [digitally] at the Western Wall with tears in my eyes listening to the guide sing Hatikvah,” she said, adding that she actually stood up when the tour arrived at the holy site. “I did not expect that we all would feel like we were walking in the alleys of the Jewish Quarter.” 

She stressed that she didn’t realize that “just seeing the people ‘living their lives’ in Jerusalem’s Old City would be so powerful for everyone on the Tour”.

Adding to this, Rabbi Lister of the Edgware United Synagogue in London said that he thought “it was a magnificent event.”

Praising the Discover teams guiding skills, Lister said that having “a passionate articulate and well-informed guide who understood his audience and conveyed the narrative of Jerusalem with clarity, with warmth and in an absorbing way” made the experience extra special. 

“It really helped to actually see the places he was talking about and it made it all feel so alive especially to see people walking around getting on with their lives,” he said. “I thought it was a fantastic format and it deserves to do really well. I was riveted from start to finish and could have easily listened for another hour.”

Although 2020 hasn’t been the year they expected, Zierler and Henderson said they are grateful and proud to have continued in their mission to bring Israel to the people. 

“As we enter into 2021, we share in the hope we will see a revival in travel and tourism to the Holy Land,” they said, concluding that “whatever the next year has in store, we can proudly say that we will continue to educate and inspire about Israel – whether online or face-to-face!”

*For further information or for bookings of our Jerusalem LIVE tours click here.*

( https://www.standwithus.com/discovertours )

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