Eli Varenberg is a Jerusalem-based licensed Israeli tour guide and researcher of Jewish History and Jewish Studies. Shortly after completing his Master’s degree in Modern Jewish History at Yeshiva University, he made Aliyah and moved to Jerusalem in July 2007.Inspired by the uniqueness of the land of Israel and Israeli society, he enrolled in a tour guide course and obtained his license from the Israeli Ministry of Tourism in September 2013.Eli believes that Jewish and Israeli Art plays a significant role in answering the following multifaceted question: What does it means to be Israeli?
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York to Israeli parents. For as long as I could remember, I was always curious to explore the world. And living a couple of minutes from the “F” train, I slowly discovered the New York City subway system would at least help me discover the “world” of New York City.
After graduating from Fairleigh Dickinson University with a BA in Communications, I took a semi-spontaneous 5-week trip to Israel in August of 2002. The trip was life-changing in many ways, as it allowed me as an adult to discover the fascinating landscapes of Israel, reconnect with several Israeli relatives, and redefine my relationship towards Israel.After returning from Israel, I worked for a non-profit organization, where I mainly researched matters relating to journalism ethics or perhaps more accurately the lack of ethics amongst certain journalists and media outlets.
Having become disillusioned with Journalism, in 2005 I decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Modern Jewish History at Yeshiva University. I had started by focusing on American Jewish History and soon found myself exploring American Jewish attitudes towards Zionism and Israel. During my studies, I was also working at the Yeshiva University Archives and found myself studying Zionism more in-depth and examining its relationship to general Jewish History. Simultaneously I was increasingly drawn towards moving to Israel and 6 weeks after completing my Master’s degree, I was on a July 9, Nefesh B’Nefesh-sponsored flight to Israel.
What inspired you to start your business?
My first few years in Israel were challenging. I was working in unfulfilling positions and my health had also started to deteriorate. While overcoming health challenges, which involved recovering from major surgery, I asked myself, “What do I really want to do with my life?” I decided that I wanted to be more connected to people and to share my love for Israel. That led me to study to become a tour guide, with the hopes of being able to apply my background in Jewish History and demonstrate to tourists how Jewish History influenced and relates to modern-day Israel.
What do you love the most about your job?
I love the fact that no two days on the job are the same due to my interaction with tourists. Each tourist brings with them their own unique attitudes or perceptions towards Israel. Via questions and dialogue, both the tour guide and tourist are able to examine and perhaps learn new things from various perspectives.
What are some of the biggest challenges in your line of work?
The biggest challenges are the unpredictable factors that may cause people to stay away from/ or cancel trips to Israel, including first and foremost, the security situation. The mere threat of increased violence, such as was anticipated, but never materialized, following U.S. President Trump’s decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, resulted in several cancellations. The fluctuating exchange rate and unexpected personal circumstances have also resulted in multiple cancellations.
What is your favourite place to visit in Israel?
The Old City of Jerusalem, and the Jewish Quarter in particular as it allows a visitor to experience and literally access thousands of years of World and Jewish History.
Do you offer tailored tours?
Yes, I mainly guide customized-tours for independent travelers and families based on their interests, preferences, and timetables. I work together with clients to create an itinerary that suits their needs.
Can you tell us a little bit about the first tour you have guided?
The first tour I guided was of the Old City of Jerusalem for an American Christian couple in their mid-20s, who were visiting Israel for the first time. The tour focused mainly on the stations of the Via Dolorosa and the Western Wall. I remember them being surprised by the proximity of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim holy places and their ability to access places they had heard about in church.
What advice would you give an aspiring tour guide?
Make sure you are passionate about guiding and be aware of the amount of actual research and preparation that goes into creating a successful tour. Furthermore, the role of listening to tourists’ questions and concerns can not be underestimated in order to provide them with a memorable experience.
What are your wishes for the future?
I hope to be able to guide a greater amount of visitors to Israel and accurately convey to them the complex and fascinating nature of the land of Israel and Israeli society.
Where can we find out more about your business and how can we book you?