New and Exciting Jewish Heritage Tours With Gil Travel – Interview with Iris Hami CEO of Gil Travel Group

By  //  August 6, 2023

Jewish heritage tours today extend far beyond Israel. Nearly every corner of the world has had its share of the Jewish diaspora, and the stories and locations are as diverse as the Jewish world.

We spoke with Iris Hami, CEO of Gil Travel to learn more about Jewish heritage tours and all of the places she’s sending clients to–from Istanbul to Morocco, the list might surprise you!

Istanbul has a rich Jewish history. How does Gil Travel capture this in its Jewish heritage tour in Istanbul? Could you describe some of the highlights of this tour? 

We do everything we can to immerse ourselves and our travelers in Istanbul’s Jewish history.

One of the first things we do so that we can gain context about the history of the community is to visit the Jewish Museum housed in the Zulfaris Synagogue. The museum commemorates the migration of Jews from Spain & Portugal during the Inquisition in 1492. 

After the museum, we drive along the shores of the Golden Horn and visit the Ahrida Synagogue and the Neve Shalom Synagogue in the oldest Jewish neighborhood, Galata. 

We end our day on a short boat ride to the Kuzguncuk Synagogue and its cemetery.

Your agency offers Jewish heritage tours across Europe. What are some of the must-see places or experiences you recommend for someone interested in European Jewish history and culture? 

Jewish history in Europe is long, at times complicated, and at other times beautiful. 

We try to encapsulate that in our trips. The experiences range from learning about the Golem of Prague as you walk through the streets of the old Jewish quarter, to saying kaddish at Track 17 in Berlin, to paying homage to the victims of the Shoah in Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland and experiencing Jewish Renewal in Budapest at the Israel Cultural Center. 

Our Jewish heritage tours are as complex and varied as the Jewish story!

Eastern Europe holds a significant place in Jewish history. How do your Jewish heritage tours to Eastern Europe educate travelers about this history and its impact on the Jewish community? 

At the end of the day, tours with Gil Travel are about people.

We often travel with a scholar in residence who contextualizes the visits from a historical perspective.  We also meet with members of the local Jewish community who share their reality with our groups.

What are some challenges and rewarding aspects of organizing Jewish heritage tours across such diverse locations in Europe, from Istanbul to Eastern Europe?

The most obvious challenges are language, planning logistics for a group, and learning the different customs and traditions in the different countries. 

But it’s all worth the reward of helping to preserve the history and culture of the Jewish people. 

We can really impact how people view their heritage and where they come from. Travel is a powerful experience that connects people with their past while creating shared memories and the opportunity to bring people together and create a sense of community.

Morocco is a destination that might not immediately come to mind when one thinks of Jewish history. Could you shed some light on the Jewish heritage tours in Morocco offered by Gil Travel and what clients can expect from them?

Morocco boasts a long and rich history of Arab- Jewish coexistence. At the community’s peak, over 250,000 Jews lived in Morocco but today, only about 3,000 Jews remain, primarily in Casablanca. 

On Gil trips to Morocco, travelers have the opportunity to explore the Melach (the old Jewish Quarters), the synagogues, and the cemeteries. We meet with members of the local Jewish communities, we learn how to make (kosher) Moroccan cuisine and we visit with the last Jewish family living in the Medinah (old City) in Marrakech.

Interested in a Jewish heritage tour to one of the many unique destinations Gil Travel goes to? Contact them today.