Whether it’s a visit to the Holy Land or a trip to Judaism landmarks in Europe, a Jewish group tour can be an unforgettable opportunity. Over 3,000 years of history span the globe and can be accessed by a savvy tour leader who knows the specific challenges of Jewish travel. We’ve compiled this comprehensive guide to Jewish vacation sites, tour operators and kosher restrictions to make your spiritual journey worry-free.
One of the holiest cities on Earth, Jerusalem receives millions of Jewish, Christian and Muslim visitors every year to worship and visit numerous spiritual sites. Groups most frequently visit the Temple Mount (site of two Holy Temples of Judea and Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac), the Kotel (also known as the Wailing Wall and the last remaining portion of the fallen Jewish Temple) and the Tower of David Museum (which includes Jaffa Gate and the entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City). Groups will also want to explore the Jewish Quarter, which includes the rebuilt Hurva Synagogue, the Cardo Market and the Kotel Tunnels. For a more contemporary vacation experience, consider the city of Tel Aviv. This cosmopolitan Mediterranean technology hub boasts beaches, exotic markets and cuisine that integrates all four of Israel’s climate zones. The country also contains several stunning natural wonders, including the Jordan Valley, Gan HaSholsha and Arbel national parks.
New York City
Home to the largest Jewish population after Tel Aviv, New York has thriving Hebrew-speaking communities in all five boroughs to explore in addition to its world-class cultural attractions. Eastern European Jewish immigrants clustered in Manhattan’s Lower East Side during the late 19th century, and the neighborhood now has the highest concentration of Jewish landmarks in the city. A walking tour will take your group past the Angel Orensanz Center (the fourth-oldest synagogue in the United States), through the Henry Street Settlement (a Greek Revival community center once owned by famous businessman Jacob Schiff) and into Katz’s Delicatessen, where you can sample the famous pastrami sandwich. Cross the East River to enter Brooklyn, where over 600,000 Orthodox and Hasidic Jews live in the Williamsburg, Flatbush and Borough Park neighborhoods. Travel companies such as Viator offer walking tours of Williamsburg shops, eateries, synagogues and yeshivas, and your group will learn about the Hasidic sect of Satmar.
Before the population was expelled by the Spanish Inquisition in 1492, Portugal was the peak of European Jewish culture. The mixture of Muslim and Jewish cultures on the Iberian Peninsula led to a golden age in art, architecture and literature, and that legacy remains in the Portuguese metropolis of Lisbon. The port city will take days to fully explore, as numerous Jewish historic sights are mixed with the city’s famous plazas and beaches. Enjoy traditional fado music in the Alfama neighborhood and learn of great Portuguese naval victories at Belém Tower. A popular stop for Jewish tours is Shaare Tikva Synagogue, a neo-Byzantine architectural wonder that announced the return of Jews to Lisbon after centuries of persecution.
This small Eastern European nation is filled with Jewish heritage, and its culture is a fascinating blend of Russian, Romanian and Turkish influences. The capital city of Chisinau was a thriving Jewish center in the 18th and 19th centuries, and many landmarks remain for your group to explore. Start at the Synagogue of the Glaziers, which includes centuries-old documents and artifacts from the Kishinev pogrom, an anti-Semitic riot that forced many Jewish Chisinau residents to flee. Other stops in the capital include the Choral Synagogue (an acoustically perfect space now converted into a theater) and the Monument to the Victims of the Kishinev Ghetto.
Germany holds painful memories for the Jewish people, but today the country welcomes travelers of all faiths. A comprehensive tour of Deutschland requires stops in Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin as well as the provincial villages that give the country its charm. Of special interest for Jewish groups is the Bavaria region, where you can tour the preserved medieval city of Rothenburg. Cottages and central squares remain as they did in 1390, and you can walk in the footsteps of famous scholar Rabbi Meir. Nearby is hilly Augsburg, home of the Augsburg Art Noveau Synagogue and Mietek Pemper, a clerk and original compiler of Oskar Schindler’s famous list. If your group wishes to visit Holocaust sites, guided tours are offered for the Dachau Concentration Camp near Munich. Another popular site is Nuremberg, where Nazi officers were put on trial in 1946 for the horrors of the Holocaust. Your group can step into the famous Courtroom 600 and visit the Documentation Center, which holds transcripts for the entire trial.
Jewish Tour Operators
Jewish Travel Agency
This Jewish-owned and- operated company specializes in customized Jewish itineraries across the globe. Whether you are secular or Orthodox, the organization researches travel schedules and dining options to account for kosher and Sabbath restrictions. Whether you choose to drift down the Li River in China or explore the catacombs of Malta, you’ll find Jewish heritage worldwide with the agency’s assistance.
This operator specializes in bar and bat mitzvah tours and youth programs that engage younger travelers with their Jewish heritage. These trips allow school-aged children to tour not only famous locations like the Dead Sea, Yad Vashem and Jerusalem’s Old City, they also educate travelers about the region’s immigration policy, developing tech industry and climate change. Travelers of all ages can try a mission Federation Tour, which tailors visits around a specific charity or service organization.
Shalom Israel Tours
This family-owned company is based in Israel and has a wide selection of escorted tours throughout the Holy Land. Hotels, dining and transportation options are accounted for as your group travels to the ancient red sandstone city of Petra, the port city of Eilat and the wineries of Golan Heights.
Offering Jewish heritage trips in Warsaw, Budapest, Israel and beyond, this tour organization supplies each travel group with a qualified tour guide. Guiding your walks through the Jewish high streets in Poland and the ancient cities of Judea, these friendly educators are well-versed in the local language and Jewish history of the area, giving you a truly immersive experience. ARZA also offers the “Ecology & Nature Israel Tour,” which includes a visit to the Dead Sea and the booming solar power business in southern Israel.
Kosher Advice for Jewish Travelers
Keeping kosher may be a challenge during travel depending on what your group observes. Airports and local restaurants may not prepare food appropriately, and rural areas have limited cuisine options. Before your trip, research grocery store chains or markets that can provide proper food and preparation for a large party. Orthodox grocery stores such as Osher Ad in Israel and Rockland in the United States stock approved products, but groups visiting Asia and South America will find fewer options. Luckily, several producers have recognized this market and have created portable meals and snacks that follow kosher guidelines. Amazing Meals and La’Briute provide non-perishable, self-heating meals, while Joburg Kosher offers biltong—an unprocessed beef jerky perfect for snacking.
2017 Jewish Holiday Travel Dates
Shavuot: May 31-June 1, 2017
Rosh Hashanah: September 20-22, 2017
Yom Kippur: September 30, 2017
Sukkot: October 4-October 11, 2017
Chanukah: December 12-20, 2017
Passover: March 30-April 7, 2018