Special thanks to Shulie Mishkin, professional tour guide, for her assistance in preparing this article.
The age-old adage says to choose a career that you love and make your current hobby into your vocation. For many Olim, this advice clearly refers to the field of tour guiding. Few professions express a love of Israel as much as guiding. Providing an opportunity for enthusiasts to study every inch of the land and delve into Israel’s rich history and archaeology, the tour guiding field is a natural magnet for people who are seeking employment that expresses their passions and interests.
A variety of training courses are available throughout Israel. One option is:
Subsidies for New Olim:
The Misrad Haklitah Voucher Program benefit can be applied for partial tuition reimbursement for certified tour guiding training courses. Click here for further information about the Voucher Program.
You are likely to gain more from these courses if you have a background in Tanakh, Hebrew, and Jewish history. While the required material will all be reviewed during the course itself, a background in these subjects makes it easier to absorb the number of texts and variety of subjects that are covered.
The courses usually cover geography, geology, geomorphology, from pre-history through the various bronze ages, iron age, early Israel period through to destruction of 1st Temple (with visits to sites), Judaism, Hellenistic and Roman period, destruction of 2nd Temple, Christianity, Byzantine and Persian period, Islam, Umayyad, Ayubid, Fatimid, Crusader, Mamluke, Ottoman periods, rise of Zionism, British mandate, State of Israel and its wars and current affairs.
All Israeli tour guides are required to pass a licensing exam written and approved by Misrad HaTayarut (the Ministry of Tourism). The exam is offered at set times throughout the year and can be taken either in English or in Hebrew. Click here (Hebrew only) for more information.
Speaking Hebrew is critical to the tour-guiding business. As a new guide, you will want to broaden your potential client base as much as possible, and excluding Hebrew speakers from the pool of relevant tourists makes it harder to gain the necessary work experience and build up a solid reputation.
Even if you decide to limit yourself to English language tours, you will need to speak Hebrew to the Israelis that you interact with in the course of most tours, including bus drivers, waiters at restaurants, museum staff, and rangers at national parks.
Finding a Job
Finding Your First Job
When you first start working as a tour guide, it may be worthwhile looking for a job in one of the big tour companies, or joining an educational tour group (like Ramah). These places provide some on-the-job training, providing you with an itinerary and giving you an idea of what material to teach.
It is worthwhile advertising your services in your former community or synagogue in North America or the UK, where your name is known and you can attract business from former neighbors who are visiting Israel.
The following website lists jobs available for tour guides: http://tour-guides.co.il.
Working as a Freelancer
Most experienced tour guides work independently since the rate of pay is higher. However, when you first start to work independently you will need to drum up your own business. There is a network of tour guides who refer work to each other, which helps newcomers find jobs. In addition, you can market yourself by advertising on local email lists, writing columns in local newspapers and magazines, and organizing tour groups through your community’s social centers. Keep in mind, however, that it usually takes several years to build up your reputation to a point where people have already heard about you, and contact you directly.
Tour guides have a tremendous amount of flexibility and can work part-time or full-time, depending on their personal financial needs. However, the job does require a total commitment: While you are leading a tour group, you may be sleeping away from home and “on call” for the entire time. This can be very intense, but an advantage of the system is that after a long period of guiding, you have the option of giving yourself some well-deserved time off.
When planning your guiding schedule, keep in mind that the “downtime” between guiding jobs is not really free time. In the days or weeks before you meet a group, you will need to prepare the logistics of the tour, make phone calls, make reservations, do “reconnaissance” prior to the actual trip, and review the relevant background material.
Developing a Stable Income
The demand for tour guides in Israel varies tremendously, following the dramatic ups and downs of Israel’s political situation. In turbulent times, foreign tourists usually cancel their vacations to Israel, and Israeli tourists tend to stay at home. If it is important for you to have a stable income, it is recommended that you combine part-time tour guiding with a second, more reliable profession such as tutoring, teaching, or working in the business sector.
Part-Time Work for Students
Students who are looking for part-time income and who are not interested in doing the full tour guiding course can become trained at particular museums or sites, such as the Migdal David Museum or Ir David (in Jerusalem).
Thanks to Chaim Friedman for participating in this interview.
Please provide us with a brief description of your field.
Providing customized touring services to individuals, families, and groups, to all parts of Israel.
What is your current position?
Licensed Israeli Tour guide (English / Hebrew) with 5 years of full-time experience.
How did you find your job?
This is my dream job. I previously worked for 25 years in computer-related fields, both here and in the US, but my bookshelves at home were always full of Israeli tour-related books. When the opportunity arose to make it my career, I jumped at it. And now I am a self-employed tour guide.
What types of backgrounds are relevant for someone looking to become a Tour Guide?
Love of Eretz Yisrael, its history, geography, nature. Ability to communicate and connect with all types of people, in all age brackets.
What education and experience should an Oleh looking to go into Tour Guiding come with?
The “bible” of an Israeli tour guide is the “Tanach”. A good tour guide should be able to bring the Tanach alive, so a good basic knowledge of Torah and Nevi’im is recommended. Knowing additional languages is an asset.
Is there any kind of license or certification you need, to work as a Tour Guide in Israel?
In order to work in Israel as a tour guide you need to be licensed by the Ministry of Tourism. The average course is between 1 ½ – 2 years, generally 2 days a week, excluding multi-day field trips. There are courses offered in English. Information can be found on the Ministry of Tourism website (in Hebrew). A tour guide course is a challenging and fun experience. I miss those days…
How important is Hebrew in your field?
It is important to be able to communicate in the primary language of the country you are residing. But yes, you can become a licensed tour guide with a minimal knowledge of Hebrew.
What are the benefits of your job?
As in many self-employed jobs, there are benefits and drawbacks. A benefit of a tour guide is a flexible schedule, and constant travel, seeing the “world” and meeting interesting people. The main drawback is non-steady income. A major benefit for me is the satisfaction I get when my clients get a new appreciation and understanding of our beautiful country and its history. For example, I enjoy taking clients (especially kids) to a newly uncovered archaeological site, a 3000-year-old Israelite fortress located above the Elah Valley, near my home in Bet Shemesh. I take out the Tanach and read Samuel-1 17-3. “And the Plishtim stood on one side of the hill and the Israelites on the other side, and the valley was between them”. When we continue reading the chapter and they realize that this could be the site from which David left to fight Goliath in the valley below, the Tanach becomes suddenly alive and the expression on their faces tells it all. It makes my day
Is Tour Guiding more in demand in certain areas of Israel?
The top sites visited by tourists in Israel are Yerushalayim (the Old City), Masada, and Caesarea. Living in the center of the country makes it easier to “commute” to work since most tourists will stay overnight in the Yerushalayim / Tel Aviv area.
What is the salary range?
Making a living as a tour guide is not an easy task since most likely you will not have work every day. If you have an additional source of steady income (such as a spouse working) it is preferable. Tour guides working for tour companies will make between USD 160-300 per day (gross/before taxes), and independent tour guides will generally ask for 25-35% more. Working for tour companies will give you more working days per year.
Do you have any other advice or tips for Olim?
Have patience, don’t be afraid to ask, and don’t give up. Be a part of the community. Volunteer your time. When you contribute and assist others, your Klita will be easier.
How do you feel about working and living in Israel?
This is the homeland of the Jewish people. Working and living in Israel is easier today than in previous periods of our long history. It is a privilege to be living here in Eretz Yisrael, in Medinat Yisrael, amongst family, friends, and neighbors. And thank you Nefesh b’Nefesh for all your assistance.
Chaim Friedman is a licensed tour guide. If you would like to be in touch with him, you can contact him at [email protected] or call him at (347) 568-3090 (US phone) or (+972) 54-566-5090 (Israel cell phone). You can also visit his website at www.lechaimtours.com.