Israeli tour guide undertaking epic hike to reconnect tourists with Israel

Tourists have been locked out of Israel since the pandemic started in March 2020. But one tour guide is offering a solution. 

By World Israel News Staff

With Israel’s tourism industry still on lockdown thanks to the COVID pandemic, one tour guide has come up with an audacious solution: he plans to walk the entirety of Israel, filming tours along the way, to give outsiders a chance to connect with the Jewish State.

The year 2019 was Israel’s best ever on record for tourism: some 4.6 million people visited, injecting a staggering NIS 2.25 billion ($6.49 billion) into the Israeli economy. Tour agencies say that bookings for 2020 were shaping up to be even better. But all that came to a halt in March 2020 with the first COVID-19 cases in Israel.

For tour guide Josh Levinson, 51, the loss of income was not the only blow dealt by the tourism shutdown. “This last year and a half hasn’t been easy,” he said. “Guiding is my whole life, it’s what I feel I was born to do. It was hard to have that sense of purpose taken away overnight.”

As the months dragged on, he realized he wasn’t the only one feeling the loss.

“Over the last 18 months since the skies closed, friends I’ve made during my four years as a guide have frequently commented that they’re longing to get back to Israel again. I started offering to film a couple of their favorite places here and there, but it occurred to me that if they were missing Israel, others would be too.”

With that inspiration, a plan started to form.

Tour guide Josh Levinson plans to walk the length of Israel this winter, filming online tours. Photo: David Haynes.

Tour guide Josh Levinson plans to walk the length of Israel this winter, filming online tours. Photo: David Haynes.

In October, Levinson is setting out to walk the entire length of Israel using the Israel National Trail, a 1,100-km hiking path that runs from Israel’s northernmost border all the way to Eilat, as the backbone of his trip.

The Trail normally takes around two months to complete, but Levinson’s trip will take twice as long as he detours to circumnavigate the Sea of Galilee and take in some of Israel’s more remote sites. He also wants to give outsiders a view of Israel that they don’t normally get by watching the news, interviewing Israelis along the way so that they can tell their stories.

But while the hiking comes naturally to him, he has set himself a further challenge: to singlehandedly film the entire trip, making a series of in-depth tour videos that he will upload to YouTube for free, giving anyone with an interest in Israel a way to reconnect with the country, no matter where they are.

“Other people have walked the trail and filmed their experience, but no professional tour guide has yet undertaken a video series of this magnitude,” Josh said, adding: “I’m not too worried about the technical aspect. I figure I’ll learn how to manage the camera as I go. It’s all part of the adventure.”

Learning to handle social media while on the move is not the only challenge the project poses. After 18 months with no work, Levinson has no way to purchase some of the essential equipment needed, including filming and hiking gear.

Undeterred, he has launched a crowdfunding page to raise the NIS 10,000 ($3,100) he needs to make the project happen. With just over a week to go until the campaign ends, he’s at the halfway mark.

“The reaction to the campaign has been great,” he said. “Friends have been really supportive. But it would be great to hit the target and make the project a reality – not only for me, but for the millions of people out there who want to be able to reconnect with Israel again.”