Is a trip to Israel really worth the cost?

Many people wonder if a trip to Israel is worth the cost. One might think the automatic answer from a travel agency is YES! However, we at Discipleship Travel LLC realize there are many factors that determine a trip’s value. We also realize that not all Israel Tours are the same, neither are all travelers.

Two major problems that we have seen many times are tour companies that are focused on making as much money as possible and tourists that are interested in a vacation more than learning the Bible. In the case of the former, the package prices are higher, sometimes considerably, and it seems there is more time spent shopping than touring. In the case of the latter, the tourist gets frustrated because things are different than back home, the hotel or food or entertainment isn’t what they expected, or the days are too long. In both cases, we think the trip isn’t worth the cost.

Discipleship Travel LLC focuses on providing value for your investment by keeping costs as low as possible, using guides who are paid and tipped well so they don’t feel the need to have endless shopping stops, and prepping the groups for a true study tour.

Because we believe the Bible is not just a holy book – it is a life changing book – we are committed to emphasizing learning the Bible on location. Our tours are not designed to give a cursory look at a few sights each day and go shopping. Instead, while we do provide shopping opportunities, we spend the bulk of our time visiting biblical sights and studying on location. We intend for our guests to not only do pre-trip reading, but to also bring their Bibles on locations and begin to read them more intelligently and “see the stories in color.” We also seek out of the ordinary learning opportunities. For example, on one occasion Craig met a holocaust survivor in the breakfast line and asked him to speak to the group on the bus before they left for the day. You can read the story here.

You may also find the testimony of these people helpful in answering whether our tours are worth the price.

Israel Tour Highlight #137010

Beniko Gihon #137010

Working with tour groups in Israel is [almost] always a blessing. It’s exciting to see visitors’ faces when, as they say in Hebrew, “the coin falls.” In other words, when “the light comes on” or the connection between a certain event and place happens. I love to see the joy of discovery, especially as it relates to the Bible. But my groups generally have modern cultural and historical interests, too. Every group is different, and I’m regularly on the look out for things out of the ordinary, not on the itinerary that will make my group’s visit to Israel more special than it might already be. For this group, I found that special historical gem in the breakfast line.

As I approached the special-order egg line, I noticed the tattoo on his arm, 137010. Immediately, I knew he was a holocaust survivor because I’ve seen these tattoos in the museum, and probably a dozen times in person. However, I never had the nerve to ask the bearer to share his/her story; I just imagined what it might have been.

This time was different. I took a deep breath and asked the elderly gentleman a) if he spoke Hebrew, and b) if I could ask a question. “Yes,” he answered to both questions. I was hesitant, but I proceeded to ask if he would tell me the story of the numeric tattoo that appeared on his left forearm. I was afraid he would be embarrassed, but he wasn’t. In fact, he seemed pleased that I asked.

Interacting with my inquiry about his tattoo, he said, “My name is Beniko Gihon; in Germany my name was changed to 137010. I am a Jew originally from Greece.” He continued with a moving, two-minute version of his story. His family had been rounded up in Thessaloniki, and he was the only survivor. Over the course of five years, he was systematically transferred to/from Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Warsaw Ghetto, and Dachau. He had a variety of jobs, but mainly focused on his work in the crematoria.

I was translating his story for a man from my group and noticed that others had started to lean in closer to listen in on our conversation, which indicated that they found this interesting, too. After a couple minutes, his eggs and mine were ready, so, unfortunately, we had to bring this encounter to a close. I thanked him for sharing his story, we shook hands, and parted ways.

I found a table near my group and sat down by myself. To say that his story was gut wrenching would be an exaggerated understatement. But, his story wasn’t the thing that affected me the most. It was the question he posed: “Why were the Christians so quiet?”

I wanted my group to hear Beniko’s story, but I wondered if that would be asking too much. As I ate my breakfast, I kept an eye on him from across the room and wondered whether I should ask him to speak on the bus. Since he didn’t seem to mind my initial inquiry, I decided to go for it, and the outcome was just what I had hoped.

After my group boarded the bus, I brought them up to speed on what was about to happen, then I introduced Mr. Beniko. He climbed the stairs and stood proudly in the front of the bus and began to share his story.

Beniko, which is the Greek version of Benjamin, started with some details of his family and how the Nazis came to Greece and killed so many. The rest were taken to the labor and death camps in Germany and Poland, which is where he learned to speak German, and where his name was changed to 137010.

His story lasted longer than I had given him, which I knew it would. But, seeing him standing in the front of the bus and hearing his biography was worth every minute.

Some specific details that pierced my heart:

“I saw, with my own eyes, the soldiers toss little children in the air and shoot them like birds.”

“As people were herded off the trains near the crematoria, they pleaded with the soldiers to know where their children or parents were. The soldiers would point to the smoke rising out of the crematoria and say, ‘there they are.’”

“The people were packed so tightly into the ‘showers’ that when the Zyklon B gas was released they all died standing, and only fell to the ground when the doors were opened. As we removed the bodies, we could see the scratches on the walls where those on the outer edges were trying to claw their way out.”

As a worker at the crematoria, “I collected the fat that came from the bodies as they were burned. The Nazis used the fat to make soap for us prisoners, and I bathed with soap that may have been made from the remains of my parents and other family members.”

Beniko’s story, made the horrors of the Holocaust real and personal for us, impacting each in a slightly different way. I tried to give some current perspective to his presentation because the easy thing would be to say, “I wasn’t there” because none of us were. I reminded the group of the words of James 1:27 that pure religion is to care for the widows and orphans, which I understand to mean “take care of those who can’t take care of themselves.” I also think that being born again demands that Christians have an active interest in “the least of these” (Mt 25).

*This report is from the Crossroads Fellowship Tour, March 2012.

Do I need an entry visa to visit Israel?

Generally, bearers of United States passports do not require prior arrangement of a tourist visa to enter Israel; visas are issued upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport. Other nationalities should get clarification from an Israeli Embassy or consulate (see below).

Tourist visas issued at Ben Gurion Airport are typically valid for three (3) months. Those wanting to stay longer than three (3) months are required to get an extension through the Ministry of Interior.

If a traveler has had ANY previous entry-visa-related issues (in Israel), or thinks he/she might be on a no-fly list, the matter should be clarified at the Israeli Embassy or consulate closest to your home prior to departure from the United States. Discipleship Travel LLC is not responsible for denial of entry, nor any resulting damages of being denied entry to Israel.

Below is a list of locations, hours and contact information of Israeli consulates in the United States.

Atlanta
1100 Spring St. N.W., Suite 440
Atlanta, GA 30309
Tel:            404-487-6500
Fax:           404-487-6555

info@atlanta.mfa.gov.il 

Mon-Thurs      9:30am – 1:00pm

Boston
20 Park Plaza, Suite 1020
Boston, MA 02116
Tel:            617-535-0200
Fax:           617-535-0255

info@boston.mfa.gov.il

Mon-Fri      10:00am – 1:00pm
(Visits by appointment only)

Chicago
111 East Wacker Drive, Suite 1308
Chicago, IL 60601
Tel:            312-297-4800
Fax:           312-297-4855

info@chicago.mfa.gov.il
Mon-Thurs     9:30am – 1:00pm

Houston
24 Greenway Plaza, Suite 1500
Houston, TX 77046
Tel:            713-627-
Fax:           713-627-0149

consular.dep@houston.mfa.gov.il
Mon-Fri     9:30am – 12:30pm
(except national and Jewish holidays)

Los Angeles
6380 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 1700
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Tel:            323-852-5500
Fax:           323-852-5555

info@losangeles.mfa.gov.il
Mon-Fri     9:00am – 12:00pm

Miami
100 N. Biscayne (Yitzhak Rabin) Blvd
Suite 1800
Miami, FL 33132
Tel:            305-925-9400
Fax:           305-925-9455

info@miami.mfa.gov.il
Mon-Thurs      8:45am – 5:15pm

New York

800 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10017
Tel:            212-499-5400
Fax:           212-499-5555

consular@newyork.mfa.gov.il
Mon-Fri     9:00am – 12:00pm
(Except American & Jewish holidays)

Philadelphia
1800 JFK Boulevard, Suite 1818
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Tel:            215-977-7600
Fax:           215-977-7611

info@philadelphia.mfa.gov.il
Mon-Thurs      9:00am – 1:00pm
(
Except national & Jewish holidays)

San Francisco
456 Montgomery Street, Suite 2100
San Francisco, CA 94104
(Downtown between California & Sacramento Streets)
Tel:                415-844-7500
Fax:               415-844-7555

info@sanfrancisco.mfa.gov.il
Mon-Fri     9:00am – 12:00pm

Washington DC
3514 International Drive NW
Washington DC 20008
Tel:            202-364-5500
Fax:           202-364-5607

info@washington.mfa.gov.il 
Mon-Fri     9:30am – 1:00pm

Do I need a passport to travel to Israel?

International travel requires the use of a valid passport. You should arrange to have possession of a valid passport sixty (60) days prior to departure. Also, your passport must be valid for a minimum of six months after your return date. If your passport is not valid for at least six (6) months beyond your scheduled return date, you will be denied boarding on your outbound flight.

Any fees associated with passport acquisition or renewal are the responsibility of the traveler. More information including new passport applications or renewals is available here.