A Jewish Guide in the Holy Land: How Christian Pilgrims Made Me Israeli

A Jewish Guide in the Holy Land: How Christian Pilgrims Made Me Israeli

A Jewish Guide in the Holy Land: How Christian Pilgrims Made Me Israeli

A Jewish Guide in the Holy Land: How Christian Pilgrims Made Me Israeli

Synopsis

For many Evangelical Christians, a trip to the Holy Land is an integral part of practicing their faith. Arriving in groups, most of these pilgrims are guided by Jewish Israeli tour guides. For more than three decades, Jackie Feldman--born into an Orthodox Jewish family in New York, now an Israeli citizen, scholar, and licensed guide--has been leading tours, interpreting Biblical landscapes, and fielding questions about religion and current politics. In this book, he draws on pilgrimage and tourism studies, his own experiences, and interviews with other guides, Palestinian drivers and travel agents, and Christian pastors to examine the complex interactions through which guides and tourists "co-produce" the Bible Land. He uncovers the implicit politics of travel brochures and religious souvenirs. Feldman asks what it means when Jewish-Israeli guides get caught up in their own performances or participate in Christian rituals, and reflects on how his interactions with Christian tourists have changed his understanding of himself and his views of religion.

Excerpt

It was a great pleasure for me to write a foreword to Jackie Feldman’s book. I have been following Jackie’s personal and academic careers—which have been, as this book shows, virtually inseparable—for well over thirty years. Our acquaintance began when Jackie was writing his ma thesis on Second Temple pilgrimages and consulted with me about sociological approaches to pilgrimage. It was a rare occasion in the Hebrew University for a student of the Department of Jewish Thought, in the Faculty of Humanities, to “cross lines” and approach someone in the Social Sciences Faculty for advice—most scholars in Jewish studies at that time kept away from a sociological perspective in their historical or religious studies. But it was a characteristic step for Jackie; as this book witnesses, he has specialized in crossing lines in his work as a Jewish guide of Christian pilgrims. Our early encounter also constituted an unintended beginning of his gradual transition from Jewish studies to social anthropology, which eventually became the discipline on which he based his academic career.

Jackie’s doctoral dissertation, which he eventually turned into a book on the journeys of Israeli-Jewish youths to the Nazi extermination camps in Poland, was still a conventional anthropological study in which the author’s voice is that of the participant-observer describing and analyzing the ideological background and the complexities of these pilgrimages to sites of death. However, save for stating his personal engagement with the topic, he did not dwell on his own role in those trips and kept himself in the background. in sharp contrast, this book is a hybrid work that straddles the boundaries between personal biography, autoethnography, and anthropology, in which the author entertains a double position, constituting as much a part of the explanans as of the explanandum.

Being multifaceted, Jackie’s book can be read according to different scripts: I believe that the most significant one is the autobiographic—that of the unique, perhaps idiosyncratic way in which Jackie, an immigrant to Israel, escaped the stultified atmosphere of Orthodox Judaism in the United States and formed his Jewish identity and his relationship to Judaism and Israel in the course of his work as a Jew guiding Christians in the Holy Land. He achieved that not by . . .

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