One finger at you, three fingers back at me.
Nowadays, it’s uncommon to find people who not only remain on the same career path for decades but who also remain passionate about what they do. We spoke to Uri Feinberg, who has worked as a guide and Jewish educator in Israel for the last twenty-five years and asked him what it is about guiding that keeps him inspired, day in, day out.
How long have you lived in Israel and what first inspired you to become a tour guide?
My family and I made Aliyah from Chicago when I was just ten years old. Following my army service, like many Israelis, I traveled around the world. My first post-army job upon my return to Israel was in the summer as a traveling medic with NFTY, the Reform Jewish youth movement.
As a medic, it was fascinating to watch “from the outside” how the guides engaged with the teens, and how the teens engaged with each other. It was a revelation to me that I was able to create a rapport and connect with North American teens and with the guides who led them. By the time I started my undergraduate degree in history and literature at Tel Aviv University, I had completed an informal educator’s course and was already guiding the teen trips in the summer. I took a two-year course as a licensed guide, and the rest, as they say, is history. From that point on, it seemed that the trajectory of my life was unexpectedly set as a guide and a Jewish educator.
You and your wife Meryl spent three years in the US. What did you do professionally during that time, and how did you adjust to the break from guiding?
We moved to the US with our three children in order to spend time with and be closer to my wife’s family. I had guided Temple Israel of Boston in Israel in the past, and as it turned out, as we were looking to move, they were looking for an interim director of education. You never know what your connections with people will lead to. I accepted the job. It was a great gateway to not only connecting with our family but with the larger Jewish community in the Diaspora. True, I would no longer be physically guiding teens, families, and groups throughout Israel, and I was now in a more administrative role, but I found every opportunity possible to be in the classroom engaging with adults and children.
What were the highlights of your role at Temple Israel of Boston?
It was an incredible and humbling experience encountering American Jewish families on their own terms in their own setting. As a Jewish educator, this was a perfect opportunity for me to expand my involvement and connection with this powerful and diverse Jewish community. Following our three years in Boston, which was a wonderful experience, we decided that Israel is where we wanted to raise our family and so we returned home. Our time in Boston gave me a breadth of perspective that has helped strengthen and expand my own Jewish identity as well as a better understanding of American Jews.
Do you get an opportunity to return to the US?
Yes, I travel to the US once a year for two weeks where I am a scholar-in-residence for synagogues and JCC’s. I love it. I get to engage with people of all ages and backgrounds – whether that be delivering a sermon to adults in synagogue on Shabbat or on the floor playing and interacting with preschoolers. On a trip I took this past November, I brought with me shards from an archeological site for the children to examine. At that moment, it was amazing to watch Israel come alive for these kids.
What keeps you passionate about your job?
First of all, I really enjoy what I do. I love that I can share with others my knowledge and expertise of Jewish education, history, and Israel. I also realize that each member of a group brings their own unique knowledge and experience, no matter how old they are. While deep in discussion as I am guiding, I often find myself pointing and gesturing with my hands. Every time I point out at the group, asking a question or challenging them with a new idea, it is a reminder to myself that there are three fingers pointing back at me. I find myself sharing the same process of self-exploration as my group. The ongoing development of my own thoughts and ideas helps me strengthen my relationship with the land, State of Israel, and the Jewish people.
I hear you have a pretty awesome office.
Absolutely. The views from the Golan Heights and the rooftops of the Old City are beautiful – but what makes it even more rewarding is that I get to share my “office” with the groups I guide.
Uri Feinberg will be leading “Moments and Memories,” a ten-day family trip to Israel from August 18-28, 2020.