We asked Gil Travel Group where Jews are going this summer, and learned there are five places that prove to be particular draws.
Since 1974, the Gil Travel Group, headquartered in downtown Philadelphia, has been making plans for Jewish adventurers. Much of that travel is to Israel.
“We send over 50,000 travelers to Israel every year,” said Iris Hami, Gil’s executive vice president.
But the family business also sends tourists to other parts of the world, sometimes for a Jewish-interest trip, sometimes with no particular focus at all. We asked Hami where Jews are going this summer, and learned there are five places that prove to be particular draws.
Does anyone need an excuse to visit Venice? With its canals and cathedrals, museums and mazelike alleyways, it’s an utterly unique and exquisite travel experience.
This year, though, the city on the water has special appeal for Jewish travelers: 2016 marks the 500th anniversary of the establishment of Venice’s Jewish ghetto.
To commemorate the milestone, city officials and members of Venice’s Jewish community formed a committee to organize events and exhibitions — and there are many. (The English word “ghetto,” not coincidentally, comes from the Italian.)
There’s an ongoing exhibit (“Venice, the Jews and Europe. 1516–2016”) at Palazzo Ducale, with artifacts and a virtual reconstruction. There are academically oriented conferences (“The Ghetto as Global Metaphor”) and a symposium on “Venice and the Hebrew Book” in collaboration with the National Library of Israel. There will be the first ever performance of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice in the Ghetto, where the play is set, and a concert at La Fenice Opera House called The Music of the Ghettoes: Old and New Songs from the Jewish Tradition with Frank London and Ute Lemper.
And that’s just for starters. For more information, go to veniceghetto500.org.
The great thing about traveling to Iberia is you can get two for one — Spain and Portugal — and not break the bank.
“Portugal is not that expensive and has a lot of Jewish interest,” said Hami, who sends a lot of local residents there.
Both countries have rich Jewish histories that are still evident today in old synagogues, Juderías (Jewish quarters) and even Jewish cemeteries.
In southern Spain, the Jewish legacy abuts the Moorish one — a grand mosque steps away from a Judería, for example — providing a remarkable look at a the centuries-long connections between the two cultures.
Last year, Spain topped a list of the most tourist-friendly countries, so you may want to start there, though beware: It’s almost unbearably hot in August; so many Spaniards leave for cooler climes that even the capital of Madrid can seem like a ghost town.
St. Petersburg, Russia
If your primary experience of the White Nights is from that ’80s movie with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines (guilty as charged), you need to buy a plane ticket to St. Petersburg posthaste.
That picturesque, historic city, which — with its canals and bridges — resembles Venice or Amsterdam, is the perfect place to experience the natural phenomenon that occurs from late May to early July. Because the city is so far north, the sun can’t dip below the horizon, and daytime simply bleeds into night.
Some find the quality of light romantic, others find it energizing and an unlucky few may have a hard time sleeping. For most people in the city, it’s a welcome respite from Russia’s dark, cold winters — and the only time of year that city officials don’t turn on the streetlights. The brightest period is reportedly during the last two weeks of June, so book your travel now.
There’s so much of Jewish interest in Berlin — the synagogues, museums, memorials, Jewish neighborhoods — it’s hard to know where to start.
Summer is the perfect time to go because, while the weather is warm, it’s not oppressively hot, as it is in other parts of Europe. Periodic rain showers will punctuate sunny days, many of which can be spent outdoors at Berlin’s many street festivals, concerts, beer gardens and parks.
There are even open-air theater performances and film screenings, to say nothing of the city’s beaches. This year, the Jewish Film Festival runs from June 4 to 19, while the city’s Lesbian and Gay Festival and the colorful Christopher Street Day both happen in July.
Poland has long been associated with something known as “dark tourism,” that is, travel associated with tragedy and suffering. The prevalence of Holocaust history has, in fact, become part of the country’s appeal: Last year, the number of visitors to Auschwitz grew by 40 percent.
But a summer trip to Poland can offer just as much light as dark. First of all, with notably longer days and lovely, mild temperatures, summer in Warsaw and Krakow is pleasantly relaxing.
And there’s so much going on in both cities: In addition to the innumerable museums and cultural centers, both cities host street festivals, outdoor concerts and uniquely funky activities like the VW Beetle rally in Krakow in July.
Of course, there are many monuments, memorials and synagogues that represent Poland’s Jewish heritage. Gil Travel’s scholar-led trip to Poland — which brings a professor along to contextualize the history — is sold out, but there are other Jewish heritage tours on offer, or you can simply arrange an edifying itinerary yourself.
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