Guiding People through the Source of Our Jewish Identity: A Conversation with David Sussman
David Sussman first traveled to Israel on a whim. Attracted to the country’s energy and culture, David rented an apartment in Tel Aviv, found a job, and joined the Israeli army. But, while serving in the Second Lebanon War, he realized that it was time for him to learn more about the country he was fighting for. He wanted to explore his connection to Israel and learn about the history of the Jewish homeland. So, he decided to become a licensed Israeli tour guide.
Today, David lives in Jerusalem with his family, and guides thousands of people throughout Israel each year, including JWRP sisters and brothers on Momentum Trips. He also writes and hosts his own show on cable TV called, "Land of the Bible.” We spoke to David about how he helps people feel like they are a part of Jewish history and why Jerusalem is the source of Jewish spirituality.
What is your goal as a tour guide in Israel?
When I guide children, my goal is for them to leave Israel feeling as though it's the most fun place on earth. This means that, in the future, when their parents give them the option of traveling to Disney World or back to Israel, I want the kids to choose Israel. When I guide adults, my goal is for them to leave Israel with a deeper connection to themselves, Israel, and their Jewish identity.
I believe that just as much as you are a wife, a mother, and a professional, you are also a Jewish soul. In order to be a fully expressed person, the Jewish soul needs to be nurtured. In my work, I love that I am able to educate people about Israel and to show them why they should care about their Jewish identity.
How do you prepare for a trip?
Each trip is very unique so I prepare differently for each one. When I first started working, I would travel to each location and spend a good three to four hours planning every detail of my tour. These days, I make sure I'm 100% organized and well rested. Drinking a glass of wine the night before a tour also doesn't hurt.
As a guide, how are JWRP trips different than other trips?
On my trips, I’m strictly the facilitator, someone who is there to serve as a guide and to take people on a journey. But on Momentum Trips, I’m also a participant. I attend the JWRP classes because I know how powerful they are. Momentum Trips always remind me that the journey to self-discovery really is endless.
What’s your favorite part of Israel to take tourists to?
I love every place in Israel. However, Jerusalem is the most important place. Jerusalem is the source of Jewish spirituality, and it’s also the source of the mission of the Jewish people. In the story of the Binding of Isaac, Abraham, our forefather, travels with his son, Isaac, to offer him as a sacrifice to G-d. While on their journey, he looks toward the Temple Mount, which is in Jerusalem. At the time, it’s bare, but Abraham is still in awe of its majestic beauty. According to Jewish commentary, he asks his other son, Ishmael, and his servant, Eliezer, if they can see the supernatural energy coming from the mountaintop, too. They can’t, but Isaac can. Abraham tells Ishmael and Eliezer to stay behind while he and Isaac head to the Temple Mount. He promises that they will return to them.
This story not only exhibits the power of Jerusalem. It also shows that, as Jews, it’s up to us to bring home the values that ignite us, and to share them with our families and our communities.
Can you share a memorable experience from a Momentum Trip?
As a facilitator, I generally try to hold back my emotions. I focus on sharing stories as strongly as possible so that the people on the tour can tap into their emotions. But on one Momentum Trip, I listened to a talk by Miriam Peretz, an Israeli woman who lost her two sons in battle. It was my first time hearing her speak, and afterwards, I couldn’t stop crying. Every time we stopped at a grave on Mount Herzl, I bawled my eyes out, along with everyone else.
How do you help people feel as though they’re experiencing history?
I remind them that they are a part of history. I tell them that Israel is the same land that their families lived in 2,000 years ago — or whenever they left, and that the Torah is more than just a history book or spiritual book. In fact, it’s the diary of their great, great, great… grandparents.