Iris Hami
The Jewish Travel Expert

Synagogue Travel: Exploring Conservative, Reform, and Other Jewish Communities

Neue Synagoge in Berlin
Neue Synagoge in Berlin, Source: Pixabay (thanks to wal_172619)

One of the biggest historical problems faced by Jews is their lack of unity in the face of external threats. 2024 has been a difficult year for Jews and it’s time to unite and make strong connections across the diaspora. Synagogue travel, with organized visits to foreign congregations is a great way to do this. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to learn from other Jewish cultures and make new friends!

Enjoy the Adventure of Travel

American Jews often don’t have much knowledge or experience of other Jewish traditions and cultures around the world. Many US Jews have traveled to Israel, and Jewish heritage tours in Europe are growing in popularity, but that’s usually about it. 

It’s a pity because there are some wonderful and vibrant Jewish communities in places as far apart as Argentina and Berlin, as well as some seriously unexpected locations like Dubai and Saudi Arabia. 

Travel always broadens the mind, and a well organized group tour is a pleasant and enjoyable adventure. When you travel as a synagogue, the trip can be fun, rewarding, educational – and spiritually uplifting – all at the same time.

The Benefits of Traveling as an Organized Group

The benefits of traveling as an organized tour can be summed up quite easily. When you travel as a group – with a top Jewish tour company – you’re immediately spared all the stress of making travel arrangements and finding kosher hotels and restaurants. All your local logistics are taken care of and you’re in the hands of a professional organization if there are any glitches. 

Organized groups can get better deals across the board, and access to places and interesting people that ordinary tourists usually miss out on. You’ll also have expert guides, proper security arrangements and all the benefits of your tour company’s local knowledge and connections. 

The Goals of a Synagogue Tour 

When you travel together as a congregation, it’s a special opportunity to get to know each other better and also to spend quality time with your rabbi. You might have prayed alongside people for years, but never really got to know them well. If a trip abroad is intelligently planned, it can generate real warmth and friendship between members.

The wider goals of a synagogue tour are to make positive connections with fellow Jews in other countries and to build solidarity. It’s also a chance to learn about other Jewish groups, their history and unique insights and experiences. There’s an astonishing wealth of tradition that communities are keen to share with others.

You might be amazed to learn that you could travel to Buenos Aires (the capital of Argentina) and meet congregations descended from Syrian Jewish immigrants. The Syrian Jews left the Ottoman Empire in search of a better life and founded their own synagogues, kosher butcheries and restaurants.

The Deeper Goals of a Synagogue Tour

  • Display solidarity, build links and make personal connections.
  • Share knowledge and ideas about every aspect of Jewish life.
  • Learn how other communities educate their children and pass on their heritage and culture to the next generation. 
  • Discuss how to preserve Judaism and Jewish traditions in a rapidly changing world where assimilation is becoming the norm. 
  • Consider the current situation of world Jewry and how to combat challenges, threats and rising anti-Semitism.

A synagogue tour will generate hours of discussion, and even argument, but there’s also a much lighter side. It’s a chance to explore Jewish culture and food, to spoil yourself with shopping trips, and to tour some amazing local sites like synagogues, museums and galleries, vineyards – or even to check out the local national parks or beaches.

Popular Destinations for Synagogue Tours

Not surprisingly, Central and South America are popular with US Jewish groups. Mexico and Panama are easy to travel to and offer some warm sunshine and a friendly welcome. Argentina is further afield, but has a strong and confident Jewish community that welcomes guests. All destinations in the Americas offer great value for money with a favorable US dollar exchange rate.  

Notable South American Synagogues

  • Yesod Hadath Synagogue (Argentina)
  • The Templo Libertad (Argentina)
  • The Grand Temple of Paso (Argentina)
  • Nidjei Israel (Mexico)
  • Yehuda HaLevi Synagogue (Mexico)
  • Shevet Ahim (Panama)

Europe is another popular destination, particularly for US Jews descended from European immigrants. Berlin and Prague are two cities that attract a lot of Jewish heritage tours, although for many, a visit is inevitably tinged with sadness. The Jewish communities in Berlin and Prague aren’t large, but they are active and can offer a lot in terms of cultural exchange and hospitality.

Notable Berlin Synagogues

  • Neue Synagoge 
  • Rykestrasse 
  • Pestalozzi  
  • Joachimstaler 

The city of Prague – in our opinion the most beautiful city in Europe – has five surviving synagogues in the Josefka (old Jewish Quarter). If you book a synagogue tour, or any group visit, to Prague, you’ll be able to explore all five in a single walking tour with a local guide. 

How to Arrange a Synagogue Travel Tour

Whether you’re from a Reform or Conservative synagogue, Gil Travel can create a tailored itinerary for your location, recommend approved kosher hotels, and take care of all your bookings, logistics and administration. Gil Travel can also arrange introductions, meetings, conferences and group visits to local synagogues, schools, charitable organizations, and cultural groups and venues. 

Wherever you travel in the world, safety comes first and your group will be protected at all times. A synagogue travel tour is an amazing way to explore new aspects of Judaism and all its cultural threads, and to build bonds and forge links in a world that suddenly seems threatening to many Jews. 

About the Author
Iris Hami is President of Gil Travel Group, the largest travel management firm sending people to Israel. She has over 40 years of experience in the travel industry, and uses that knowledge to craft unique Jewish journeys around the world. Her company has won multiple awards, including one from State of Israel Bonds for Extraordinary Achievements Promoting the State of Israel.
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