As a Passages alum, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to travel to the Holy Land. Writing for my peers, I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that gratitude and appreciation underscore experiences within the Passages program. After returning from Israel, alumni often want to dive deeper into understanding Israel and the region, and to share their knowledge and experience with others.
Passages Capstone, the post-trip portion of the program, aims to keep participants connected and engaged with Passages and Israel. With options to write, show, and otherwise share one’s experience, the Passages Capstone brings the Holy Land home. But for our family and friends who need a visual component to appreciate our experiences, why don’t we just take them to Israel?
Well, I suppose traveling in the COVID-19 era might be a bit difficult. But Israeli technology has still made traveling to the Holy Land a possibility! Enter virtual reality. With a smartphone and virtual reality headset, users can take virtual tours of Jerusalem. Specifically dedicated to Jerusalem’s history, The Tower of David Museum’s Innovation Lab working in conjunction with the Jerusalem Development Authority partnered to create a “to create a modern, dynamic, unique language for the rich story of Jerusalem.” Eilat Lieber, the Tower of David Museum’s director, states that this virtual reality software is the closest you can come to being in Jerusalem without actually being there.
Entitled “The Holy City,” the software is structured as a video, and through the virtual reality viewer, the user experiences the video. This video program in particular takes the viewer through the different Holy Sites in Jerusalem such as The Western Wall, The Holy Sepulchre, Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome Of The Rock…sites that Passages alumni can probably remember.
For much of the month of April, the museum offered their award-winning software free during the Easter season, and it can still be found online. “The Holy City” was an official selection at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival in the virtual reality category; it received similar accolades from other international festivals as well.
Other providers have taken to virtual reality as well. Like many American museums, some Israeli museums have digitized their collections and exhibits for the public to view. This can be a great way to discover something new and stay connected to Israel. On its website, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art offers virtual tours and video footage of its most popular collections. Virtually Israel offers 360-degree videos of tourist hotspots like Independence Hall, the Dead Sea, and even the beaches of Tel Aviv. These videos can be found on Virtually Israel’s YouTube page.
If lately you are using the extra free time to plan a vacation back to Israel, 3D Israel’s panoramic videos showcase Israel’s tourist attractions beyond Jerusalem, with videos intended for tourists shot in Eilat and Haifa as well.
When I attended the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in 2019, the Tower of David Museum had a station in the AIPAC Village. Attendees such as myself were offered the use of virtual reality software for a brief tour of a location of choice.
After my first turn viewing Jerusalem, I got back on line to see the sample of Tel Aviv. And while admittedly nothing compares to being in the Holy Land, it was the closest I had been in months. So if you have a friend or family member who is tired of merely hearing stories about Israel and would rather just see for themselves, you can now take them to Israel and be back in a day.
All opinions expressed are those of the writer.