Israelis ‘Tour’ Iran, No Visas Necessary

By Nathan Burstein

Published February 18, 2009, issue of February 27, 2009.

Iran hasn’t issued many tourist visas to Israelis lately, but that isn’t stopping a group of Hebrew speakers from spending a weekend there — at least “virtually.”

In a first-of-its-kind retreat, scheduled for late March, Israelis from a variety of backgrounds will gather for A Unique Weekend in Iran, billed by organizers as a “virtual tour” of the country, highlighting its art, history, culture and cuisine. Hosted at the Hof Hatmarim Hotel in Akko, the weekend-long getaway will kick off with a slideshow offering participants a look at “a gorgeous, fascinating land,” often obscured in news reports by the “dark, threatening veil of the Islamic regime.” Coming less than two weeks after Purim, the weekend will also include a lecture examining connections between the Book of Esther and the traditions of ancient Iran, as well Persian meals, a masquerade ball set in “the courtyard of King Ahasuerus” and a celebration of Norooz, the Persian new year.

Priced at slightly less than 2,000 shekels (roughly $500) per couple, the weekend will showcase “a deeper, more significant dimension” of Iran, the event’s lead organizer, David Nissan, told The Shmooze in an e-mail. “The Israeli public is very thirsty to be exposed to other aspects of this country,” wrote Nissan, who based the weekend’s schedule partly on lectures he’s been giving to fellows Israelis for the past 10 years.

A native of Iran who arrived in Israel for college in 1975, Nissan said he expects about 150 participants at the “unique weekend.” He predicted that about half would be fellow immigrants from the country. “Regarding the non-Iranian Israelis, I expect them to be surprised — even amazed — to be exposed to parts of Iran they never knew existed,” he wrote.

A terrorism researcher in his professional life, Nissan said he enjoys leading other Israelis on his virtual trips home, but he also said the “travel” has a practical purpose. “I believe that it is crucially important to view your current enemy not only from the military/strategic/political aspects,” he wrote, “but to also understand the people, the history, the culture, the background of whoever is confronting you and is making provocative declarations regarding the need for your destruction.”



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