By Tali Feinberg
“Wherever there is a Jewish story, that is where you will find me,” says Julian Resnick.
An experienced tour guide, he leads groups of adults on what he calls ‘Journeys Making Meaning’ — intense explorations of Jewish history around the globe. He was in the Mother City to lead one of these Journeys, and it was especially meaningful because he is from Cape Town — he grew up in Somerset West and made Aliyah with Habonim in 1976, eventually settling on Kibbutz Tzora in the 80s. He is a well-known educator, was the former head of World Habonim Dror, and has been a shaliach to San Francisco, London and New York.
Julian started Journeys Making Meaning (JMM) as a way to share his expertise and passion with groups who want to go beyond a holiday and explore the deeper Jewish story of a place. Each of his tours is unique because they deal with the complexities of the day. In South Africa, he was looking at issues around refugees, immigration and who is indigenous — all questions that are at the forefront of global politics today, and which go to the root of the South African Jewish community’s history and place in South Africa.
“Each and every one of my Journeys is different, as the conversations surrounding us change. Nothing stands still. No site is ever the same. We have new conversations with different people and with different stories,” he says. These trips are built in partnership with the group, and no issue or question is out of bounds. However, Julian does not work with BDS-affliated groups or any group that does not believe in Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State. “You name it, I’ve dealt with it. People committed to Israel, people ambivalent towards Israel, people angry with Israel. Committed Jews, devout Christians and Muslims, secular folks, social progressives and fiscal conservatives,” he says.
While his tour to South Africa did include time on the beach, up the mountain, visiting the wine route, enjoying good food and going to a game lodge, it went way beyond that. “We explore the ‘big story’ and Jewish history of the city, from District Six to Ikamva Labantu to Robben Island. We go to the Holocaust Centre and reflect on its role in educating South Africans learners about the Holocaust. We even go to the cemetery in Pinelands, where I tell the story of my own family — because I believe every family has a story to tell that is part of our history here,” he says. “When people travel, it mustn’t be to escape their lives, but to make them ask the most difficult questions about life back home,” says Julian. “I want them to return and see their own society with new eyes. For example, if we are in Germany and we learn about the book burnings before the Holocaust, I want it to make people question the extent of press freedom in America — and if it is being limited, to try change it,” he adds.
Julian often brings in local guides at specific sites, as he knows they tell the story more genuinely than he can. For example, last year he took a group to Greece, and on their first evening in Saloniki they met with Aliki Arouh, a Jewish woman, archivist, and second generation child of Salonikin Jews who survived the Shoah. “It was such a powerful conversation. The next day we visited the sites which illustrated the stories she shared.” he wrote at the time.
For him, the people who are in each group are as much a part of the tour as the places themselves. At the same time, knows these tours aren’t for everyone, and he is up front with people about what to expect. “If they just want to relax on the beach or see the big game, then I tell them they are on the wrong tour,” says Julian. But despite this he is in huge demand, as people want to engage with the places they visit beyond the tourist attractions.
Julian once toured Israel with two Syrians who had escaped the civil war. “The two sites they insisted on visiting were the Al Aqsa Mosque, and Tel Aviv — this incredibly progressive city in the Middle East, which sounded like a dream to them,” he recalls. “At Al Aqsa, they saw how an Israeli policeman let them in to pray but I was held back. It was an encounter that really demonstrated the complexities of the Middle East.”
Where to next for him? After his trip to South Africa, he is guiding groups in Poland, Germany, Israel, America, France and Morocco, and will also be travelling to east Africa to explore the possibility of trips to Kenya and Rwanda.
To South African Jews wanting to explore their own history, he suggests that we “be honest with ourselves about our complex past. We mustn’t demonise each other but we can still talk about things that are uncomfortable. That will help find a way to an exciting future.”
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