February 18, 2020

The Israeli Tour Guide Shaped by His American Experiences

Tour guide Maor Perry’s passion for Israel and Jewish history is as contagious as his smile and good vibes. He sees his role not just as an Israeli educator but a Jewish educator. His goal is to connect people to themselves and their heritage. “I do it in my way,” he said. “I try to simplify and explain. So you do the history first and then you try to connect people to it.”

Perry recently returned from guiding a high-profile multigenerational family from Los Angeles through Jerusalem. After visiting the Western Wall, they went to the Israel Museum to see the Dead Sea Scrolls. “How beautiful is our story that we can stand here in 2019 and read Hebrew that was written 2,100 to 2,300 years ago in this land by people who are probably blood related?” Perry said.

This magical moment, Perry said, brought the visiting family to its “aha” moment. “That’s why they’re here,” Perry explained. “They could have gone to the Bahamas. They’re here for this connection. [They] thanked me today. But I feel like I need to thank them, to get to share this moment with their family.”

Perry grew up in the Jewish community of Eley-Sinai in the Gaza Strip, founded mostly by families evacuated from the Sinai from 1979 and1982. Perry’s family members were forcibly evacuated from their homes during Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005. His community was dismantled. His friends dispersed. At the time, Perry was 20 and serving in the navy. “Then my world changes,” he recalled. “I’m in this really dark place. I have no house, no community, no family.”

“How beautiful is our story that we can stand here in 2019 and read Hebrew that was written 2,100 to 2,300 years ago in this land by people who are probably blood related?”

As soon as he completed his mandatory military service, all Perry wanted was “to get as far as possible from this place,” he said. “Put me on a plane anywhere for free [and] I’m in,” he said. Ironically, Perry’s “ticket out” of Israel was the very thing that brought him back: the Jewish Agency for Israel, which sent him to the United States.

Perry worked at a private pluralistic camp in New Hampshire, where “more than healing myself, being far from the balagan (chaos), I got to see a whole new Jewish world that I didn’t know existed,” he said.

Perry went on to work as an Israeli emissary for the Jewish Agency in Pensacola, Fla. After working in the U.S., he came to understand that “there are other ways to be Jewish, not just through the religious practicality of davening,” he said. “And the end result of that, the deeper understanding, is that it’s freaking cool to be Jewish. And I can connect to my Judaism through my history, my culture, my values.” 

For Perry, even a walk down the streets of Tel Aviv can be an inspiring, connected, almost miraculous moment. “I do it a lot. I zoom out and I zoom in. It gives me perspective — an understanding of gratitude. I feel lucky to be here right now.”