Partners offer Germany-Israel tour

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NEW YORK -- Tours combining Germany and Israel are the result of a partnership of TAL Tours, an operator that focuses on Israel, the German national carrier Lufthansa, the German National Tourist Office North America and the Israel Government Tourist Office.

Destinations figuring prominently in the program are Jerusalem and three German cities with especially strong Jewish histories and thriving Jewish communities: Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich.

For Jewish-Americans who experienced the Holocaust or have relatives who did, the tours could help bring about some degree of reconciliation, said Stuart Katz, president of TAL Tours, Valley Stream, N.Y.

Germany & Israel, a 16-page brochure, includes city and spa packages in both countries as well as escorted tours of historical and cultural interest to Jewish Americans.

The rebuilt Oranienburger Strasse Synagogue in Berlin, with Oriental towers and golden dome, is the cover photo of the Germany & Israel brochure. Much like the brochure, the title of one of the escorted tours, Contrasts and Similarities of Germany and Israel, is meant to engage the Jewish-American market, Katz said.

"Many Jewish people have been brought up with the attitude that they should avoid German products," Katz said. "We've gotten a lot of negative response from Jewish leaders around the country."

Asked how he has responded to the negative criticism, Katz said, "It's not something to contest, but something about which to educate. I myself had that attitude before I started to go to Germany."

Katz said he started traveling to Germany about two years ago, and that it "definitely" took some convincing on the part of the German National Tourist Office to get him to go. His impressions changed during his second trip, he said, several months later.

"Germans of today are embarrassed about the Holocaust," Katz said, "but [they] feel we must never forget and that we have to learn from the past to ensure something of this magnitude never happens again."

The German National Tourist Office initiated the program with a mainly Jewish tour operator, a spokesman said, in an effort to reach out to the Jewish-American market.

It is an ongoing initiative, as the brochure follows the tourist office's publication of a 36-page guidebook titled "Germany for the Jewish Traveler."

Mainly because of immigration from Russia, the spokesman said, Germany has the fastest-growing Jewish population in Europe.

The U.S., according to Katz, has a Jewish community that maintains a widely negative perception of Germany, something that Lufthansa is very eager to change.

"There's a lot of reluctance among American Jews to go to Germany," Katz said. "What many people don't recognize is that there are a lot of similarities, both between [the U.S.] and Germany and Germany and Israel."

Both the U.S. and Germany are "modern countries, with growing Jewish communities," Katz said, "and at the same time, you have a certain level of assimilation."

He said the tours are most likely to appeal to open-minded travelers interested in exploring their roots and to multigenerational family travelers such as grandparents traveling with grandchildren, as well as Jewish-Americans of eastern European descent.

For more information, contact TAL Tours at (800) 825-9399 or (516) 825-0966; fax: (516) 825-0980, or e-mail [email protected].

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