Our connection to Jewish heritage is deep, strong, and heartfelt. And most of all, it is personal.
Our company is different than other travel companies in many ways. One reason is our founder’s background. Before he started Heritage Tours, Joel A. Zack was an architect and preservationist who was recognized for his research on the architecture of synagogues.
Joel led research expeditions to tiny villages from the Sahara Desert to the remotest parts of Eastern Turkey. He studied, photographed, and measured synagogues on the verge of ruin and his advocacy contributed to the protection, preservation, and restoration of a number of endangered synagogues.
That passion for Jewish culture and heritage remains as central to our company today as it was 20+ years ago.
Whether your interests are at-a-glance, in-depth, or centered around a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, our knowledge, experience, and connections have earned us a reputation as the leading provider of travel for those interested in uncovering the Jewish heritage of Morocco, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Turkey or Sub-Saharan Africa.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, Jewish traders established congregations in outposts from Mozambique to Zambia, to ostrich-farming communities in South Africa. And in the 20th century, many Jews held leadership positions in the struggle against apartheid and the establishment of a new government.
At the other end of Africa, in Morocco, Jewish communities lived in adobe villages along trans-Saharan trading routes and often served as itinerant merchants in weekly markets traveling from town to town. Major cities had dozens of synagogues and enormous Jewish cemeteries.
It is well documented that the Ottoman Empire never would have been the powerhouse it was without the contributions of the Sephardim, who came from Spain in 1492. Jews prospered here from Edirne on the western border all the way through Eastern Turkey.
Secret communities of Jews survived in the remote mountains of Portugal, and the Jewish heritage of many Portuguese towns is just being uncovered in the 21st century.
Perhaps most fascinating of all is Al-Andalus, where in the Middle Ages the “People of the Book” – Jewish, Christian, and Muslim – produced one of the greatest civilizations this world has seen, centered around Toledo, when the rest of Europe was going through the so-called Dark Ages.
And yet, Jewish heritage is not about history alone: it’s personal.
We are able to introduce you to members of these communities, from Jewish anti-apartheid figures and leaders of an African tribe known as the Lemba, with DNA links to the Jewish community in South Africa, to a Muslim man in Morocco who single-handedly took on the maintenance of a synagogue in his village after his Jewish neighbors had all left, just “because it was the right thing to do.”
Jewish heritage is, to us, not about looking at monuments in isolation – it is about understanding the cultural contexts surrounding the stones and plaster and the stories around them. It is about honest looks at evolving histories, struggles, and successes. And about lessons we can learn for our own times.
To us, Jewish heritage is about connections with communities, discovery of the past, and pondering the future. As we said, it’s all personal.