Mea Sharim, the niche of a Dutch tourist guide in Israel

Mea Sharim, the niche of a Dutch tourist guide in Israel

Since we are currently focusing on tourist guides in the world, we are glad to introduce the story of Jacobien, a Dutch lady who moved to Jerusalem, where she became a tourist guide.

You can read an interview with Jacobien here.

Jacobien followed her Israeli husband to Jerusalem 18 years ago.

Her background as social-financial advisor and mediator did not help her find a job in her host country. Plus, at the beginning Jacobien was busy organizing a new life in a new country, with all the implications we are all familiar with. It took her a while to decide to become a licensed tourist guide.

She first started by studying the languages she needed to communicate with people around her, Arabic and Hebrew. In the process, she discovered and learned a lot about the history and present reality of the land.

She combined this new wealth of knowledge with her professional background and her passions. As a trained mediator she knew how to filter complex information to make it accessible to people. The reality of Israel and Palestine is not easy to interpret, but motivation and a passion for communication and storytelling helped Jacobien make this an easy task.

Her natural curiosity and a genuine interest towards human beings pushed her to discover new places, stories and situations. What she had to do when she decided to go back to work, was to put the whole experience into a professional framework.

How she put everything together

She decided to train herself to become a tourist guide. She took a two and a half year university course, which added to her knowledge of the region, and became an official tourist guide.

mea sharim

Jacobien (on the right) during a tour of Mea Sharim

This profession is quite challenging in a place like Jerusalem and surroundings. Tourism is a huge source of income, and tourist guides and agencies abound. Competition is fierce. Jacobien decided she needed to specialize on a niche. Thanks to her Hebrew and her passion for human stories, she started penetrating Mea Sharim, the oldest Jewish Ultraorthodox neighbourhood in Jerusalem. She visited shops, talked to people, looked around, absorbing the atmosphere of the place. She studied a lot to understand a very little researched community. When she felt confident, she launched her Mea Sharim tour.  It is a one-day tour that takes visitors to the heart of the neighbourhood. Jacobien explains a lot about the history, culture, habits and lifestyle of its population. This tour has become very popular in the expat community in Jerusalem.

Of course she does not limit herself to that. She goes from organizing private tailor-made tours for groups of visitors to more massive tourism through the network of tourism agencies. Maintaining a steady flow of work requires a lot of effort, but Jacobien knows that if she delivers a good service, people will call her back.

Working visas in Israel

It is possible to work in Israel with a special visa that gives unrestricted permission to work. Since Jacobien is married to an Israeli, it was relatively easy for her to get one (it can be more difficult for foreigners who have no links to the land). She later managed to convert it into a Permanent Residency Permit, which she has to renew every five years.

Jacobien decided to become a self-employed tourist guide, a status that allows her to issue her own invoice for any kind of private tour she gives, though it requires to comply to advanced tax payments and involves complicated calculations.


About Claudia Landini

Claudia is a certified intercultural trainer and life and mobile career coach with 28 years of experience abroad, in Africa, Latin America, Middle East and Asia.