Over the past seven years, about 16,000 people have participated in scavenger hunts through Tali Tarlow’s company, Israel ScaVentures.
She is not a licensed tour guide, though she trains and manages more than 20 guides who lead groups on fun and educational scavenger hunts along 20 routes in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Gush Etzion, Safed and occasionally other places by request.
“There’s something about Israel that encourages you to reinvent yourself,” she says. “There don’t seem to be rules of how to live, and I love that I can be creative with my life.”
Tali Kaplinski was only 17 when she arrived in Israel from Cape Town in 1993, going straight from the airport to the dorm at Bar-Ilan University to begin a course of study in Jewish history. She didn’t know anyone there and had no family in Israel.
“My father is an educator. When I was five, my family came to Israel to accompany an Israel trip and I basically decided then that I would live here as soon as I left school. It was more a fact than a decision,” she explains. “I always felt I belonged in Israel and not in South Africa. It was a very primal thing for me.”
Active in the Bnei Akiva youth movement throughout high school, she came to Israel on a one-year Bnei Akiva program and arranged her aliya during that time, going back to South Africa only briefly in between.
“My parents were very supportive,” she says. “Two years later my younger sister made aliya and the rest of my family moved to Canada, and then a few years later my other sister and my parents made aliya, just before my oldest daughter was born.”
She met her husband, Daniel, through friends and got married in 1999. After two years of study at Matan Torah study institute for women in Jerusalem, she went to work at what was then Virtual Jerusalem until her first baby arrived.
Not long afterward, the young family departed for Daniel’s native London for five years of teaching in Jewish schools as Israeli emissaries. Two more children were born there; and one more when they came back to Israel. The Tarlow kids are now 16, 14, 11 and six.
“When we returned, I did a bunch of educational projects; taught in seminaries; did curriculum development for various places, including the Lookstein Center in Bar-Ilan and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel; started a speechwriting business with a partner; and eventually started working with a tour guide doing development of educational material,” she relates. “He asked me to create a scavenger hunt in Nahlaot and that is where the scavenger hunts started. That was about eight years ago.”
In July 2010, Tarlow launched her own business. Within a month, she was flush with clients and Israel ScaVentures was all over Facebook. By October of that year, she had hired eight guides.
“It was phenomenal how the business became big and well known in a very short time. I’ve been building on it ever since.”
She hopes this summer to publish a family tour and activity guide book for Jerusalem following the format of the hunts, in which each member of the group, from age six and up, takes on a specific role to encourage active learning: leader, detective, navigator, note-keeper, historian, and so on.
“Everyone finds themselves in the story of Jerusalem in a way they won’t forget. We built the program so that everyone’s going to engage with the game on the level they’re at. That way, different ages can play together so nicely.”
Her favorite route is the Old City of Jerusalem, one of nine choices in the capital city.
“Many people tell me, ‘I’ve been here so many times, but I never knew that.’ The Old City is always surprising and interesting – even if you’ve been there a thousand times.”
Her clients are tourists and local Israelis; the hunts are offered in Hebrew and English, and some in French and Spanish. Israeli groups often choose to do the activity on the occasion of a bar or bat mitzva.
“People are looking for meaning, and it’s also fun and engaging on a deep level.”
As director, her job is mainly administrative and so she relishes opportunities to go on local trips with her family. She plans to teach herself photography this year to better document those journeys.
The Tarlow family has been living in Elazar, a community in Gush Etzion, for 10 years.
“It really felt right to move there and it still feels right,” she says. “I found out five years ago that I am related to Tuvia Kushnir, one of the soldiers of the Lamed Heh [the convoy of 35 Hagana fighters killed on the way to Gush Etzion during the 1948 War of Independence]. He was a famous botanist, even though he was only 24 when he died. Maybe this is why Gush Etzion called to me.”
The Tarlow family speaks English at home, though all are fully bilingual.
“It was always important to me to speak Hebrew even right at the beginning,” says Tarlow, recalling how during her early days in Israel she once went to the post office and mistakenly asked the clerk to weigh her rather than to weigh the envelopes she’d brought. “I realized quickly what I’d said wrong and it was fine. I was going to speak Hebrew even if I embarrassed myself.”
Despite her many years in Israel, she does not feel 100% Israeli.
“I always felt like an outsider in South Africa, and later in England I felt like an Israeli. When I came back to Israel, after imagining that I would finally have a sense of belonging, I remember being in a parents’ meeting and being struck by feeling like a hutznik [foreigner], and it caused a huge identity crisis for me."
"Then someone explained to me that this is what Israel is; we all bring our identities with us and the diversity enriches our community. We don’t have to try to lose our old identity. Most of my friends are English-speakers and I’ve come to terms with my identity.”
Tarlow says she finds it meaningful to recite the “Modeh Ani” prayer every morning.
“I try to focus on being grateful that there’s a power that looks after me and believes in me and has faith in who I can be.”