Online course provides virtual-reality visits to Israel for Christians

The sites here are "for all to remember" what the Lord has done, said the man who makes the tours.

People enjoy and bath in the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret) next to the city of Tiberias on June 23, 2015.   (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
People enjoy and bath in the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret) next to the city of Tiberias on June 23, 2015.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Visiting Israel virtually just got better.

Keshet Journeys has introduced a twist to its online content – virtual reality at Holy Land sites.

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The Israel Tour Leader Online Academy now also offers more than just a 360-degree tours, but virtual reality as well. This means users can jump into the scene with virtual reality glasses. At one site, they are also testing an avatar-guided experience. Keshet Director Moshe Gabay said that the company is working on getting more sites in this format.

The course, originally intended for tour leaders from abroad, has recently opened up to anyone who wants to register. The content is designed to supplement a typical itinerary to the Holy Land and enhances the visit by reinforcing information on the sites and geography of the Bible.

Aside from virtually stepping into Magdala and meeting an avatar tour guide to show you around, there are hours of virtual touring available for people who want a deeper look at the Holy Land. Gabay described it as an “additional layer” to the knowledge that a tourist gets by coming to Israel. 

ARCHEOLOGISTS EXCAVATE the historic site of Magdala (Credit: Courtesy)ARCHEOLOGISTS EXCAVATE the historic site of Magdala (Credit: Courtesy)

“The site speaks and we understand the Bible much better,” he said. “It’s an additional layer to the Bible, it’s connecting geography to the sites, what happened and what we see – and it makes the Bible come alive.”

This course, Gabay stressed, is not meant to replace coming to Israel, but it can provide excellent access for those who cannot travel. 

Nevertheless, for those who can get here, nothing can replace the life-changing experience. As a tour guide himself, Gabay said bringing groups to the sites does not get old.

“You explore everything again, you see new things or make a new Bible connection and it is amazing,” he said. “It is like this every time. It doesn’t even get boring being there 100 times.”

Gabay referred to the Lord’s command to the Israelites to place 12 stones in the Jordan River.

“God told them, ‘It’s not just for you to remember, but for all nations to remember,’” Gabay said. “God wants to remind us of what He’s done for us by bringing us specifically to that location.”

“I say to pastors, ‘You get people to church, but bringing them to Israel brings them a step further in their faith,’” Gabay said.

Gabay just got back from the Christ Fellowship Conference in Florida where he was encouraged by the high interest in future tours to the Holy Land. 

"I have a lot of hope for the future and I believe there will be many more churches coming to Israel than before because they are looking for more content,” Gabay said. “What I heard from this conference was, the church needs to become more personal. Building a strong community is their focus, doing things together, taking care of each other. Coming to Israel, I think, will be a tool for them to achieve this goal.”

It is a market that has room for improvement. When Israel set a record number in 2019 for incoming tourism, Gabay noted that just several hundred thousand of these 4.5 million tourists came on a Christian pilgrimage tour, including Catholic Orthodox and Evangelical Christians. 

WHAT IS IN THE COURSE?

With a slow but steady reopening since early January, tourism has picked up in the past few weeks despite challenges and restrictions. Israel's borders were shut in March 2020 due to the COVID pandemic and only partially reopened in May 2021.

Keshet’s Israel Tour Leader Online Study Platform helped bridge that gap in physical tourism with its extensive library of lectures, 360-degree virtual tours of biblical sites and relevant teaching of ancient and modern Israel.

“We opened it up to everybody because before you come to Israel and get an itinerary you listen to the guiding and go through the course you’ll remember much more,” he explained. “We always had people, over the years, say ‘I got so much information and I was so overwhelmed with the tour.’ People just want to reflect and go back over things.”

The online course combines teachings from Israeli experts as well as international ministry leaders who bring groups to Israel. 

To learn more about the course, see the Israel Tour Leader website.