Get a clue

Joanna Shebson's treasure hunts are challenging for children and adults.

Participants see sites they did not know existed. (photo credit: Courtesy of Joanna Shebson)
Participants see sites they did not know existed.
(photo credit: Courtesy of Joanna Shebson)
Jerusalemites often lose sight of the myriad possibilities for fun and adventure in the Holy City. Those who have lived here for a long time often insist that they have seen and done it all.
That is where Joanna Shebson, founder of the blog, comes in. When it comes to having family fun in Jerusalem and entertaining visitors, her role is “the facilitator, the person in the middle who knows the needs of the tourists and those who know Jerusalem.”
Recently, she hooked up with Dave Blum of San Francisco, a.k.a. Dr. Clue, to introduce Jerusalem families and visitors to the allure of the treasure hunt. Since 1995, Dr. Clue Treasure Hunts have engaged friends and families in challenging and clue-decoding adventures in neighborhoods and historical districts worldwide. Shebson met him when he was in Israel for his nephew’s bar mitzva. They put together a hunt in the Old City, and she realized the magic of this activity.
Shebson explains, “The treasure hunt is a puzzle- based clue activity. Teams have to solve puzzles, hieroglyphics or a word-find. Participants receive seven clues in a ‘Top Secret’ envelope. The clues do not have to be answered in any specific order.”
Each puzzle gives you an answer that can be translated into any language requested. For hunts in Jerusalem, the most popular languages are English, Hebrew and French.
The treasure hunt can be customized for families as well. “Word-find can consist of family names or inside jokes that only the family members would understand,” she says.
She explains the difference between a scavenger hunt and a treasure hunt. “With a scavenger hunt, you have a list of tasks to take you around, as opposed to a treasure hunt where you decode puzzles.”
Participants are divided into teams consisting of players of different ages. In general, it gets people to work together, building communication and teamwork skills. And “it facilitates interaction with the locals,” says Shebson.
Brian B., who took part in a recent birthday treasure hunt, says, “Dr. Clue’s treasure hunt did an amazing job of showing us a new side to an old city [the Old City] in a fun way that helped us get to know our teammates better – in this case, our own family! We were divided into teams – kids, teenagers and parents/grandparents. The stakes were high: Could the teens really beat the more mature adults?”
He continues, “Well, they did. Big time. The clues were challenging, certainly, but the teens were just faster on their feet, running through the narrow alleyways and cobblestone streets, while we were huffing and puffing. But what a great huff and puff it was: We saw sites we never even knew existed – and we’ve lived here for almost 17 years. And we learned the meaning of metal gates and half-hidden signs. Most of all, we got to experience the thinking styles of multi-generations. Dr. Clue even personalized the hunt to fit the birthday boy – a treat that made the day even more meaningful.”
Shebson’s company is three years old. In two years her web traffic has tripled. In the future, Shebson would like to work museums into the treasure hunt.
Aside from treasure hunts, Shebson promises she can prove to participants that there is more to Jerusalem than they thought. There is always something going on. For example, extreme sports in the Holy City are huge. is now promoting rappelling and rock climbing on a cliff behind the city discotheque. Midnight mountain biking and ATV riders have ample options, too, with Segways and jeeping also common practices.
To schedule a treasure hunt, e-mail Joanna Shebson at