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Looking for Pontius Pilate's Footprints Near the Western Wall: Russian Jewish Tourists in Jerusalem

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This study examined trips to Jerusalem by Russian Jewish tourists who visited Israel during late 1998. The research examines the expectations prior to travel, their actual experiences, and how they related to prior expectations. A content analysis was undertaken of tourist memories and reflective diaries. This analysis was supplemented by personal interviews and by participant observations undertaken during the course of Russian-language guided tours of Jerusalem. The research set out to examine tourist expectations and the differences between expectations and reality. Russian Jewish tourists arrive in Israel having left a country in transition. In the present study it is proposed that what has been called the “master narrative” for Russia has been lost and that this combined with the changed status of religion may have led to an intensified search for roots. The self-identification of today's post-Soviet Jewish intelligentsia is made up of a unique combination of Jewish legacy and the heritage of the Grand Russian Culture, which has been created by Jewish writers and artists as well, although its main narrative is a Christian one. They regard Jewish writers and artists as having made a significant contribution to the development of Russian identity. In the present research it is suggested that any tour by a member of the Post-Soviet Jewish intelligentsia to Jerusalem may be viewed as a “double pilgrimage.” The first component is as a pilgrimage to King David's capital, the capital of the original and ancient Jewish state. In this context the Western Wall may be viewed as the most sacred place in Jerusalem. The second component is as a pilgrimage to the roots of Christian civilization. In this context the Via Dolorosa, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Holy Sepulchre may be viewed as key sacred sites in Jerusalem. In practice, however, the landscapes of the Western Wall and the Garden of Gethsemane differ markedly from the expectations that tourists have and incongruity is evident within the dual role as the center of the Judeo-Christian civilization. In contrast to tourists' expectations of Israel as a destination, Jewish history is in fact communicated most cogently at Yad VaShem, established in 1953 as a place to commemorate Jewish Holocaust victims. It is here that Russian Jewish tourists appear to gain an understanding of their roots.
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Keywords: Holy Lan; Key words: Identity; Roots; Russian Jews

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Department of Sociology and Political Science, Open University of Israel

Publication date: 2001-01-01

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  • Tourism, Culture & Communication is international in its scope and will place no restrictions upon the range of cultural identities covered, other than the need to relate to tourism and hospitality. The Journal seeks to provide interdisciplinary perspectives in areas of interest that may branch away from traditionally recognized national and indigenous cultures, for example, cultural attitudes toward the management of tourists with disabilities, gender aspects of tourism, sport tourism, or age-specific tourism.
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