My feet first touched the ground of Israel in 1973, when the purpose of my visit was to meet with officials regarding my duties as a Drug Enforcement Agent. I didn’t return to tour Israel for another 40 years.
In May of 2013 I returned with my wife and some dear friends from Toronto. Prior to leaving, we researched a private tour company: making contact with associates who had traveled to that area of the world, along with Googling of tour companies and online reviews. Amongst others, www.tripadvisor.com was very helpful. We ended up selecting Samson Tours. Our trip was coordinated by Sharona in their corporate office in Israel.
We were part of a large group aboard a cruise ship. This particular cruise line included most shore excursions tours as part of the overall cost. More expensive and detailed tours could be purchased for an additional fee. The vast majority of the passengers disembarked, loaded on to buses and off they went. We were greeted the first morning by a very large and imposing man named Doobie Sabbo from Samson Tours. As with most large men of his stature, we came to know him as a gentle giant. The four of us entered the air-conditioned van and spent the next three days on a whirlwind tour of Israel.
Private tours, especially when there are four people or two families to share the cost, is the only way to see a country in such a short time. Doobie was the most knowledgeable guide I have personally toured with in my travels to over 100 foreign countries. His passionate insights, flexibility and knowledge were without peer in his industry. His enthusiasm for his work made the history of the area even more incredible. Doobie is not bashful about expressing his opinion about politics, history and the Israeli way of life, but he does so in a respectable fashion – teaching without preaching.
The most popular site to take tourists is the spot where John The Baptist baptized Jesus: Yardenit. This is a huge area conducive to large number of buses and big crowds. From personal research, I believe the true site where this happened to be Qasr El Yahud. I was stunned when Doobie took us there and actually explained the difference between the two sites. There may be guides who know the difference, but few who would take you to the site known from biblical references.
Then there was the spectacular Church of the Holy Sepulcher whose history includes the way of the cross, the area where Christ died and the place where he was buried. Hundreds of people were going by the site, where monetary offerings are easily accepted and made. After reviewing this area, Doobie asked us if we would like to see another possible site where Christ’s body was laid. He took us around the corner and then explained why he thought this was the actual spot where Christ was buried. His presentation was very convincing, so don’t forget to ask Doobie to take you there.
On our third day, we completely changed our itinerary to make the long drive to Masada. It was one of the highlights of our entire trip to the Middle East. Doobie did not bat a eyelash when we informed him we wanted to make the long drive to Masada. Just a big smile and off we went.
One thing you don’t often see in our world is integrity. At the conclusion of our three days, we all expressed our gratitude to Doobie. I informed him I would write a blog about this great experience he provided to us. He was quite humbled but made it clear that he wanted his employer, Samson Tours, mentioned in the blog as to not take any future work away from them. That says it all.