“He Rises and Walks the Land”
The Temple Mount, the Old City Muslim Quarter are only some of the sites that Danny Herman, an archaeologist and a veteran tour guide.. visits regularly.
Tour guide Danny Herman (47).. specializes in private tours. An archaeologist by profession, and so also known as DANNY THE DIGGER, Danny is a sort of a local Indiana Jones, who created for himself a special niche and became a popular tour guide, especially for people looking for high-quality tours and in-depth focus of the remarkable archeology of the Land of Israel.
Childhood in a kibbutz
Married with three children, Herman grew up in the religious Kibbutz Tirat Zvi . Both his parents immigrated to Israel from the United States, with the establishment of the state. “I grew up in a religious Kibbutz, and had a sweet childhood – a “children house” till the sixth grade, and working on tractors in the cotton fields during high school” he recalls. “In the army it was obvious I would go to a combat unit, but there was some process of asking questions about my religious identity. When God did not answer, I decided to follow a secular life style. My father did not like it, but it was an established fact.”
After the army Herman had a few temp jobs. “I wanted to make money and enjoy it,” he recalls, “but in the end I decided to study archeology as I was fascinated by history, and archeology seemed to me as a discipline that provides objective truth. This is obviously not so true and much depends on the context and interpretation of the archaeologist, but I saw it as a valid tool to explain history, and especially Biblical history, which I suspected not to really be dictated by God to Moses.”.
Already during his first year of studies Herman received an offer to guide American tourists on themes related to the Bible – and Christianity.
“To this day I don’t know how they reached me,” he recalls with a smile.” So I began to learn also about Christian sites and Christian history, and found it to be fascinating. I also realized the economic potential of the field, and so I focused in this”.
In the 1990’s there was a positive atmosphere of hope to achieve peace with the Palestinians, tourism was thriving, and everyone wanted to be tour guide. Herman also wanted to join in the fun, especially because he understood that employment opportunities for archaeologists are quite limited. “Archaeology graduates have two options for employment – joining academic expeditions or work for Israel Antiquities authority”, he explains.” I had a pretty bad experience with both, at least in terms of employment conditions. You see, archaeologists earn the lowest wages in the public sector, you know why? Because if archaeologists strike, who cares? We are not the National Electrical company, and we have to apologize for that we are doing something we love doing”.
At this stage Herman was a father of two young children and earning a living became a major issue. “you can’t pay for groceries with pottery shards”, he laughs, “so I decided to enroll to a tour guide course. But the demand was very high at the time, as many assumed tourism is going to flourish, and unfortunately I did not score high enough to be accepted. I took it very hard, but my parents said, ‘continue with your archeological studies’, which I did, and indeed I got an offer to teach in the Overseas school of the Hebrew University. The feedbacks after the first class were excellent, and I was now in a positive mode, that a full academic teaching position is around the corner”.
But then came the second intifada and suicide bombings were almost routine. “Everything collapsed”, he recalls, “busses were exploding and overseas students stopped coming to Israel. I lost my job and I was quite at a loss. After some time I found myself working in an art gallery. This was an eye opening experience. Suddenly you see where the money is. People buying art works for USD 5000-10000. The owner of the Art gallery opened my eyes to entrepreneurship – if you initiate you succeed. I decided to study business administration in order to market Israeli Art”.
But at the same time, Herman applied for a teaching job in tour guide courses – and was accepted. “Ten years after rejecting me as a student they accepted me as a teacher of history and archeology. I still get a big smile when I remember this”, he says.
“All of these experiences taught how important it is to initiate. I also estimated rightly that guiding offers do not depend on agencies necessarily. A tour guide is freelance, and he can also create his own clientele”
An Israeli Indiana Jones
These insights led Herman to take charge and build a website where he offers his services. “You have to brand and differentiate yourself, define in what you are different” he explains. “Being an archaeologist I designed my site as a sort of Indiana Jones experience. I also remembered that when I started to study archeology, my brother gave me the nickname Danny the Digger, and I turned it into my brandname.”
It was not long and Herman gathered an enthusiastic clientele, and with it came livelihood. “I started receiving orders from high-tech companies, especially for corporate guests and business people. Being so, I’m trying to promote another business entity, ‘Israel Executive tours‘. I also get guiding requests from academic delegations. In fact today I have a team that executes some of my tours, when I am not available.”
Herman notes that being a good tour guide requires more than just knowledge. “You are also a combination of the an actor and a story teller,” he says, “You have to know how to deliver the knowledge in an interesting way. I developed techniques. The idea is also to entertain people, to be theatrical at times, even if it is just voice change. Most of my guiding by the way is in English, and although I am often complemented for being eloquent, I still try to improve it. I always try to improve my service, in all dimensions”.
Ambassador of Israel
Many of Herman’s clients are businessmen, but he wishes to guide also some celebrities. “I almost guided Justin Timberlake, but he canceled the last minute. I guided Dr. Oz, and hope to have more famous people touring with me”.
How do you deal with political questions of tourists?
“I come from a world of archeology, but often I find myself dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israelis seem to be in a paranoia that the whole world is against them, and so often I find myself like an ambassador representing Israel and its policies, but then I realize that not all are against us. Most have only a vague idea about the modern history here, and many end up thanking me for opening their eyes to all dimensions of the conflict.”
As things stand today, Herman is not optimistic about resolving the conflict. “I think that the situation currently is without a solution. The other side completely blinded itself to the fact that we existed here in the past, and the prosperity they gain from our current presence. Unfortunately, it seems that the gap cannot be bridged”.
Herman notes that it is important to differentiate between Arab Christians and Arab Muslims. “Arab Christians are between the hammer and the anvil. They seem Muslims for many Israelis, but most have a clear pro-Israeli view. All the Arab Christians I know have a clear affiliation with the state of Israel, although they express it in low tones. For example when there is a Arab strike in the Old City, they must close their stores as well, or else their properties could be vandalized.”
Do you have any social ties with any of them?
“I have a few Arabs Christian friends, and some business ties with some Arab Muslims.”
Fall and Rise
About a year ago, during “Protective edge” operation (Summer of 2014) Herman encountered a major medical crisis from which he recovered only recently. “During ‘protective edge’, there wasn’t much work, and as a family we stayed home most of the time”, he says, “finally one day a cease-fire was announced, and we decided to go bike riding as a family in the newly opened ‘extreme park’ near our house. It ended with nine screws in my pelvis. I lost my balance in one of the slopes, and fell really bad. It was terrible. But when I was in the E.R., the doctor looked at the X-Ray and stated ‘in three months you will stand again, in six months you will walk, and within a year you will be back to normal”. I was relieved. I slowly rehabilitated. This was one of my severest crisis, but I overcame it, and it also taught me how to deal with pain”. [See here Herman’s blog during the incident]
Following the injury Herman began to swim, and now he says he is ‘addicted to swimming’. “I swim almost every day, and infact now I feel healthier then before the fall. I was also afraid that some of my clients will not wait for my recovery, but it all worked well”.
Although he travels all over the country, there are some sites Herman particularly like, most of them in Jerusalem. “The Church of the Holy Sepulchre always fascinates me; both the excitement of the Christian pilgrims and the various rituals. The Temple Mount is also a fascinating, but the visit entails a long and slow security line, and a certain humiliation by the local Muslim religious authority (the ‘Waqf’) on the mountain itself. The City of David is an amazing site too. Historically it is the cradle of the Bible, Alphabet and Monotheism,” he says.
“Outside of Jerusalem, Tel Lachish is a rich sitepreserving a few great dramas. Masada of course has its beauty and bounty of finds, although as an historical site it is problematic. The Jewish rebels who took shelter in the mountain some 2000 years ago were really fanatics. They killed other Jews and enforced their agenda on all other refugees who fled to Masada. I still got the red beret on Masada, but now the IDF does not do it any more, and rightly so. “
Do you think that the Israelis still appreciate archeological findings?
“Unfortunately, It seems that the ‘golden age’ of local interest in archeology is behind us. As chief of staff of the IDF becoming an archaeologist like Yigael Yadin or alternatively an antiquities looter as in the case of Moshe Dayan will probably not happen again. The public’s focus today is in high-tech and industry, which is good, but I would be happy if there was more interest in archeology and history. “
What tours do you recommend?
“As I said, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is fascinating, as well as the City of David and the Temple Mount . I also recommend touring Caesarea or Beit She’an . Of the less known destinations, my favorite is the ancient city of Sussita , above the Sea of Galilee. It requires a 20 minutes hike up, but it is well worth the effort. “