If there is one takeaway from chatting with Nadav Peretz, founder of OUTstanding Travel (www.outstandingtravel.com), it is that there is more to a book beyond its cover. It’s easy to get wooed by the charming 33-year-old’s bright white smile and picture-perfect, sun-kissed complexion. His familiar ease has been a trademark presence for the thousands of travelers that have explored Israel and Greece (and soon other Mediterranean destinations) through his travel company, which celebrated its third anniversary this spring. But like many LGBT youth, Peretz had to come to terms with his own identity, and eventually embrace it, before he was truly empowered to embark on a career that now spans the globe, attracting tourists from around the world to explore Israel’s wonders and other destinations rich in culture and history.
Peretz was born in the small city of Tiberias that lies on the idyllic western shore of the Sea of Galilee. While most may think of Jerusalem as Israel’s holiest city, Tiberias’s 2,000-year-old history holds a special place for Jews and Christians alike. It is where Jesus Christ is said to have walked on water at nearby Lake Kineret, while centuries later Gracia Nasi saved Jewish refugees from the Spanish Inquisition. The hot springs at Hamat Tiberias National Park have offered therapeutic spa offerings for generations. This complex and beautiful landscape was the backdrop for Peretz’s youth, at which time his father served as the city’s mayor. “It was a special childhood,” reflects Peretz. “Being the son of a mayor in a small town, I experienced things that other kids did not.”
But circumstances dramatically shifted for Peretz when he was 16, and his father accepted a government position overseas and relocated the family to Great Neck, a region on Long Island, New York. A new country, a new language, and his own sexual awakening proved difficult for Peretz. An article in an Israeli newspaper set into action a course of events that would further complicate his family dynamic but ultimately lead to resolution and acceptance.
Peretz had read an article in an Israeli newspaper about five Orthodox Jewish men who identified as being gay, and though each one had a different story, it was the first time he realized that he wasn’t alone. At the end of the article was information about JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing), a controversial gay conversion therapy program based in Jersey City. (In 2015 JONAH was ordered to close by a New Jersey superior court judge.) For eight months, Peretz secretly sought out “treatment” and eventually told his parents, who were in shock. Self-acceptance would require returning to his homeland.
A few months later, Peretz returned to Israel to join the army. Since 1993, Israel has permitted gays, lesbians, and bisexuals to openly serve in the military. (Ironically, it was the same year that the United States’ “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” directive was issued.) “None of my friends experienced homophobia,” says Peretz of his military experience. “The army was very accepting. Everyone was welcome: men, women, transsexual, gay, straight, Christian, Jew, and Muslim.” Peretz revisited the conversation with his parents, this time coming from a place of acceptance and self-worth. And with this empowerment, they said, “If you are happy, we are happy.”
Much of Peretz’s experience with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) involved connecting with Jewish communities throughout the world to promote international relations, and he eventually returned to New York to work with the Israeli consulate in public relations and marketing. “My passion has always been to bring people to Israel. People imagine the desert and soldiers and religion, but it’s also modern. Outside of Silicon Valley, Israel is number two in technology.” Just this March, Intel announced the acquisition of Mobileye, a Jerusalem-based, autonomous vehicle technology company for $15 billion— the largest hi-tech purchase in Israel’s history.
Does that mean driverless cars will someday operate OUTstanding Travel tours? Well, that’s a long way off, and for the moment, Peretz is concentrating on cultivating human experiences with beautifully curated itineraries for the gay traveler, a vision that came to fruition after visiting friends in London. Peretz had been further advancing his education at The Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, studying international affairs while also working parttime for an event company when the idea came to him. It seemed like a logical step: to combine his passion for Israel with his diverse experience in tourism and public relations. OUTstanding Travel was born and he’s been on the fast track ever since to keep up with the growing demand, develop new offerings, and expand into new markets.
“We work with independent travelers, small groups, as well as gay bus tours during Tel Aviv Pride. Every couple of months we add another kind of experience, but it has taken time,” says Peretz of the countless hours of dedication it takes to keep OUTstanding Travel truly outstanding. “Most of our customers are Americans, many coming from New York City, Florida, and Boston for an average of ten days, but we’re seeing more travelers coming from Mexico, South Africa, and throughout Asia, too. We’re very active on social media so there is a great presence out there for those interested in traveling to Israel.”
June is prime travel season for those who want to experience Israel in all of its LGBT glory. Tel Aviv Pride is an epic celebration, which draws nearly 200,000 locals and tourists for an array of parties, festivals, and the iconic parade that begin at Gan Meir Park and conclude at Gordon Beach with live music and a beach party that extends into the evening.
This year, OUTstanding travel offered five different bus itineraries that incorporated many of Israel’s most notable destinations including Jerusalem, Western Galilee, Masada and the Dead Sea, Petra, and Jaffa. Peretz also collaborated with underwear king Andrew Christian on a Pride package that included many of the aforementioned tours, special Andrew Christian representatives, and access to the official Pride Pool Party at the Poli House Hotel. Beyond the Pride revelry, Peretz has meticulously created itineraries for any time of year, from a weekend in Tel Aviv to a ten-day whirlwind tour of the entire country.
While much of the sights have a broad appeal, Peretz has also sought out historical insights that will resonate with the gay traveler. The Jerusalem tour highlights Roman Emperor Hadrian, one of the first gay leaders in recorded history. The 14th emperor of Rome, Hadrian is notoriously known for his open marriage and relationship with a young Greek named Antinous, who perished in the River Nile during a visit to Egypt. The emperor visited Jerusalem after the First RomanJewish War and rebuilt the city to his own liking, provoking a rebellion that cost hundreds of thousands of lives and ultimately the banning of Judaism in the holy city.
Peretz also understands that every traveler is unique. He recognizes that some see the region as problematic and might be dissuaded by news reports about conflicts in the Middle East. But hearsay can’t compare to his lifelong love for his homeland. “Israel is filled with beautiful people,” he says. “And because the country is so small, you can travel its expanse in a short period of time.”
Specialty itineraries include a gay honeymoon tour, including private transfers, a personal walking tour of the Old City in Jerusalem, and a private guide for Ein Gedi Oasism Masada and the Dead Sea. Five-star accommodations include the jaw-dropping Isrotel Beresheet Hotel, located on the precipice of the Ramon Crater, the world’s largest erosion crater dating back 220 million years. Now part of the country’s largest National Park, the crater provides a dramatic backdrop for romance while the hotel’s private villas and Carmel Forest Spa deliver secluded rejuvenation.
Peretz recognizes that international travel can also be enjoyed on a budget. The sevenday itinerary “High Style on a Low Budget” includes group tours of Jerusalem, Masada and the Dead Sea, Tel Aviv and Jaffa, and a night of dancing and revelry at one of Tel Aviv’s most popular gay parties, “Dreck.”
One of the most exciting itineraries planned for 2017 is OUTstanding Travel’s collaboration with Gays with Kids (www.gayswithkids.com), an informative website for gay parents and parentsto-be that was launched in 2014 by Brian Rosenberg and his husband Ferd van Gameren. The “Gay Dad Family Trip to Israel” is scheduled for August 13-22, 2017 and is a global effort to build lifelong connections among gay parents and their children.
The connection was made through Rabbi Baruch Ha Levi (more affectionately known as Rabbi “B”), who met Peretz in Israel after relocating from the US, where he had been the rabbi at Rosenberg’s synagogue. Thinking that there might be some synergy, Peretz met Rosenberg for coffee during a business trip to New York City, and the pair immediately felt that a family-oriented trip would be a great addition to OUTstanding Travel’s offerings. Peretz also knew that it was important for Rosenberg to experience firsthand the kind of itinerary he had in mind, so working with the Israeli consulate, he arranged for Rosenberg and one of his children to do a test-run.
“We had an amazing time,” reflects Rosenberg. “Peretz did a fantastic job and knew how to create an itinerary that would be interesting for my daughter as well as me. It’s history coming to life: from the big markets to the unbelievable food (falafel stands to high-end restaurants), the beautiful beaches and the Dead Sea, the mix of modern and new. One of the highlights was staying in a Bedouin camp (think Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments when he first heads to the desert). The next morning we had a camel ride, which my daughter loved.”
The tour will also connect travelers with local gay dads through The Association of Israeli Gay Fathers, who are working diligently to fight for equality, which is further complicated by religious laws in addition to same-sex rulings. Rosenberg said one of the highlights was meeting with these families and seeing his daughter play and communicate with the other children even though they didn’t speak the same language. He hopes the tour will build long-lasting relationships not only with other travelers, but also with those they meet during the trip.
Of course, none of this could happen without Peretz at the epicenter, drawing from his in-depth knowledge of a country he loves and the desire to share that with the world. “Nadav has a passion and level of excitement second to none,” says Rosenberg. “In life you’d be lucky to meet someone as genuine. He’s a nice guy that wants to make great vacations filled with lifelong memories.”