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  • I am writing to express my deep concern and disappointment around certain aspects of the Holy Land and Jesus Tours, co-led by Dr. David Jordan and Mr. Dennis Derr, and tour guides Wissam (last name unknown) and Yogev Ozeri.

    First, let me state that Yogev – the Jesus Tour guide -- is an exceptional tour guide.  He is knowledgeable, personable, attentive, engaged, sensitive, responsive – everything that any tourist could want in a guide.  If I ever return to the Holy Land, I will do so with Yogi as my tour guide.

    Next, let me outline the chasm between what was advertised, and what we experienced.  Please note that this letter will set forth only some of my more salient concerns that speak to the following themes:

    -       False advertising

    -       Substandard accommodations

    -       Invasive and inappropriate behavior from the tour guide and one of the ministers

    -       Lack of integrity by one of the ministers 

    According to the itinerary, we were supposed to stay four nights at the Olive Tree Hotel, in Jerusalem.  Instead, we stayed four nights at the Jacir Palace Hotel, in Bethlehem.   Setting aside political and safety considerations, the distinctions between the two hotels are marked.

    Upon arrival, my roommate found more than 20 live bugs in her bed.  We also found stains on the sheets and comforters.  We complained about the bugs, and were upgraded to a new room, in which we had no towels, and there was unflushed excrement in the toilet.  When I notified the front desk about the excrement, I was told that I did not know how to flush the toilet.

    Imagine our surprise when we were arrived – on our very last night in Israel – at the Olive Tree Hotel, and found exceptional food and clean, working toilets.  There were even two EO representatives at that hotel – whom I trust would not have questioned my ability to flush a toilet.

    I am also exceptionally disquieted by Mr. Dennis Derr, as outlined by representative examples of his concerning behaviors, below.

    -       Mr. Derr lacks interpersonal awareness and savvy.  Some examples of this include, but are not limited to:

    o   Mr. Derr repeatedly interjected in conversations that I was having with different individuals at different times.  It is inappropriate to join a dyad that is engaged in conversation – and to do so repeatedly is disruptive and intrusive.

    o   Mr. Derr continually spoke about his prior 16 trips to the Holy Land – drawing comparisons between those trips and this trip. By continually reliving those trips, he minimized ours.  How?  He sought to make the trip more about him and his experience, rather than about us and our experiences – for many of us the only time that we will ever be in the Holy Land.

    o   Mr. Derr did not maintain appropriate interpersonal distance.  As an example, on one occasion he positioned himself, on the bus, so that the front zipper of his pants was within inches of my face.  On another occasion, he was walking so close to me that he stepped on the back of my sandal.  These are just two examples of routine, rather than exceptional, occurrences.

    -       Mr. Derr lacks self-awareness and awareness of others, and lacks business acumen and any sense of customer service.  On the final morning, I went to breakfast earlier than usual.  While working on my laptop, I overheard Dr. Jordan telling Mr. Derr about a complaint that he had received.  Mr. Derr said, “Well, if it weren’t for us, none of us would be here.”  This speaks to Mr. Derr’s inability to garner more than three participants for his tour – four, if one counts his wife.  However what he discounts is that – as grown adults – each of us should have been advised of the changes in itinerary PRIOR to the trip about proposed itinerary changes and given the choice whether we still wanted to participate in the trip, as amended.  While Dr. Jordan and I did discuss this concern at the very end of the trip, the fact remains that this was not done – and it should have been.

    -       Mr. Derr lacks integrity:   

    o   Mr. Derr claims to hold a volunteer position with EO.  However, if his trip is free, then he is, in fact, compensated – and it is inappropriate, inauthentic and dishonest to misrepresent his role as volunteerism.

    o   Just prior to communion in the Garden of Gethsemane, Mr. Derr tearfully began speaking about how when two people share a cup of coffee in certain countries, they form a bond with each other and cannot speak ill of each other, or harm each other in any way – including reputation – for one year. He then spoke about how if two people share communion, that bond and promise will last for a lifetime.  At this point, Mr. Derr was clearly aware of the dissatisfaction of some members in the group.  Mr. Derr clearly came across as insincere, manipulative and self-serving in his efforts to proactively discourage negative feedback through this story – which I have been unable to independently verify.  His timing – linked to Holy Communion – was wholly inappropriate, and tainted the experience. 

    o   At one point, Mr. Derr responded to concerns that were being raised by saying that the CEO of EO had died unexpectedly in 2014, and that the organization was experiencing some “growing pains” in the wake of its transition to new leadership (you).  This was misplaced, and inappropriate.

    My concern and extreme dissatisfaction also extends to Wissam, our second tour guide:

    o   Wissam did not introduce himself to me, or to my roommate.  Instead, his first words to me were, “You can’t wear shorts today.” 

    o   Wissam spent an inordinate amount of time on his cell phone – speaking, and texting.   Most of these discussions appeared to be for personal reasons.

    o   Wissam did not accompany us at any locations beyond what was minimally required. 

    o   At at least one location – Herodian – Wissam provided misinformation. 

    o   I observed Wissam spit at a Jewish site. 

    o   One on occasion, when I asked him a question (prior to beginning the Via Delarosa), Wissam placed both of his hands on my cheeks, in an inappropriate and unwelcome manner, and said, “You are not listening to me.”  He later apologized for doing so. 

    o   Wissam continually interjected his own interpretations – of the Bible, of God, and of Jews (particularly at Masada, where he spoke ill of the Jews who died there, criticizing them for not considering other options beyond those that they chose, and questioning their bravery).  

    o   We observed Wissam being challenged by two individuals – one of whom said “We can hear you!” when he said how Israel was far less beautiful than surrounding countries, and on a separate occasion at an archeological tell.  On both occasions, he ignored the individuals who challenged him. 

    o   As we approached Bethlehem, Wissam played a YouTube video on the bus audio system (at an extremely loud volume) that was anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian.  He – along with Dr. Jordan and Mr. Derr -- spoke in a highly biased manner in favor of the Palestinians, and negatively of the Israelis (“the oppressors”), on multiple occasions.   There was NO sense of balance… no sense of objectivity… Instead, the trip was highly politicized.

    I observed multiple examples of anti-Semitism, as well.

    o   Wissam, Mr. Derr and Mrs. Derr repeatedly directed us not to buy souvenirs except at those stores endorsed by EO.  While at Mt. Carmel, I purchased rosaries, olive wood crosses and olive wood hearts from the not-for-profit store.  While I was waiting in line, Mrs. Derr approached me and told me not to buy those items at that store.  She later apologized for attempting to direct me in this manner.

    When we finally arrived at – and were given time to shop at – the EO approved stores, I was shocked to find that some items were priced in excess of 300% of prices for the exact same items at the non-EO endorsed stores. Perhaps even more disturbing, records were kept of how much each of us spent, and of who our tour guide was.  Really, Mr. Ridgway – kickbacks?

    Upon initially raising my concerns about Wissam to Dr. Jordan, I was directed to “show a little grace.”   

    Well – the trip is over now, and it is time for EO to “show a little grace” to me

    Mr. Ridgway, as an adjunct college instructor, I work exceptionally hard for my money – earning less than what fast food workers make in some cities. It dismays me to think that I paid for one trip, yet experienced a very different trip – especially when I consider how many hours I actually worked to earn this trip.

    I am also dismayed at how my pilgrimage was tarnished by these events and individuals.

    Please be advised that I will be posting this on social media, to protect others from this sort of experience with your company.

    - Cathy W.
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