I Passed!!

The tour guide Oral Exam. I can’t remember pressure like this. I definitely felt under pressure for my university finals; for my A-levels and GCSEs, but there was something different about this exam. It was worse even than the written exam I took back in June.

There is something about written exams. You can strategise; it is as much about technique as anything else. Making sure one finishes on time. Maybe one can avoid studying all the material and still be able to answer effectively.

The oral exam offers nowhere to hide. Sitting in front of you are four qualified and experienced tour guides, one of whom is also an travel agent, and you have only 30 minutes to impress them. And not just with your knowledge – they are testing you on your ability to be interesting and engaging, eye contact, posture, intonation etc.

The exam begins with you giving them a printed sheet of a tour itinerary that you have planned; then you have a chance to present for about 5 minutes one of the places you will visit on the tour, as if you are guiding them. So far, so good – you can prepare this and hopefully get off to a good start.

Then starts the fun. They begin to ask you questions on what you have just guided, then the day you have planned, and then the questioning broadens to cover potentially absolutely anything. You need to know the geology, geography, flaura and fauna of the whole country. Add to that the entire history from the day you are being examined (some questions are on current affairs) until prehistoric times; all the different sites including the history of their walls and water sources….it gets very tough.

On top was a sense of added pressure. It is possible to retake the exam, but only in 6 months’ time. So, if I failed, I would be unemployable for a minimum of six months. And after nearly two years as a student (with some part time work here and there), it would be helpful to work towards a more positive trend in the bank account.

I was not helped by the current security situation in Israel. After a few days of quiet in Tel Aviv, Hamas decided to fire a rocket in our direction. Not only that; it was at 2.30am – the first time we have had to wake up and head for the protected space in our pyjamas. With the extra nerves of the exam, I did not have the best night’s sleep.

View over Jerusalem from the Ministry of Tourism
View over Jerusalem from the Ministry of Tourism

I arrived at the Ministry of Tourism and briefly enjoyed the lovely view of Jerusalem from the balcony on the top floor, next to the examination room. My course coordinator was waiting, and helped keep me calm during what seemed to be the interminable wait to get in the exam room.

I entered, exchanged pleasantries, and began my pre-prepared piece on the mosaic floor of the ancient synagogue of Zippori. So far, so good. Then came the questions, which at some point soon I will publish in a separate post (at least what I can remember – there were many!). The beginning was ok, with a slightly rocky section as one of the examiners decided to quiz me on various of the lesser known kabbalists (he was soon taken off this route by the other examiners). I was then able to get into my stride.

I was reasonably fortunate with the questions to be honest. By now nearly all of my course-mates had taken their exams, and in the collaborative spirit that accompanied us throughout our stuides, they had been sharing with the group the sort of things they had been asked, in order to help us prepare.

Apart from a few exceptions, most of our group had received challenging but reasonable questions, and for me it was the same. Nothing too horrid, fortunately. And then it was all over. Time for that very nervous wait for the results, although fortunately, unlike the written exam, where we were waiting three weeks to hear, this was all over much more quickly.

By lunch time, I had received a text message from my course coordinator, containing a single, delightful word: ‘avarta‘ (you have passed).

I cannot describe my elation! Someone passing me in the street was so intrigued that he asked what had happened, before congratulating me also.

I concluded my morning in Jerusalem by taking my long suffering wife (who has loyally allowed me to practice on her, and has spent hours firing questions from past exams at me when she would rather be doing a million other things) for a light lunch. Walking into the cafe, whom did we bump into but the hadrachic legends Steve Israel and Jeremy Leigh, who had taught me 12 years previously when I was a student on the Machon L’Madrichei Chul (Institute for Youth Leaders from Abroad) programme.

This remarkable coincidence seemed somehow appropriate; a closure to a loop that began on the Machon, continued with various voluntary positions I held as a student and my sabbatical role at FZY, diverged for a while with a very enjoyable 5 years at P&G, before returning to this world of hadracha.

Now that the hard work of the studies has been concluded, it is time to find some employment. Now is not the best timing – the current security situation has been severly detrimental to the tourist industry. Fortunately I am not really available to work for a while – but bookings from November onwards are now open – be in touch!

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