How to travel the world without leaving your house

A message from the Cummings Centre.

When Dawna Lazare was approached to volunteer as part of the Cummings Centre’s travel club in the fall of 2019, she got straight to work planning day trips for the following spring and summer. There were plans to visit Quebec City as well as an art tour in Sutton, among others.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, put a halt on such excursions.

“I figured, ‘Ok, that is it for me. They aren’t going to need me any longer,” said Lazare.

She would soon receive a phone call asking for her help in setting up a virtual travel program. After initial hesitation, Lazare agreed to chair the committee of four.

“I am only one part of my committee,” she said. “We are four dedicated volunteers who work really hard. We all have our strengths.”

The committee has organized over 20 virtual tours since last October, including stops in Israel, the Netherlands, Portugal, Hungary and Namibia, among others. The group relies heavily on past travel experiences and personal research when deciding where to embark for a virtual visit.

“We are really looking for the best,” said Lazare. “We are in competition with YouTube. Our tours must have something that will set us apart and make people want to spend $10 to come and join us. We try to keep them all different and intriguing.”

Once a tour is agreed upon, Lazare puts her skills as a former recruiter into action. She will interview the respective tour guides, vetting the tour to make sure it is a good fit for the Cummings Centre and its clientele.  She has also learned new skills she has put to great use.

“I am the contact with the tour guide,” she said. “I have helped them with their IT or with getting better microphones for when they are live and in the streets. It is all stuff I have learned in the last year-and-a-half of COVID.”

The tours have been well-received by participants, who rave about the immersive nature of the tours.

“The tour guides that are selected are really the best in their place,” said Nicole Aliio. “We walk with them through the cities. We have movies, we have pictures, we have music; we have everything to makes those trips a really fabulous experience.”

The tours have also had a personal impact on Lazare, including one poignant moment, in particular.

“On our tour of Prague last winter, the tour guide (Mike Hollander) showed us a memorial with the number 669,” recalled Lazare. “As he was talking about it, someone raised their hand and said they knew what this symbolized. It was the 669 Jewish children that Nicholas Winton rescued from Prague. Our tour guide was impressed and curious how the woman knew this piece of information. She told him it was because she was one of those children. He was gobsmacked. That moment made me realize why we put on these tours. We are bringing the world into people’s living rooms and you don’t know what you are going to find or hear.”

The travel committee has planned five brand-new tours this winter: Cuba: The Jewban and the 1955 Chevy Bel Air, Jewish Transylvania, Exploring Montmartre: Paris’ Storied Bustling Arrondissement, Fabulous French Food Tour! and The Baltic Jews: A Sombre Tale Still Needing to be Told.

Each individual one-hour tour costs $10 for members and $15 for non-members. A Travel Passport is also available, offering all five tours for the price of four ($40 for members, $60 for non-members). All participants receive a suggested reading and/or film list after each tour to further supplement what was seen during the tour.

Registration is online and by telephone only: cummingscentre.org/registration; 514-343-3510 weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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