Jessica Swiatlo

I'm Jessica Swiatlo, a 30 something travel enthusiast living in Tel-Aviv, Israel. I've been part of the Gil Travel family my entire life - my parents started the company over 40 years ago. I work on growing our company and creating awesome content that represents who we are and is interesting or helpful for our customers. It might be pretty obvious when I say that I grew up traveling, a lot. And I still do. I write about the places I've been to and the things I've learned along the way. I studied literature in Philadelphia (my home town) at the University of Pennsylvania and pursued by entrepreneurial passions at Columbia University's Graduate School of Business where I got my M.B.A.

Recent Posts

The best way to teach your children about the Hebrew Calendar

Posted by Jessica Swiatlo

Jul 3, 2017 11:39:07 AM

 The Hebrew calendar is like a window into the Jewish way of life. The pillars of the calendar are the high holidays, the building blocks are the days, marked by daily commandments upon every Jewish man and woman to comply with, and the weeks, marked by the Sabbath. Teaching your children about the Jewish calendar is a way to teach them about the Jewish way of life.

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Topics: Jewish Heritage

10 practical ways to lead a Jewish life in America

Posted by Jessica Swiatlo

Jun 25, 2017 2:22:39 PM

Jewish life in America has thrived, particularly since the influx of Jewish immigrants in the late 19th century, has thrived and remains an important part of the American fabric.  These large and established communities created all of the necessary infrastructure to be able to lead a Jewish life in America from Jewish day schools to synagogues to non-profit organizations to kosher supermarkets and more.

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Topics: Jewish Heritage, Jewish Heritage History

5 brilliant ways to teach your children about Jewish symbols

Posted by Jessica Swiatlo

Jun 14, 2017 8:38:04 AM

From the prevalent to the obscure, Jewish symbols are a part of the historic and religious expression of the Jewish religion. From the day you step foot in a Synagogue, attend Hebrew Sunday school or attend a Jewish day school, those symbols will be there, expressed in varying manifestations. Even those of us with limited exposure to Judaism can probably list the major ones.  As Jews, we aren’t allowed to express our God or biblical characters in any physical/visual/artistic way.  It’s instead these Jewish symbols that provide us a way to remember, to connect and to see who we are on a regular basis.

As Jews, we too have the duty to teach our children about who we are.  Sometimes, it’s through these symbols that they can easily connect and remember.  The question is, how do we go about teaching our children about these symbols and what they mean to us?  The first step is in identifying the ones you want to teach.  There are symbols that we use all year round and symbols that we connect to various important holidays.  There are many symbols, certainly more than can be covered in one article. 

Here are my top 5 Jewish symbols that you can start by focusing on.

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Topics: jewish education

What your children must know about the Jewish holidays

Posted by Jessica Swiatlo

May 29, 2017 6:44:32 AM

The Jewish holidays are an important element of establishing a basic Jewish identity and understanding for your kids.  They (and you) might relate to the religious component, or the family traditions, or the food.  Whatever that connection is, the important thing is that there is one.  Jews are hard wired to pass lessons and traditions down from generation to generation.  If a holiday tradition was a staple in your household, you may be grappling with how to get these traditions to become just as familiar and comforting to your children as they are for you.  But, not everyone grew up in an observant home.  You may have the desire to include Jewish holidays and traditions in your home but lack the know-how.

Discussing the religious components of the Jewish holidays is a book unto itself.  There’s knowing the major holidays, understand what they represent in the Jewish calendar and their biblical significance, understanding the rabbinical interpretations and the laws around each of these holidays, discussing the denominational differences of how they’re observed and more.  Instead, I’ll cover 3 areas that are common to every Jewish holiday and can be focused on even if you haven’t a clue about the rest: food, tradition and symbols and family. They’re bound more to traditions and an easy first step into acknowledging these holidays in your home and teaching your kids about them.

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Topics: jewish education

How to turn your kids into a Jewish Mensch

Posted by Jessica Swiatlo

May 11, 2017 3:50:28 AM

As parents, we are constantly trying to inspire our kids and guide them into being the best possible human beings they can be. Along the way we are challenged by them, disconnected and often disputed - all from a place of unconditional love (obviously). In today’s day and age (and this is when I start to sound like my own mother) the question is how do we turn our kids into the mensch we envisioned standing before us on their coming of age, while keeping our cool as we dodge toys and cars being thrown at our face… This is my guide to how to turn your kid into a Jewish Mensch before he or she turns Bar/Bat mitzvah!

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Topics: jewish education

Providing kids with Jewish cultural experiences that will connect them to their roots

Posted by Jessica Swiatlo

May 9, 2017 5:00:19 AM

Providing kids with Jewish cultural experiences can be challenging. You make an effort to connect your kids to their Jewish identity and roots at home.  Whether that’s through a Jewish education, Friday night dinners, preparing traditional Jewish foods, sending them to Jewish summer camp (and the list goes on), it’s part and parcel of American Jewish living.  But what about when you go on vacation?  Chances are, aside from the requisite trip to Israel, your kids haven’t connected to their roots and Jewish identity on a global level through travel.  But travel is the best way to connect to your roots.  We all come from somewhere and seeing the history behind the Jewish communities in different countries helps bring that idea to life.  That, in turn will help your kids grow into adulthood with the desire to remain connected, hold on to the things that they feel make them Jewish and pass those lessons about where they come from to their children.  And that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? 

There are a million ways to go about this as the network of Diasporah Jews spreads far and wide.  Whether or not this is YOUR particular background, you can choose a country that is enjoyable all around so that you and your kids feel that you’re mixing ‘business’ with pleasure.  Spain is the origin of the Sephardic Jews and a must see for any family looking for a Jewish cultural experience that will connect them with their roots.  Take your family on an enriching vacation where together you will discover unique medieval towns oozing with inspiring Jewish history, all the while soaking in the Spanish Sun!  Here are my top destinations to rediscover the Jewry of Spain.

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Topics: jewish education, jewish travel

Top 10 Jewish News Sites to Follow

Posted by Jessica Swiatlo

May 8, 2017 7:31:29 AM

In today’s world of fake news, it’s important to keep up to date with relevant Jewish news through reputable and trustworthy news sites.  There is an abundance of current affairs sites in English that will allow you to keep informed on all that is happening both in Israel, the Middle East and worldwide Jewry.  Here are the top 10 Jewish news sites to follow: 

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Topics: jewish education, jewish travel

Exposing your kids to Jewish food: what they need to know and love

Posted by Jessica Swiatlo

Apr 30, 2017 8:10:00 PM

It’s no secret that pretty much every Jewish tradition and holiday revolves around some sort of food consumption.  Jewish tradition does not exist without the somewhat bland yet oh so delicious foods that accompany it.   

You grew up on this food.  It was likely a staple in your childhood home.  The question is, how do you get these foods to become just as familiar and comforting to your children as it is for you?  Well, the easiest solution is to make it a staple in your household.  But that requires a lot of arduous cooking.  So instead, save these recipes for holidays and special occasions (I’ve provided a recipe for each so you can get to cooking if you’d like).  Make your children associate these wonderful tastes with a holiday they love and look forward to year after year.  Maybe even help them learn about other Jewish cultures by introducing foods popular in other countries or in other families of different Jewish backgrounds. Here are my top Jewish food staples and how to go about getting your little ones to savor them as much as you do.

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Topics: jewish education, jewish food

Educational travel for kids

Posted by Jessica Swiatlo

Apr 29, 2017 8:04:21 AM

Jewish tradition teaches us that we must instill in our children the lesson of giving to our community and those around us in need.  It’s a very basic part of what it means to be Jewish and an important part of a helping create a strong Jewish identity for your kids.  In today’s world of instant gratification and quick fixes, it’s hard to really shock our kids into being passionate about what they have and what they can give. It’s rare to find the opportunity in the daily hustle and bustle to take the time as a family to show our appreciation. That’s why I like to combine my family vacation with an extra component of educational travel for kids, in particular the lesson of Tikun Olam – the  Jewish acts of kindness designed to repair and protect our world.  

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Topics: jewish education, jewish travel

Cuba: people art and culture

Posted by Jessica Swiatlo

Mar 27, 2017 10:53:17 AM

Incredible rhythm and sound, beautiful beaches, vintage cars and a rich history just a few hours from the US…sounds tempting, right?  Cuba is an absolute must see destination.  It should definitely be on your bucket list.  

Our tour to Cuba is about immersing yourself in the people, art and culture of Cuba.  You’ll roam the streets of Havana, Cienfuegos and Trinidad, meet with important community activists, see the buzzing art scene, roll a cigar or two and slow it down with leisurely dinners on warm nights. 

As an American, travelling to Cuba hasn’t always been possible.  But thanks to some significant changes in U.S.Cuban relations, Cuba is now a doable destination.  While the relationship between the two countries is certainly warming up, there’s a feeling of urgency to visit this incredible country sooner rather than later. Some say the relations could change and travelling there could be harder in the future. Others say it’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship and there’s just a few years left before foreign investment comes funneling in and Cuba becomes the next Miami and the unique idiosyncrasies of this country become a thing of the past.  Either way, now is the time to travel to Cuba to still catch what makes it so special.  

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