Dani Barkai is a professional tour guide, licensed by the Israeli government since 1990. He began his career as a guide soon after his aliya (immigration to Israel) from Canada in 1985, when he began working as a field guide with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI). Since then, he has traveled the length and breadth of the country guiding tours for a wide range of organized groups as well as private customers. His clients have included people of all age groups, whose fitness has ranged from the level of Olympic athletes to that of weary great-grandmothers and even paraplegics (and even some paraplegic Olympic athletes). Dani has guided American politicians and government officials, EU leaders, academics, and Torah scholars; he has led delegations sponsored by the UJA-Federation, the OU, Israel Bonds, and other organizations; and he has guided student groups such as Birthright and Hasbara. Most importantly, he has spent lots of time guiding Jewish families of all sizes and backgrounds, with kids of all ages and temperaments. And he can't remember ever having a customer from whom he didn't learn something new and interesting.
Dani was born in Haifa, and discovered Toronto at the age of two. Much as he loved Canada, he willingly allowed his parents to indoctrinate him with the notion that Israel was "home." As a teenager he became a member of a religious Zionist youth movement, and he remained actively involved in Jewish and Zionist affairs on campus during his college years.
Dani is a naturalist and a self-styled ecologist. Before making aliya, he completed a B.Sc. in Zoology at the University of Toronto. Later, in Israel, he took more courses in zoology at Tel Aviv University, simply for the love of learning, and to render his understanding of ecology and wildlife more relevant to the Land of Israel. Apart from his fascination with ecology, Dani is an incurable history buff. His passion for history and devotion to the cause of nature conservation all come together in his life as a tour guide. Dani has worked at many different jobs in his life (children's music teacher, zookeeper, and publications editor, to name just a few), but none of them ever brought him the kind of joy and gratification he derives from guiding people in Israel.
One of the reasons Dani loves his work as an Israeli guide is that it gives him the opportunity to bring history and the Bible to life. He firmly believes there is no better way to comprehend the history of the land - and Jewish history as well, for that matter - than by experiencing the land itself: the sights, the sounds, the smells, even the texture of the soil. And he sees the natural history of Israel as an excellent tool for understanding its human history, as well as some of the most fascinating parts of the Bible. Although he is deeply concerned with global environmental issues, he is especially sensitive to Israel's environmental well-being, because he regards the country's natural landscape as an historical resource and legacy.
Occasionally, Dani combines his knowledge of zoology and love for animals with his irrepressible tour-guiding instinct by working as a guide at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, which he regards as one of the prettiest little zoos in the world. This has given him a chance to talk about some of his favourite subjects, such as endangered species and animals in the Bible. During the summer months, he sometimes guides night tours of the zoo. Not only is this an enchanting experience, but it gives visitors a rare opportunity to observe the peculiar nocturnal habits of many of the zoo's animals, as well as encounter some of the interesting creatures from the outside who only drop in for a visit to the zoo grounds after dark.
During the off-season, Dani often returns to his previous career as a freelance editor, translator, and writer. He has worked for several of Israel's largest museums, most notably the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where some of the publications of the museum's Judaica (and other) departments have benefited from his professional input. In the past he was also responsible for the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo's English website.
Dani is married to Libby Schwartz-Barkai and is the proud father of Debbie (born 1998). In his spare time he enjoys playing guitar and listening to classical and folk music. He also sings in the Jerusalem Barbershop Ensemble (JBE) as one of the two bass singers.