On the Move



February 11, 2020

Passport, wallet, phone — check.

After exploring more than 185 countries, Drew ‘Binsky’ Goldberg is preparing for the last stage of his eight-year journey around the world. The 28-year-old will likely become the youngest Jew to visit each of the 197 countries recognized by the United Nations.

The former Hillel student was first “bitten by the travel bug” while pursuing a degree in economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After graduation, he began to document his adventures on a blog, including stories of Jews living in Ethiopia and Afghanistan.

Goldberg has garnered more than 4 million followers on five social media platforms. He also holds two Guinness World Records titles, which are visiting the most UNESCO heritage sites in 24 hours and the fastest time to pack a suitcase.

Hillel News chatted with Goldberg while he was in the Philippines. Below are highlights from our conversation:

You have eight countries left to visit: Panama, Dominican Republic, Palau, Saudi Arabia, Ghana, Ecuador, Venezuela and Jamaica. What inspired you to travel to every country?

I was studying abroad in the Czech Republic while I was a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While living in Prague, I fell in love with new cultures and meeting new people.

You make a point to connect with Jewish communities in each country you visit. Tell us about a memorable moment with one of those communities.

Without question, my favorite moment was in Afghanistan. I was in Mazar-i-Sharif, a city in northern Afghanistan, about six months ago. I wasn’t planning on leaving the north, but my tour guide mentioned the last Jew in Afghanistan lived in Kabul, which is in the eastern part of the country. My first thoughts were, “How do we get to Kabul? I have to meet him.” His name was Zablon Simintov. I booked a flight for my tour guide and I on the spot.

When we got to Kabul, we had to track Zablon down. There’s one shul in Kabul, but it’s hidden. We had to knock on a bunch of doors and ask about the synagogue. Finally, we found the synagogue and walked inside. Sure enough, Zablon was sitting on the floor studying Torah. He only spoke Hebrew and Dari, one of the official languages of the country. He told me that his family left for Israel decades ago, but he wanted to stay because he loved Afghanistan. When the Taliban took control of Kabul, they jailed Zablon and destroyed all of his possessions. He thought he was going to die, but they let him go. Now, he’s 60-years-old. During our conversation, he told me he didn’t know how to blow a shofar, so I showed him. It was so cool to meet Zablon and connect with him. It was one of the best moments of my life.

How has spending time with Jewish communities around the world shaped your own Jewish identity?

I grew up in a Reform Jewish household in Arizona. I was always proud to be Jewish, but after my bar mitzvah in 2004, I lost my connection to Judaism. I became a holiday Jew. Meeting with Jews around the world reconnected me with my Judaism. I found Jewish culture and history to be fascinating.

My first trip oversees was through Birthright Israel when I was still a student at UW. My travels since then have made me more appreciative of Judaism. I’ve realized just how special our religion is. There are so few Jews left in the world. You just instantly have a connection when you meet another Jew. Of course, that’s also the case in America, but it’s even more compelling when you’re in a country like Yemen and you meet someone Jewish.

You’ve produced more than1,000 videos for your YouTube channel, Drew Binsky. What’s your creative process?

I’m never not working. A lot of my videos are spontaneous. I usually spend about a week in a country, and I don’t know what I’m shooting the next day unless I’ve scheduled an interview with someone in advance. I’ve relied on the kindness of my followers in each country to show me around. Once I have a topic, I’ll start researching to get the facts down. Then, I type everything on the notepad app on my phone and begin shooting. I edit every single night for seven hours or more, usually beginning at 7:30 p.m. Once I’m done editing, I upload the video and add tags, a thumbnail image, post on my other channels and respond to comments. Finally, I go to sleep. I do the same thing over again the next day.

Tell us about “Border 197,” the documentary film you’re producing this year.

I’ve teamed up with a top documentary production team in Los Angeles. It’ll be about a three-month project that starts in May, so we’re raising money for the film now. I’ll be taking people behind the scenes, showing them how I’ve been able to travel to every country as well as how I’ve used social media and videos to fund my trips and connect with locals. I’ll also talk a lot about Judaism. There’ll be three of us traveling together in six countries — Palau, Saudi Arabia, Ghana, Ecuador, Venezuela and ending in Jamaica. This documentary will be a fun way to wrap up this chapter of my life.

Of the countries you have left to visit, which one are you most looking forward to exploring? Why?

Saudi Arabia. The country opened its doors for international tourists in November 2019. Traveling to Muslim countries over the years has allowed me to meet so many Muslims and learn so much about their traditions. I’ve come to realize that Islam and Judaism have a lot of similarities, and I’m excited to continue exploring that in Saudi Arabia.

You graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2013. As a student, how were you involved at UW Hillel? 

I really enjoyed the atmosphere at UW Hillel. I would celebrate Shabbat and High Holidays with my friends. It made me feel comfortable on campus and gave me a sense of home.

What three pieces of advice can you give to students on a tight budget who are eager to travel?

No. 1, couch surfing. I used to do it all the time. It’s the best way to meet locals and stay for free. No. 2, if you’re looking for a cheap flight, use international budget airlines. For example, there are over 10 budget airlines in Asia. Most of the time, those kinds of airlines aren’t listed on websites such as Skyscanner or Kayak, so you’ll have to visit the airline’s website. No. 3, get a travel reward card, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve. I earn so many points with that card. If you book your travels with a rewards card, you can get points and then redeem them on hotels and flights.

Photos courtesy of Drew ‘Binsky’ Goldberg.