Israel wants YOU!
Israel’s Ministry of Tourism is asking synagogues across the country to put pledge cards on every seat during High Holy Day services next month so that congregants can commit themselves to visiting Israel sometime in the next year. The ministry’s goal: 1 million American Jewish tourists.
Tourism Minister Benny Elon, at a press conference here following meetings with Jews and Evangelical Christians in Tennessee and Georgia to thank them for their continued visits, said the pledge drive was "important to strengthen the relationships we have with the Jewish community."
"We are going to tell them that this contribution is not charity: it’s more than charity," he said. "Charity is very important, but when you give a loan to someone: even when you are sure all of your money is coming back: it’s more important because he will be independent and it can help him."
Elon noted that since April tourism to Israel has increased steadily compared to last year. In April, tourism was up 23 percent, last month it was up 56 percent, he said. Elon said he hoped to conclude the year with about 1.5 million tourists, up from 1 million last year but down from the nearly 3 million in 2000. Because of that drop, Israel has lost $3 billion in tourist-related business in each of the last three years.
The pledge-card campaign should cost no more than $1 million to hire coordinators who will work with synagogue volunteers and to pay for a direct marketing campaign. Asked about Jewish federations, which in the past have organized mega-missions to Israel, Elon replied: "The way to access the Jews in North America is through the synagogue: it’s the best way we can go. I’m dealing per capita … I’m not dealing with the heads of organizations."
But he hastened to add that federations and other Jewish organizations like Hillel are also needed to bring groups to Israel for this effort to succeed.