The Year of the Tourist

According to the Chinese zodiac, the year of 2017 was known as “The Year of the Rooster”.  Since that one sentence is the total extent of my knowledge on that topic, please don’t ask me any more questions. That’s what I know and it ends there.

The one thing that I would like to do, however, is to give a name to the secular year that just finished from an Israeli point of view. I wish that I would have been able to call it “The Year of the Bet Ha’Mikdash” or “The Year of the Davidic Dynasty” but, unfortunately, we will have to wait a bit longer for that. Instead, I will call 2017 “The Year of the Tourist”.

Israel’s Ministry of Tourism released some incredible numbers that I want to share with you. A total of 3,600,000 people came to visit Israel in 2017 – an increase of 25% from 2016!! Those tourists contributed a whopping 20 billion shekel (roughly $5.7 billion) to the Israeli economy. The top 10 countries whose people visited Israel were: USA (700,000), Russia (307,000), France (284,000), Germany (202,000), UK (185,000), Ukraine (137,000), China (105,000), Italy (93,000), Poland (85,000) and Canada (75,000).  As unbelievable as it sounds, the Ministry of Tourism reported that 59% of those tourists had never visited Israel before! That means that of the 3.6 million, over 2.1 million were “first timers”… nice!

What quick conclusions can we make from these numbers?  First of all, the leaders of the BDS movement should be fired because they are doing a lousy job! Tens of millions of dollars have been poured into worldwide campaigns about boycotting Israel but global tourism to Israel is up 25%. If I was a BDS donor (don’t worry, that will never happen…) I would be very upset! (HA!!)

Conclusion #2 is that the world does not listen nor care about anything the UN does. The same countries that condemn Israel in the UN on a regular basis – and even financially support her enemies, such as the way Russia supports Syria – means nothing to the people who live in those countries. As you saw from what I wrote above, over 300,000 Russians came to Israel. I highly doubt they asked Putin what he thought before they booked their trip…

While these numbers are very encouraging and wonderful for Israel’s economy, allow me to share some other numbers from 2017 which, unfortunately, are far less exciting; Aliyah numbers. According to Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption, Aliyah from the USA is down for the second straight year. While 700,000 Americans toured Israel in 2017, just 3,633 moved here. Visiting Israel from the USA is up 21% (when compared to 2016) but Aliyah – which means to go UP… is actually going DOWN… (a decline from the USA of about 2% each year).

I realize that making Aliyah is not a simple task. As a matter of fact, it’s pretty difficult. I know, because I did it with a wife and 4 kids. Packing the house is the easy part. Finding a new job, a place to live, deciding on schools for the kids and getting medical care are serious items on a to-do list but with the proper mindset, these can all be done. The advantages far outweigh the difficulties and each challenge can be overcome when the desire to succeed is there. How many people reading this article went through medical and dental school? Was that easy? How many women reading this went through childbirth? How about the daily challenges of raising a family, paying a mortgage and keeping a kosher home (and I don’t just mean the food…)? These are all difficult, yet we do these things on a regular basis.

Let’s be honest. Living a life on “auto-pilot” is not one of the 613 commandments. It’s tough to be a Jew. Tough… but rewarding. Think about it for a second. Of the 7.6 billion people living in the world, what percentage are Jews? From all those people, Hashem chose YOU to be His personal treasure! But here’s where people get things wrong: Being chosen by Hashem is not like winning the lottery. It’s not a “collect your money and buy a yacht” life. It comes with tasks, missions, commandments and very serious responsibilities. Most of those are not simple – and some may even require to give your life (as millions have done before us) – but being a Jew is the greatest gift imaginable. So we embrace the challenges and overcome the obstacles. We fight the daily battles and serve our King no matter what the cost.

Dearest friends; living in Israel is part of being a complete Jew. It connects you to the Nation unlike anything else. Of all the things I have done in my life, making Aliyah will always rank in the top three. I urge you to consider making this life-changing move so that when I write this article about what happened in 2018, I won’t just call it “The Year of the Tourist” but “The Year of the Aliyah”. What a great year that will be!