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The More Crowded, the Better

By Michael Freund
11/23/2004, 12:00 AM

This morning, I spoke to a group from the Orthodox Union (OU), the US-based Jewish organization that is holding its annual convention here in Jerusalem at the Ramada Renaissance hotel.

While the OU is perhaps best known for the kosher certification that it provides to thousands of food items in the US and elsewhere, it actually does a great deal more – from Jewish education to political lobbying to combating anti-Semitism.

Betty Ehrenburg, who heads the OU’s Institute for Public Affairs, told me that they were initially expecting some 300 people to join them in Israel for the three-day gathering, but that more than 800 eventually signed up.

I can’t tell you how nice it was to see the hotel brimming with life, filled with tourists planning their daily outings to see parts of the country. Even the hotel staff seemed to be enjoying the hustle and bustle of it all (with the exception, perhaps, of the waiters at breakfast…)

In recent years, one of the most depressing sights for many Israelis has been the empty streets and cafes, bereft of overseas visitors afraid to travel to the “war zone” of the Middle East.

As a result, many of us here felt somewhat, well, abandoned, or even forgotten. After all, it is precisely when times are tough that friends are supposed to be there for you. And for the past several years, they weren’t.

But that, at last, finally seems to be changing. Over the Yamim Noraim (High Holidays), Jerusalem’s hotels were booked solid, as American Jews and others have begun to return, visiting Israel in ever greater numbers. El Al just announced yesterday that they are adding two more weekly flights on the Tel Aviv-New York route to accommodate the increase in traffic.

Whenever I speak to groups in Israel or in the US, someone inevitably asks what they can do to help the Jewish state. The answer, I think, should be obvious: come here, even if just to visit.

The fact is that Israel needs more tourists – so call your travel agent and start making those reservations. It may sound risque, perhaps even inappropriate, but I will say it nonetheless: we need your bodies, and we need them now!