"I don't recall anything like it in all my years in the travel business," says Meir Weingarten, President of Ariel Tours in Brooklyn, New York. "The Sukkot holiday [in mid-October] is always a good reason to come to Israel, but never did it happen as it did this year, that as early as July there was barely an airplane seat or a hotel room to be had for Sukkot in Israel. The pressure on us is simply enormous - people keep calling and pleading with us to try and get them a plane seat or a hotel room."
Asked to what he attributes this welcome phenomenon, Weingarten - a well-known personality in New York's Jewish community - said, "I believe that Orthodox Jewry has suddenly woken up once again to the significance of the State of Israel. It could be that they were taking Israel for granted for a while, but I think the traumatic events of the past years have changed their mindset."
Prompted to elaborate, he said, "I think it was activated by a number of factors. For instance, the rabbis and leadership are putting Israel more prominently on the agenda; radio shows such as Nachum Segal's JM in the AM, which puts a heavy emphasis on Israel and what's going on there; and yes, even you guys - the Arutz-7 newsletters have a huge impact in bringing Israel to us in a very concise and immediate format. But the truth is that the war of the past few years has been a 'kick-in-the-pants' reminder for the Jews here that Israel is a real part of us."
Weingarten said that not only tourists, but "also the yeshiva programs are packed - I don't think there's ever been as many post-high school students going to study in Israel for a year as there are now."