Go to Israel. NOW!

This is not a travel slogan. Israel needs you. NOW! We American Jews have done a lot to help Israel over these past months of war. Israel is grateful for our prayers, our financial bolstering, our energy and outspoken support. But what Israel needs now is you. Your presence is required.

I’ve just returned from 3 weeks in Israel. I admit, I was fearful. I wondered if we’d make it back safely. I worried about everything, the plane, the busses, the driving up and down the coast, the Old City in Jerusalem during Ramadan, the M16s strewn over the shoulders of boys younger than my own two kids.

Whenever I told people I was going to Israel, they always said the same thing. “Why? Why would you go now? It’s a war zone.”

Full disclosure, I went because my oldest son is in Jerusalem for his first year of Rabbinic school at Hebrew Union College. If it hadn’t been for him, I very likely would not have decided, “Hey, let’s go to Israel while they’re in the middle off a horrific war in a volatile region where their very existence is under fire.” I would’ve probably flown to Kona, eaten sushi, and chilled out with a Mai Tai on the beach.

But now that I’ve gone, I have a message for American Jews. Go to Israel. Now.

So many of us are sitting at home glued to our own cable news networks, wringing our hands, wondering what we can do for the hostages, for the war effort, for our own safety right here in America. We genuinely want to help. We send money. We follow pro-Israel influencers on Instagram. We write letters to soldiers and our government officials urging them to continue to support Israel.

That’s all wonderful. But what Israel needs right now is us, our physical presence.  “No one is coming,” said every shop keeper, museum docent, and tour guide everywhere. What were once thriving galleries, jewelry stores, and markets are now desolate. rows of boarded up shuttered store fronts and empty streets.

We stood at the wailing wall (yes, in separate sections, argh!) with a dozen other Jews. We walked through the ruins of Masada alone. Our guides in Jerusalem, Haifa, Hebron, and Safed, were so incredibly grateful, simply because we came. Israel’s economy needs us. But more than anything, the people of Israel need to see our faces. They need to tell us their stories. They need to feel our tangible support.

It’s like when a family member dies. You send food. You plant trees. You express your sympathy on social media. But it’s not until you walk into that shiva minyan in the house that you grew up in that mourners find true comfort and hope to go on.

Go there. Buy stuff. Take tours. Eat at street vendor booths and restaurants. Stay at hotels. Rent umbrellas at the beach. Drop coins in every donation box at every holy site and historic monument. Tip well for services. Go. Now.

I bought a beautiful silver bracelet from a craftsman in Safed. He held the bills in his hands, tears in his eyes. He said he opens his shop every day in spite of the fact that no one ever comes. He keeps making jewelry and asking Hashem to send tourists again. He said we were G-d’s answer and that tonight he could feed his family again. It sounds dramatic. But it’s true.

A friend told me his “gratitude” is hyperbolic tourist shtick. I don’t care. I see every other shop boarded up and rows of empty cobblestone streets that used to be teeming with people, abandoned.  Our host at our BnB in the mountains of Rosh Pinah greeted us saying, “You are so brave. Everyone is afraid to come.”

One morning, as we sat in the garden on the edge of Safed’s old city, we heard loud buzzing above and saw a dozen F16s flying overhead. The fear must have registered on my face and our friend said, “You know right now you are in the safest place in the world; guarded by the IDF.”

It’s true. And it’s true that we are safer there than in the streets of New York, Chicago, San Francisco, or a host of other US cities. Heck, more people die in bathtubs than as tourists in Israel. (Okay, I don’t know if that’s an actual fact. But I’m pretty sure it’s true.)

Israel needs you to go there, to be there, to share in its joys and sorrows. To bring your own light and energy to its shores. Please go. If not now, when?

p.s. When you go, tell them the tall red head from Arizona sent you!

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