Travel and tourism is among the sectors most affected by the Covid 19 pandemic around the world. Israel is no exception. Last year, only 300,000 tourists visited the Jewish state due to travel restrictions, in contrast to the record-breaking 4.5 million tourists reported for 2019. But even as the virus comes under control worldwide and the situation normalizes, we must recognize that what Israel has to offer is much more than breathtaking landscapes and iconic sites.
Among the victims of Israel’s battered tourism industry are tour guides and travel agents who have been virtually unemployed for the past two years as travel bans have been repeatedly imposed to control new variants of the coronavirus imported from abroad. Hundreds of tourism workers demonstrated in the heart of Tel Aviv a few days ago to demand compensation for the long period during which they could not work regularly. The protests erupted after the finance minister advised them to “change jobs,” but in the end a financial aid package was approved.
Nevertheless, love of the land and enjoyment of the profession are not enough to try to keep tourism the way it was. In general, tourism today has undergone a kind of distortion. There is a tourism that encourages shopping, a tourism that encourages entertainment, and another that encourages prostitution. The original tourism, which was based on traveling to different places, especially abroad, and learning about the culture there, has already lost its appeal. Therefore, I do not believe that the tourism industry should be artificially revived.
It is also a mistake to blame all the problems of tourism on Covid-19. Without Covid-19, some other disease would have occurred or some other natural phenomenon would have brought down the tourism industry, which needs to be revamped.
If we were to see the big picture of reality, we would realize that the goal of the human race is to achieve the unity of all and join together as one big family. If we use tourism as a means to come closer, to get to know other peoples, to overcome differences, then this means is helpful to us. But if we, especially Israelis, allow ourselves to be captured by the magic of foreign cultures, abandon our ancient Jewish culture and tradition and replace them with new, foreign worldviews in our social fabric, then there will be no more room for tourism and it will insidiously continue to dwindle.
We Jews have a true treasure in our hands. If we were to tap into the exemplary sources of the Jewish people that speak of brotherly love as a way of life, and unite “as one man in one heart,” we would serve as a magnet for all in the world. “The Land of Israel is not some external entity. It is not merely an external acquisition for the Jewish people,” as Rav Kook wrote, but “rather, the Land of Israel has an internal meaning. It is connected to the Jewish people by the knot of life. Its essence is imbued with extraordinary qualities.” ( Lights, The Land of Israel)
The power of mutual connection between us is capable of evoking a greater positive force, a force of the highest nature. With its help, it is possible to open a new tourism, such as has never existed before – a tourism that connects the spiritual level with the physical level, between the Land of Israel from above and the Land of Israel from below, a sublime feeling that will be transmitted to every person in the world.