El Al hosted a festive reception in Chicago last week to announce the launch of nonstop flights between Ben-Gurion and O’Hare Airport starting on March 22, 2020. The flights are expected to be popular with both business people and tourists, and bring in millions of dollars in revenue to both Israel and the US.El Al once operated direct flights from Israel to Chicago, but stopped them 20 years ago. Their resumption reflects new hope for closer ties not just between the two cities, but also between companies in Israel and the Midwest – and of course, increased tourism as well as visits between relatives and friends.The route will be offered three times a week – on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays – flying passengers on a 282-seat Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft.Chicago’s Crown Hall at Venue Six10 was packed with distinguished guests, led by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, El Al’s CEO Gonen Usishkin, Israeli Consul-General Aviv Ezra and leaders of the Jewish community, estimated to be about 300,000 of the city’s 2.8 million residents.“We are excited to be here this evening, and thank you for joining us to celebrate the only nonstop connection between the entire Midwest region of the USA and a country beloved by all of us – Israel,” said Sheryl Stein, the Israeli airline’s advertising, public relations and social media manager.Stein said she was confident the flights “will have a tremendous economic impact on Chicago and the surrounding areas as Israelis love to travel.” This year, El Al launched direct services to San Francisco and Las Vegas, bringing the number of its weekly flights to the US and Canada up to 28.Pritzker, who was invited by El Al to be on its inaugural flight with his wife, Mary, told the audience that he had been to Israel more times than the last 10 governors combined.“This is really a momentous day,” Pritzker said. “The work that you’ve done to open this route, to make it possible for people from the Midwest to get to Tel Aviv, to the State of Israel, is very important for the future of the state of Illinois, for the future of our nation, frankly, and our relationship with one another.”As Pritzker pointed out, Illinois and Israel share many interests: “companies with ties to both collaborating on digital health, water technology, biotechnology and innovation across a variety of social sectors.” The new air service, he said, would boost the exchange of university students, the growth of exports and imports in the last decade, and provide new opportunities in the future.“At a time when so many in the global community are developing closed-door policies based on discrimination and fear, I am proud to mark a milestone for openness and exchange right here in Illinois,” Pritzker said. “Let’s all plan our trips to Israel right now.”As a token of appreciation, Usishkin presented Pritzker with a model of the Dreamliner due to fly from Tel Aviv to Chicago. Usishkin, a former Israel Air Force pilot who has headed El Al since February 2018, said he was delighted that Chicago would become “the crown jewel of our US network, a great city, with great people and great communities.”Amber Ritter, the chief commercial officer at Chicago’s Department of Aviation, said she was delighted to celebrate with El Al on behalf of the city’s new mayor, Lori Lightfoot, and commissioner, Jamie Rhee.“This new service... will strengthen the bonds between Chicago and Israel, and expand them throughout the Midwest,” she said, noting that O’Hare had been named “the best-connected airport in North America four years running” and will be expanding its global terminal even further in 2021.Ritter estimated that nonstop flights “will have a direct economic impact to the region, which we estimate to be approximately 70 million dollars per year.”Eyal Carlin, Israel’s tourism commissioner for North America, voiced the hope that the Chicago route would raise last year’s record number of more than 4 million tourists to Israel, of whom a million came from the US.“Remember this: while Chicago is now 38 degrees (Fahrenheit), in Tel Aviv it’s 69,” he quipped.Midwesterners can now look forward to visiting the Holy Land without having to stop over in New York and Toronto, while Israelis can experience the delights of the Windy City’s industries, architecture, culture and cuisine.We welcome the inauguration of the new route – a sign that despite BDS, airline budget cuts and negative news coverage, the desire of Americans to come to Israel is growing rapidly and Israel’s national airline is still going places. Of that, the people of both nations can be proud.