David Benkoff 224.88.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I'd like to propose some change for Israel - literally. The first proposal below involves monetary change and the State of Israel, and the second is a practical proposal for increasing Jewish identity among Israeli and foreign tourists in Israel.
PROPOSAL 1: Israel should give first-time visitors who are eligible for aliya an envelope filled with small bills and coins upon landing at Ben-Gurion Airport.
Many frequent visitors never bother changing their leftover currency back to dollars or pounds or euros when they return home, because they know they will be back and it can be handy to have some shekels already in one's pocket when arriving in the Jewish state. They then spend that money - and more - during their stay, and return home with a different handful of change and the process starts all over again.
But what about people who have never visited before? Along with getting their bearings, navigating the language, finding their baggage and figuring out how to get to their destination, they also have to exchange some money - unless, God forbid, they already did so in America at usurious exchange rates. Giving tourists some currency upon arrival can ease one burden for newcomers and send a strong message of welcome to our fellow Jews who may be curious or even nervous about the reception they will get upon arrival. It's a different version of the lei that locals present visitors to Hawaii when they step off their flight.
Limiting the program to people who are eligible for aliya sends a strong message that we, the people of Israel, are investing in you and hope that our investment bears fruit in your flourishing Jewish identity and hopefully someday in your resettlement in the land of your ancestors. I see no reason to be coy about our hopes that every Jewish first-time visitor might someday make a permanent move.
Who should pay for this program? Perhaps a combination of the government, the Jewish Agency and private donars. Who knows, maybe El Al would want to be involved somehow. The program would be relatively cheap - perhaps NIS 50 or NIS 60 per tourist - but could pay big rewards.
PROPOSAL 2: Israeli hotel rooms should have Bibles in them.
Those of us who live in America have become used to hotel rooms with a Gideon Bible (and, in Marriott hotels, the Book of Mormon). Yet the Holy Land has no such custom. The Gideons have done remarkable work in promoting Bible reading, if only by default when a traveler has nothing else to read. The Jews can do it, too.
I called 10 of the largest hotels in Jerusalem - the city that should be most inclined to have Bibles in its hotel rooms. Not a single one does, although a few said their synagogues had them. The clerk at the King David suggested earnestly that I could bring my own Bible from home.
Having a Hebrew-English Bible in every hotel room would enable non-religious Jews to be exposed to our people's holy texts and wisdom literature. Secular Israelis in particular are already primed to glean teachings from the Bible because of the heavy dose they get in their public school educations. And religious Jews could review the week's Torah portion, or catch up on their studies of other sections.
In any event, whoever is doing the reading of the Bible is doing a mitzva, even if "accidentally" because that's all there is to read in the hotel room.
Ideally, the Knesset would mandate, say, that every hotel with more than 25 rooms must provide a Bible in each room. Given the inexpensive cost of holy books in Israel, such a law should not be too much a burden on the hotels. Barring that, perhaps we could organize a Jewish quasi-Gideon society (Simeon society?) to raise money to stock hotel rooms with Bibles, and, where necessary, convince hotels of the value of participating.
Some people might be afraid that hotel guests would steal the Bible. Good! Nobody's going to get financially rich out of a black market in hotel Bibles, but some people might get spiritually rich out of reading the book they took. And who knows, perhaps a Bible thief might get to the part about thou shalt not steal and decide to bring it back.
There are approximately 40,000 hotel rooms in Israel. It really is a shame that in a country where the Bible was lived many centuries ago, we can't find a few hundred thousand dollars to make sure that every tourist has access to the book that tells us where it all began.