Jordan River cosmetics appeal to Christians [pg. 1]

Most baptisms in the Jordan River are of the spiritually cleansing variety. But two Israeli women recently asked why they couldn't be physically purifying as well. Their answer is the Nahara line of bath and beauty products "for the Christian woman," according to their Web site, made with Jordan River water. "The region evokes so much empathy and so much spiritually [and] we wanted to package it," explains co-founder Debbie Saperia, surrounded by Nahara bottles. "We're going to take a little bit of the region, and all its beauty and its symbolism, and ship it over." While there might be a steady trickle of Christian pilgrims making their way to the banks of the Jordan each year, there are 60 million or so evangelicals in the US who've never made the journey. Now they have an entr e of sorts. The products are all sold on a Web site that gives visitors a virtual tour of the Galilee, and the boxes of hand creams and body sprays come with postcards from the region and other souvenirs. "We wanted to bring the area to the experience of the customer so they would feel as if they were here," says co-founder Ronit Tzelnik. "The product is an opportunity for the tourist to get in the water and feel [it] in the sense that the water is living on your skin." The product, which debuted in the past month to make the Christmas shopping rush, is the latest to try to tap into the growing market of Christians eager to show their love of Israel. "The beauty product area is a very good market in general, and if it's marketed right it could be a very good product to market among the pro-Israel, evangelical, biblical community," says Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. His organization fosters ties between the two communities, and also has a virtual store of Holy Land products that sells over $1 million of goods per year, among them Ahava Dead Sea beauty products. But Eckstein warns that, to be successful, a company such as Nahara has to be savvy in its marketing, noting that Jordan water products blessed by a priest, for instance, could appeal to Catholics but turn off Protestants. The women, though, have some serious business experience. Tzelnik, who is in charge of marketing for Nahara, once served as the marketing manager for Ahava. Saperia, the director of business operations, started out as a corporate lawyer and then worked in business development for Israeli pharmaceutical companies. Though both Jewish, they point to their personal stories as significant: Saperia, who immigrated to Israel from the UK more than 15 years ago, stresses that she chose to connect more closely with the Holy Land. Tzelnik was born on December 24 and went to Mass and other Christmas celebrations growing up; she says she has always felt "connected" to Christianity. They are also quick to emphasize their products' specific Christian appeal, such as the name, which means "river" in the Aramaic Jesus would have spoken. The Web site, where tri-product gift boxes sell for $37, quotes New Testament passages linking Jesus with the Jordan. "We are not selling a hand cream. We are selling an experience," Tzelnik says. But Eckstein worries that the concept of beauty products made with Jordan River water is too "gimmicky" to do much better than the scores of other products Israelis have thrown at evangelical Christians without much success. "I don't think the angle that it's from the Jordan River is going to be a decisive factor that's going to prompt people to buy it over something from America or France... [Evangelical consumers] aren't na ve," he says. Still, he adds, a quality product that also has an Israel connection does have something extra going for it: "It's an added value that it's from the Holy Land." And Nahara's creators insist they have just such a quality product - with the results to prove it. Saperia says the company has been meeting its initial targets of selling more than one product set per day. They hope one of the future payoffs will be a boost to tourism from satisfied customers. Tzelnik called Nahara an "ambassador" for the region. "We hope that that will be one of the outcomes of our product," she said, "that people will want to come and visit and see it for themselves." Or at least those who feel that an immersion in the Jordan River and in a Nahara bubble bath aren't quite the same thing.