The doors to Israel are opening for tourists

  (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

With the highest number of museums per capita globally and the home to a plethora of historical and religious sites linked to the three Abrahamic religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, one can understand the mutualistic relationship between Israel and tourism. Israel provides an overabundance of natural sites, archaeological tourism, adventure tourism, ecotourism, and religious tourism, while tourists, in turn, supply the greater percentage of Israel’s GDP.  Up to 2019, when Israel saw approximately 4.55 million tourists, this symbiotic relationship was in full force until the pandemic struck. With the wide-ranging, globally-felt effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Israel experienced a massive decline of up to 76% in the number of tourists in 2020, recording on Statista a sparse attendance of only 831.5 million tourists for 2020. 

The fallout was felt far and wide, from the global travel and governmental agencies down to the small family-owned antique and gift shops whose livelihood depends heavily on the sound of tourist footsteps along the cobblestones. Zak’s Jerusalem Gifts, a family-owned business located at 24 Christian Quarter, in the heart of Israel, has felt the backlash of the downturn in the tourism sector. While Zak’s specializes in Biblical souvenirs and Christian gifts from the land where Jesus lived and walked, they have had to reposition themselves to meet the tourists online even while they anticipate the reopening of the doors of Israel to tourists. 

If you search Zak’s Jerusalem Gifts online, you will have unlimited access to beautifully hand-carved and local artistry, with the proceeds from the sales directly impacting the family lives of the locals. Christian gift options from Israel include, but are not limited to, olive wood ornaments, Christmas nativity sets, shofars, prayer shawls, scripture scarves, Armenian pottery, and a wide range of authentic coins and scripture jewelry. Zak’s can be considered one of the leading suppliers of these archaeological and Christian delights. 

With comments from the Tourism Ministry suggesting a loss of 12.1 billion shekels ($3.6 billion) in the Israeli economy due to the fallout from tourism in the first nine months of 2020 ( January to September), one can only imagine the struggle of the tourism-dependent stores. With a family-owned business dating as far back as 1964, Zak’s has had their fair share of struggles, but with challenges come opportunities, and Zak’s has seized the chance to survive with a parallel online presence. At the same time, they wish for the day when their physical store in Old Jerusalem City will overflow with tourists' exciting accents and amazing expressions. They have pulled out all stops to ensure that everyone still has access to their Christian gifts. Licensed by Israel Antiques Authority, Zak’s is authorized to sell authentic collector items. As you browse through their collection of antiquities online, you may be inspired to get an authentic widow’s mite coin – the smallest of Jewish coins mentioned in the New Testament. 

As prayers increase during this turbulent season, Zak’s brings you their authentic Anointing oil with specific scents and ingredients, suitable for prayers of healing, sanctification, dedication, commitment, or protection. From the comfort of your home, you can get your Rose of Sharon, Frankincense or Spikenard scented anointing oil straight from Jerusalem, delivered to your locality. It is not the same as feeling your feet on the cobblestone as you hold a part of history in your hand, but until then, tourists are embracing the open doors of Israel from the comfort of their homes. 

Many local artisans have had to close their businesses, and the lull in the hustle and bustle, especially along Christian Quarter, is palpable. Known as a street for locally made souvenirs and Christian gifts from Israel, this tourist hotspot is missing one vital ingredient, the tourists. As we had a chat with Zak Mishriky, who owns Zak’s Jerusalem Gifts, located within a minute walk from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we understood the need for businesses to be flexible in order to survive. As he outlined the work, capital, and sacrifices that go into building an online presence to reach the tourists, we were impressed. As we held a clay oil lamp from the time of King David, we were treated to the history and current use of the oil lamp. Christians all over can relate to the Parable of the Ten Virgins, the story where the clay oil lamps are the main feature even as the virgins prepared for the Bridegroom. Zak’s specializes in highly-symbolic and well-crafted souvenirs that not only bring joy to the heart of the recipients but it also connects people with the beauty and Bible-based history of the Holy Land. 

With the increasing push for all travellers to be vaccinated, the physical doors to Israel are again opening to tourists, and while it will take time, everyone is looking forward to the glory days. While Zak’s Jerusalem Gifts seized the opportunity to open Israel’s virtual doors to tourists with their online store, they still have a deep desire for the physical faces of the tourists.  “We are expecting pilgrims shall eventually be coming up to Jerusalem once again to worship the Lord, and when they do, we ready to welcome them. Meanwhile, we are expanding our Christian Gifts from Jerusalem online presence,"  Zak declared. “Whether you shop at Zak’s Jerusalem Gifts online or in person, the quality products and customer service remain unrivalled.”

This article was written in cooperation with Zaks Jerusalem Gifts