Once again, everyone is clucking and making "we told you so" comments about the lack of Jewish tourists. And for those of us who make our living from tourism, this is not just a subject for chitchat, but a real crisis. In our own small seminar center, we have laid off several workers, cut back others, taken pay cuts for ourselves, and sent out apologetic letters to all the creditors whom we can't pay just now. October was supposed to be a very good month; our cancellation rate was an even 100%. November was the worst in history. December is usually a pretty good month for American groups, coming for tours and seminars; there are still a few small groups on the books, but it is not clear how many of them will actually show up. Many of my colleagues in the field and many Israelis on the street are angry. "Whenever the action on CNN heats up a little, American Jews all abandon us." I take it more philosophically. I came to the conclusion long ago that you can't calculate other peoples fears for them. In fact, Im not even sure how to calculate my own.
If you read the statistics of home accidents, you would never set foot in the bathtub, much less stand on a chair to change a light bulb, or eat a bony fish. Yet we all do those things without thinking much about them. And then we get in the car on a rainy day and run an unnecessary errand. Or ski down a snow-covered mountain. When danger becomes part of our routine, when it becomes familiar, fear seems to dissipate.
I have never been a very brave type. I avoid, when I can, cliff-hanging trails, downhill skiing, swimming in deep water, etc. No bungee jumping or hang-gliding for me. Yet here I am, voluntarily living in an area that the world sees as a danger spot, a place featured by daily news reports all over the world as a locus of violent conflict. Even here, those reports are inescapable; every funeral is reported in all its sad detail. However, what is familiar is not frightening. I do not imagine each dark complected passer-by to be a terrorist; I do not even lock the front door at night. If I worry about something terrible happening to me, it is usually a worry connected with driving on winding two-lane highways in a land where not everyone believes in the laws of physics.
If I am taking a risk to live here (and subjecting my family to that risk as well), it is not because of idealism, of self-sacrifice for the Jewish People. It is because I am happy and comfortable living here, and all the risks are just part of the package, be they earthquakes, reckless drivers, scud attacks, or suicide bombers. In the same way, people living in the earthquake zones, flood plains, and high-crime areas of North America take their risks for granted.
And so it is with travel: if the sights of the Amazon jungle - or Times Square - are exciting, meaningful, interesting enough, then you will brave the necessary discomforts and risks to see them. You will read the guidebooks and talk to friends who have been there before, and make your own calculation of risks and benefits. No one can make it for you. No amount of reassurance will help you overcome your own internal threshold of fear. What is frustrating to us is the feeling that many prospective tourists to Israel dont "check the guidebook," dont really investigate the reality in any depth, but are content to understand what is happening in Israel only by watching CNN. Thus their risk-benefit calculation is skewed by sensationalism and limited knowledge.
Sometimes, too, we wonder: could it also be that those who speak for Israel in the American Jewish community have an interest in accentuating the dangers, in order to motivate political and financial support, but that this interest conflicts with our attempts to encourage people to visit Israel in person?