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Iris Hami, Jewish Travel Expert Explains How Jews Can Help Today?

A Letter from our Jewish Travel Expert and Gil Travel CEO Iris Hami.

Iris Hami

Shalom,

We’ve all been in some form of shock since the terrible events of October 7th. The world changed irrevocably for the people of Israel on that day, and for Jewish people everywhere. On a personal level, I’m still trying to process what happened – and I’m not sure that I’ll ever really be able to completely come to terms with it. 

We saw an explosion – a tidal wave of calculated evil – directed against innocent people. They were murdered, tortured, raped, kidnapped, bereaved or made homeless simply because they were Israeli. I won’t discuss what happened that day in too much detail. Apart from anything, I don’t have the words. 

I want to focus on where we are now, more than a month after the Hamas pogrom, and what Jews around the world can do to help. There will be official investigations and inquiries into what happened on October 7th, and how it was allowed to happen. But that’s not my remit as a Middle Eastern and Jewish travel expert, and a friend of Israel. I want to provide practical help, today.

A Wave of Anti-Semitism in the Aftermath of October 7th

As news of the massacres broke on the morning of October 7th, and the body count multiplied, decent people around the world watched the non-stop bulletins in horror, revulsion, and fear. There were others – some in the US – who watched them in jubilation, celebrating the murder of Jews and gloating over the suffering of innocent people. 

Others, political activists and student groups, issued smug, self-righteous pronouncements claiming that the ‘resistance’ was justified and that Israel was reaping what it had sowed. Quite how a kidnapped 3 year old, or a raped and murdered 12 year old girl was reaping what they’d sowed, they didn’t bother to explain. Nor did their audiences of college students and social justice warriors request any explanations. 

In the weeks that followed, as Israel declared war on Hamas and began to strike back, we saw a groundswell of street level anti-Semitism. The anti-Israel demonstrations are often presented as anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian, or a simple call for a ceasefire. This hasn’t stopped demonstrators calling for jihad, praising Hitler, or shouting their battlecry “Allah Hu Akbar” as they brandish placards showing terrorists on paragliders.

Organizing a Coordinated Fightback Against Anti-Semitism

The anti-Semitism is ugly, and it’s frightening. A lot of Jewish communities around the world suddenly feel isolated, abandoned – and betrayed by society. Fortunately, the situation isn’t as bleak as it seems, and there’s plenty that we can do to improve it. The most important thing is to make our voices heard, and to keep on making them heard. 

Anti-Semitism thrives in a political and moral vacuum, so we won’t allow a vacuum to exist. We can start by contacting our representatives – senators, congressmen, trade union officials – and anybody else with influence. We need to ask them what they are doing to support Israel and to combat anti-Semitism (in the US and around the world). 

If demonstrations are taking place, contact your police department or other law enforcement agencies to express your concern about intimidation, violence and support for terror. If you encounter any threats, incitement to violence, or other illegal behavior (online or offline) report it. Make sure you follow up on the report and see what action is being taken. 

We also need to apply pressure to media corporations, colleges, and corporations when their employees promote an anti-Israel or anti-Semitic agenda. These organizations are sensitive to public opinion, and may also need to keep shareholders and donors happy. A coordinated letter writing campaign to the CEO or others in authority can work wonders. 

Help Bring the Hostages Home! 

Hamas kidnapped an estimated 240 Israelis (and foreign workers), including 30 children, and is holding them in their tunnel network in Gaza. This is a straightforward war crime that should outrage every normal person. We’re campaigning to bring the hostages home, and you can help. 

There are two main approaches, the first is lobbying politicians in Washington, and other people of influence in the US and around the world. This includes organizations like the International Red Cross and UNICEF. These organizations rely on donors and can be swayed by public opinion. 

The second approach is to connect directly with ordinary people around the world and generate sympathy and empathy for the hostages. Get the posters up in public places and make sure that the average American remains aware of their plight. Contact the media and ask them to give prominence to the hostages too.

It’s vital that people see pictures of the hostages and know their names and personal details. That way, there is a strong human connection. People need to see a picture of a kidnapped Israeli and immediately see their own child or parent in their place. We mustn’t let the hostages be perceived as a remote or abstract group.

Reach Out and Build Links

There is genuine strength in numbers. If Jews had been truly united and working together in the 1930s and ‘40s, it’s possible that the Holocaust might have been averted. We need to reach out and build links with Jewish communities around the world, especially those that feel beleaguered. Look at the mob rampage that happened recently in Dagestan. It scared me, as I sat safely at home in the US. It must have been terrifying for local Jews!

Contact your community organizations and Jewish politicians and get them moving on this project. You can also start building links on social media (just be cautious and use common sense security precautions). We can build strong connections and ensure that no Jew, or Jewish community on this planet feels isolated or abandoned. 

We also have many wonderful friends and supporters in non-Jewish communities around the world – even in Muslim communities. We urgently need to reach out and build/strengthen links with these important allies. If we can galvanize their support, we can achieve a lot to improve the current situation!

Support Israel and the Israeli People

I’ve spent my entire career organizing Jewish travel and group tours of Israel. I know the country intimately and love the people deeply. What’s happening now is heartbreaking. The Israelis are tough and resilient and optimistic, but they’re going through a terrible ordeal. It’s like 9/11 multiplied many times over, and with almost half a million Israelis now in uniform, the fight back touches every family. 

Israelis need to know that the Jewish people stand with them, and that the support is practical – not just moral. You can help by buying Israeli goods and supporting Israeli businesses. There are charities and volunteer groups helping the injured, bereaved and almost 200,000 internal refugees who cannot return to their homes yet. All these groups need donations – either financial or material. 

The Israeli tourist industry is at a standstill. They were hoping to receive thousands of winter sun seekers from Northern Europe, Christian pilgrims over the Christmas vacation, as well as the usual Jewish travel tours and groups. Hopefully the war will be over shortly and the security situation will stabilize. If you really want to help with the national recovery, fly to Israel in 2024 and show genuine solidarity with the Israelis. 

All Israelis (Jews, Druze, Arabs and Bedouins) will be delighted to see tourists. About 10% of the people murdered on October 7th were Israeli Arabs, as are some of the police and military casualties. All Israelis will extend a warm welcome to foreign tourists, especially those who set aside part of their trip to do some volunteer work. 

The Israeli nation is shocked and traumatized, so you’ll need a little patience, but the experience will be highly rewarding. The healing process will take years (to the extent that it’s possible) and the burned out border Kibbutzim need extensive rebuilding. It will also take a long time to rebuild Israel’s shattered sense of security. Seeing American Jews and other foreign visitors arriving and offering support  will go a long way towards helping Israelis to return to normality. 

I suppose my main message is that we can all do plenty to help both Israel and Jewish people around the world. We mustn’t accept anti-Semitism or react passively to intimidation. Even a few minutes spent emailing a senator, CEO or college dean can make a practical difference. Put some hostage posters up, buy some Israeli wine or deli products, forge links with other Jewish communities and allies around the world, and plan a future vacation in Israel. 

Iris Hami is the CEO of Gil Travel. She has spent her career promoting Jewish travel and has a deep knowledge of Israel and the Middle East, as well as an abiding love and concern for all its peoples. Iris is determined to help Israel to recover and rebuild after the massacres of October 7th and to work for Jewish communities and their supporters everywhere. She believes that travel and tourism has a vital role to play in forging links between people everywhere.

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