American Jews give Israel's economy needed boost by shopping on Internet

Posted: Thursday, May 16, 2002

PHILADELPHIA -- When Jane Scher told other guests at a bat mitzvah that she had ordered a gift from an Israeli shop, they became interested.

So Scher, who lives in San Diego, created a Web site with over 100 links to stores in Israel.

American Jews looking for ways to help Israel have started using sites such as Scher's to buy books, jewelry, crafts or flowers, giving a boost to Israel's economy, which has lost major tourist revenues during escalating violence in the Middle East.

''I think all of us feel like if only there's something we can do,'' said Scher, 45. ''If a million Jews spend $100 in Israel that's $100 million for Israel. We don't need to be helpless. We actually can participate in a constructive way.''

Baruch Hadaya, 52, owner of Hadaya, One of a Kind Jewelry, in Jerusalem, said his Web site was getting about 1,200 hits a month before Scher started Last month, after he was listed on Scher's site, he got 9,500 hits.

''I'm not sure I'd still be in business without them,'' he said. ''I was dying, I was going out of business.''

After the Israeli-Palestinian clashes began in September 2000, the number of tourists visiting Israel dropped by more than half in 2001 from 2000 levels. There is an American warning against travel to Israel and once-busy stores and hotels are doing a fraction of their previous business.

''They have the right to support their people, and so should the Palestinians have the right to support their people,'' said Faiz Rehman, spokesman for the American Muslim Council. Palestinians ''want to, but they can't. Their efforts here are discredited. The government accuses their charities of having ties to suicide bombers.''

Rehman said the U.S. government has created a fearful atmosphere and that Palestinians are afraid to support their people. ''People from other communities are hesitant to come forward and help, there's an atmosphere of fear,'' he said.

Scher said her not-for-profit site, which went up 11 weeks ago, is getting thousands of hits a day.

The Philadelphia Jewish Federation has had links to Israeli stores on its Web site for about six months and now has a link to Scher's site.

''There's a bakery in Jerusalem that provides rolls to hotels. At one time they employed 15 or 18 people and produced thousands of rolls,'' said Irv Geffen, the federation's vice president for marketing. ''They were employing, in November, two people and were producing 50 dozen a day.''

Geffen says he has bought jewelry for his wife online and when interviewed had plans to purchase more as Mother's Day gifts.

''The jewelry is lovely,'' he said. ''Every time I physically go there, I buy jewelry.''

The United Jewish Committees' Web site also has links to Israeli shopping sites.

''I think you see people being apprehensive'' about traveling to Israel, said Richard Pearlstone, chairman of the group's marketing committee. ''There are people who believe this is one of the ways to show support for the Israelis.''

During the Six Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973, thousands of Americans went to Israel to work and take over civilian jobs.

''It's not the same as when hundreds of thousands of soldiers are at Israel's borders and, therefore, Israel needed bodies,'' said Philip Rosen, chairman of American Friends of Likud. ''At this stage, Israel doesn't need bodies to help out. What they need is other kinds of support.''

Avra Kassar said she recently ordered flowers for her daughters-in-law through Scher's site.

''I have family and friends with children in the army,'' said Kassar, who lives in La Jolla, Calif. ''This is an opportunity for me to do something so small in comparison with what they are doing.''

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