Handmade bracelets, earrings, necklaces, rings, paintings of Israel, and colorful tallitot decorated tables at Congregation B’nai Tzedek of Potomac last week when two Israeli businessmen came to town.
The men, Ori Gabrielle and David Shamay, were here on Aug. 12 to sell their goods and even those of some competitors at a makeshift Israel shouk, or market.
Gabrielle said the long-distance travel was necessary in order to save his business. “I am here today because if I would not come to the States, to try and sell [my products] and bring some money home, I will have to close [my] business. Since the operation and war started in the end of the first week of July, there is no business at all,” he said.
Gabrielle is not alone. Many Israeli businesses are hurting as a result of the nearly constant barrage of Hamas rockets fired at the Jewish state during the past month.
The Israeli Ministry of Tourism reports a 30 percent decrease in reservations since the outbreak of the hostilities. “Tourism, 2.3 percent of the Israeli gross domestic product, employs 200,000 people directly or indirectly. Most directly affected economically by the conflict are people living in southern Israel close to Gaza,” said a ministry spokesperson. Also, as WJW reported on July 31, 10 million Israeli shekels ($29.2 million) have been allocated to provide government guarantees to banks making loans to southern businesses.
For the rest of the country, like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where Gabrielle and Shamay are located, businesses will have to recoup their losses without government assistance.
“I am very lucky that I am able to travel overseas … to try and sell and save our businesses,” Gabrielle said.
He said he has to sell “a lot” in order to cover the expense of travel to come to the United States and also to make up money he lost in recent weeks.
“I guess many of the people who came to see us today came because maybe they planned to come this summer to Israel but because they saw what was going on in the news, they canceled their trips, or maybe they feel a bit guilty and came to support us,” the businessman speculated.
David Shamay came from Rishon Lezion, south of Tel Aviv, to sell jewelry from his store there.
“We brought a lot of stuff of artists from Israel, and not just jewelry; we represent artists from Jerusalem, from Tel Aviv from Jaffa,” he said.
Now is typically the peak tourism season in Israel. But Shamay said his business, and those of his competitors, are selling up to 90 percent less than they normally would at this time.
The choice to come here, he said, was simple: “It’s to do zero business at home or to do something here. We are doing business here and we aren’t complaining.”
After leaving Washington, the two are slated to try to sell their wares in North Carolina, New York and Chicago.