While attending a bat mitzvah party, Jane Scher and her friends began discussing the gifts they had brought. "I have been trying to buy a lot of things in Israel," Scher said, including the Israeli-made gift she had given to the bat mitzvah girl.
It struck a chord among her girlfriends, and the conversation suddenly became "very animated and exciting," Scher recalled. She was stunned by the enthusiasm and thought: "If there is this much interest, why don't I find a way to give people the information?" That thought sparked the Web site -- www.shopinisrael.com, an umbrella site for various Israeli merchants and companies. "I like to think of us as a link. If you want to shop in Israel, how do you get there? We provide the link."
Shopinisrael.com is one of several sites -- including shop4israel.com and israelshop1.com, among others -- that allows people to purchase Israeli products with the click of a button. "They provide a way for the Jewish community to feel that they are involved," says Meirav Eilon Shahar, the Israeli consulate's consul for communications and public affairs.
The Web sites allow American Jews to help the struggling Israeli economy, especially when they are reluctant to visit because of the military situation. At a time when Israel's unemployment rate has just reached 10 percent and the country has lost $5 billion in tourism and other businesses since 2000, such support reminds Israelis that "they aren't alone or forgotten," Shahar said.
Scher added: "It allows Israeli merchants to maintain their dignity and allows them to keep doing what they were doing ... no one is getting any handouts, but everyone is working together."
While Web sites are a valuable resource for Israeli-made products, other methods are also available. Doron Abrahami, consul for economic affairs for the Government of Israel Economic Mission in Los Angeles, has been inundated with phone calls from people who are looking for ways to support Israel. "I have a list of Israeli brands that are available here in the U.S.," he told The Journal. Currently, there are 3,000 Israeli exporters, but not all of them are in the retail market, he says. Ultimately, the Economic Mission is planning to create a directory of all retail locations where those items are sold.
In addition, the Economic Mission is beginning a campaign to help Israeli industry. "We are looking for distributors from large corporations in the greater-L.A. area to contact us. We hope to create a mentoring program for Israeli companies to be penetrated into the market," Abrahami said. So far this year, the Economic Mission has helped place 10 Israeli companies within the L.A. market. "We want to represent the best of Israel. There is a lot of upscale merchandise available," said Beth Belkin, director of communications for the Government of Israel Economic Mission in New York.
Taking their own initiative to make the best of Israel available locally, Los Angeles residents Sheila Barham Spivak and Adrian Miller have organized Shop Israel ... L.A. The October event will offer L.A. shoppers the opportunity to purchase items that will be shipped in directly from Israel for the occasion.
Shop Israel ... L.A. was created when Spivak and Miller were brainstorming with some of their girlfriends who were interested in doing something to help Israel. Sammy Ghatan, who represents the vendors on Ben Yehuda Mall Merchants Association, will be bringing goods directly from 40 of his vendors. Cheryl Mandel, the representative from Gush Etzion Mall in the West Bank, will do the same. "There are certain things that people want to see, so we're trying to make it as if people are walking down Ben Yehuda," Spivak said. Some of the items that will be available will include Steve's Backpacks and Naot shoes, and other clothing, jewelry and Judaica. All of the proceeds from the event, less admission cost, will go to support struggling Israeli store owners. The event will offer gifts for every occasion, Spivak said. "Anything is a very appropriate bar or bat mitzvah gift."