On a typically bustling weekday morning at Elat Market on Pico Boulevard, regular shopper Boris Sinofsky was at the fish counter, ordering several pounds of tilapia. He had seen a pamphlet for Fine Foods From Israel -- a campaign to support Israel through the purchase of its goods -- but he didn't pay it much mind.
"I shop at Elat, Kosher Club, Koltov all the time. I already buy a lot of Israeli products."
Over by the meat counter, Gila Mehraban had not even heard of the campaign.
"I usually buy kosher products," Mehraban said. "But I get all kinds of brands."
Nobody she knows, she added, is consciously buying Israeli products to support the Jewish State.
Fine Foods From Israel -- a citywide awareness campaign running March 19-31 -- hopes to change Jewish consumer patterns. The marketing campaign was launched earlier this month in a collaboration by the Southern California Israel Chamber of Commerce, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Government of Israel Economic Mission and the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute. More than 60,000 pamphlets were distributed throughout Los Angeles, listing participation of 90 markets, including 56 Ralphs supermarkets and independent outlets such as Elite Market and Sami Makolet. The campaign's goal: to coax customers to buy products from Israeli companies such as Adin Ltd., Segal Wines and Wissotzky Tea.
Fine Foods is one of many ways American Jewish communities have been rallying support through Israel, using financial and educational programs. But unlike victims of terror funds such as The Jewish Federation's Jews in Crisis, Fine Foods' objective is not to raise proceeds for specific charities, but to boost revenue of Israeli companies and, by extension, Israel's economy. Israel -- which has experienced a steady economic downturn since the second Intifada began in September 2000 -- ships about $38 billion in total exports, an estimated $1 billion of that food-related. Israel exports to North America decreased from $76 million in 2001 to $70 million in 2002.
Fine Foods is one of many recent "buy Israel" efforts. Another food-related initiative involves Osem USA -- the American branch of Israel's largest food manufacturer -- which has partnered with Jewish National Fund (JNF) to launch the Passover campaign Matzah With a Mitzvah. For every five boxes of Osem products purchased, Osem will make a donation to JNF to plant a tree in Israel. Osem will also promote facts on its packaging about JNF, the century-old organization that has developed more than 250,000 acres of Israeli land. Major supermarket chains nationwide -- including Ralphs and Albertsons -- are endorsing this endeavor.
"This is a great way to support Israel," Osem's President Izzet Ozdogan said. "With one purchase, you are helping Israel's economy, fulfilling the obligations of Passover and planting trees in Israel -- three mitzvot for the price of one."
"Buy Israel" programs are also transcending the food industry. American Jewish Committee devoted part of its Web site to a "Made in Israel" section that identifies Israeli cosmetics and clothing brands, and includes links to other "buy Israel" Web sites, such as ShopBenYehuda.com and USAIsrael.org.
Consumers have also been supporting Israel in the home improvement arena, where Israeli companies have a prominent local presence. Doorset Closet Mobel, manufacturer of custom closet and storage systems, opened a Beverly Hills showroom in 2001, while Caesarstone -- pioneers of quartz surfaces -- has based U.S. operations in Sun Valley. Meanwhile, Bradco Kitchens & Baths has become the exclusive U.S. distributor of Israeli companies Topaz Kitchens and Harsa Sink.
Doron Abrahami, consul for economic affairs at the Southern California Israel Chamber of Commerce, believes that word is slowly getting out. He was encouraged by the 160 people who attended a Fine Foods "food expo," held March 24 in Beverly Hills. The networking party attracted store owners, distributors and buyers for Ralphs, Albertsons and Trader Joe's.
"It's too early," Abrahami said, "but from the feedback that we're getting, we're considering holding this campaign again next year."
Midway through this attempt to boost the quotient of Israeli goods, the Fine Foods campaign's effectiveness is difficult to separate from an overall, pre-Passover trend. Participating retailers endorse the marketing endeavor, but report conflicting feedback on its effectiveness. David Eskenazi, manager of Kosher Club in Los Angeles, noticed a small spike in the shape of a few phone calls.
"Overall there's been a general increase in the purchase of Israeli goods even before the campaign," said Eskenazi, who added that, conversely, "there's been a drop in the sales of all of our French products."
As a result of demand, Kosher Club will carry four more Israel-imported wine brands this Passover.
"Consumers are making a choice to support Israel, and we're making an effort to purchase these products," Eskenazi said.
Noori Zbida has seen a bump in interest since the campaign began at his Fairfax Avenue store, Picanty.
"People want to choose more Israeli products than before," Zbida said.
Tzvi Guttman of Mr. Kosher in Encino, felt otherwise.
"I sell the same amount around the year," said Guttman, who "didn't feel a difference."
Abrahami cautioned against looking for instantaneous results from this inaugural Fine Foods.
"It might take a year to measure this campaign," he said. "It's a big community. I think there's a big potential."
Chamber of Commerce executive committee member Bennett Zimmerman agreed.
"If we could reach 100,000 people in California with our campaign," he said, "that's $100 million worth of goods. If we can replicate this across the country, that's a very significant impact on Israel's economy."
For more information on the Fine Foods from Israel campaign, call (323) 658-7924; visit www.finefoodsisrael.com. For more information on Jewish National Fund, call (800) 542-8733; visit www.jnf.org. For more information on American Jewish Committee's Made in Israel program, visit www.ajc.org.
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