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Northern Israel tourism gets back to normal; Travel warning impacts Rangoon synagogue

October 19, 2006 | 8:00 pm

Northern Israel tourism gets back to normal

More than two months after the cease-fire took hold, tourism to northern Israel is returning to normal. Hundreds of thousands of holiday travelers ventured north during Sukkot, attending festivals or simply exploring the great outdoors.

Hotels in the Galilee reported a 90 percent room occupancy rate during Sukkot, according to Ynetnews. Tiberias police estimate almost 150,000 people enjoyed Kinneret beaches, with 20,000 attending the Bereshit Festival at Dugit Beach. Nature reserves and national parks drew thousands due in part to a joint effort by the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Parks Authority to drop entrance fees for the holiday. About 2,000 visitors inundated kayaking sites at Kibbutz Kfar Blum and Beit Hillel, and traffic was heavy at the Marom Galil Regional Council's dune buggy sites.

Among the dozens of events that took place during the holiday were three festivals -- the Haifa International Film Festival, the Carmiel Dance Festival and the Akko Festival for Fringe Theatre, which had been postponed during the recent war.

Israel's tourism ministry is emphasizing the spiritual importance of northern Israel in its stepping up advertising campaigns here in the United States.

Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog paid his first visit to New York at the beginning of the month to announce two promotional campaigns to the Jewish and Christian communities. The first, "Israel: Taking You Higher," was launched over the High Holidays and seeks to partner the emotional high of visiting Israel with Israel's highest altitude cities, including Haifa and Tsfat, which were targets during the summer Hezbollah attacks. The second campaign features fast-paced television commercials scheduled to air in Los Angeles, New York and South Florida, which will highlight the calm and normalcy of Israel today. Similar commercials will run on Christian television and radio stations featuring testimonials from religious leaders.

Travel warning impacts Rangoon synagogue

Myanmar's small Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue in Rangoon, Burma, has thrived for years thanks to Jews visiting from the United States, Canada, England and France. But American sanctions and other travel warnings against the Asian nation are taking a toll on this shul, AFP reports. Without foreign donations to support the congregation, local Jews are worried about the community's future.

The Jewish population in Rangoon numbered about 2,500 prior to World War II, with many families originating from Baghdad or India. The synagogue itself dates back to 1896. The wartime Japanese invasion forced many families back to India, while others made aliyah after a military takeover in 1962; the last rabbi went to Israel in 1968. The current Jewish population of Rangoon is about 25 people.

"Now it's difficult. Before, people came and donated money, but now less people are coming," said Moses Samuels, 54, a synagogue trustee.

Samuel's son, Sammy, recently graduated valedictorian from Yeshiva University in New York, and plans to open a travel company with his father. Myanmar Shalom is expected to begin operations in November, booking trips for Burmese Jews to return home for the holidays. While Sammy Samuel intends to live and continue studying in New York, he hopes to return to Rangoon one day to care for the synagogue like his father.

Ruth Fredman Cernea, author of "Almost Englishmen: Baghdadi Jews in British Burma," encourages Americans to travel to the junta-controlled country formerly known as Burma, and says that its only hope is a change in the political and economic climate.

"More international businessmen would mean more Jews employed and living in Burma, and therefore a resident congregation for Musmeah Yeshua," she said.

Heritage Center opens in Jamaica

Jamaica is marking the 350th anniversary of its Jewish history with the opening of a new heritage center at Kingston's Shaare Shalom Synagogue on Nov. 9. The center is located in a hall adjacent to the synagogue, which will feature a permanent exhibit highlighting the nation's rich history, the congregation's archives, a family history center, video theater and a memorial garden.

After England took possession of the island from Spain in 1655, an Inquisition-weary people soon gained many similar rights of ordinary British citizens. Jamaican Jews gained full rights in 1830 and the community quickly became prominent in civic and political life. In 1849, before British Jews had the right to vote, eight of 47 members of Jamaica's Legislative Assembly were Jewish.

Nearly 200 Jews live in Jamaica today, primarily in Kingston. Its close-knit Jewish community typically celebrates holidays with communal dinners. Shaare Shalom Synagogue itself can accommodate 600 people, and its floor is covered in sand, a tradition that dates back to 15th century Jews who fled the Inquisition.

For more information, e-mail shaareshalom@cwjamaica.com.

Calling all Matterhorn climbers

Have you conquered Switzerland's Matterhorn? The Zermatt-based Matterhorn Museum is scheduled to open its doors in December and organizers are asking alpinists to register on its Web site, www.matterhornclimbers.ch, to be included in its permanent exhibit. The museum is also requesting a steep one-time $275 donation from registrants, which will help subsidize the project and its building costs. Donors can opt to have a name plaque installed at the museum's entrance, along with the inclusion of their photo and ascent details on its Web site. Each year about 3,000 people attempt to climb the Horu, as the mountain is known in Switzerland. British climber Edward Whymper led the first successful ascent in July 14, 1865, but four out of seven members of his party died during the descent.

Briefs by Adam Wills, Associate Editor {--Tracker Pixel for Entry--}

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