During High Holiday services at Sinai Temple this year, Rabbi David Wolpe stood in front of his congregation with a pledge card, and encouraged everyone to make a pledge. Instead of there being dollar amounts to be folded down, this pledge card had months and the words "I care. And I'm going."
It wasn't money that Wolpe was looking for, but a commitment to go to Israel.
These pledge-cards-with-a-difference landed on hundreds of thousands of pews across America over Rosh Hashanah, as part of a direct marketing campaign that Israel's Ministry of Tourism initiated with help from the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations to organize. The idea was to rescue Israel's declining tourism industry by appealing to Jews of all denominations to visit their religious homeland over the coming year.
The figure of 2.6 million tourists who once visited Israel annually dropped by 80 percent immediately after the intifada began, according to Geoffrey Weill, a New York travel industry marketer whom the Tourism Ministry hired to design the campaign.
This year, the number of tourists to Israel likely will reach 1.3 million -- only 50 percent of the old number, but still more than it was a year ago -- thanks mostly to the rise in Jewish tourism, particularly from the United States, Weill said.
In Los Angeles, the Israel pledge cards are already taking off. Wolpe said that since his appeal a good number of congregants have phoned and e-mailed to say that they were taking the pledge and going to Israel.
"I think the cards give people a tangible reminder," he said. "It is easy to be inspired, but difficult to act on your inspiration. I think they help remind people how they felt the moment that they were inspired."
Allyson Taylor, another Los Angeles resident who took the pledge and plans to go to Israel in February, said she sent an e-mail out about the pledge to 30 of her friends, and already half of those have responded positively.
"Even my brother-in-law who hasn't been to Israel in 20 years e-mailed back and said he was going," said Taylor, who is the program director at StandWithUs. "I think it makes you make a personal commitment, and pledging it to somebody is like making a promise. It's amazing."
You can take the pledge by going to www.ibelieveinisrael.com .