Israel is a powerful draw for millions who want to experience the sacred grounds where Jesus once walked, but with Covid still in the picture that’s no longer possible — or is it?
An Israeli entrepreneur is trying to recreate that magical feeling with the launch of Artza, a service which sends out carefully curated boxes of food and crafts made by local businesses in the Jewish State.
The motto of the company is: "Bring the Land of the Bible to Your Doorstep."
Itai Schimmel launched it in March 2020, as the first round of the deadly virus gripped the world and tourism plummeted a staggering 81% in Israel.
"With the borders to the Holy Land closed during Covid, we had a simple idea," Schimmel told Newsmax. "What if we could help people who couldn't visit Israel experience the land where Jesus walked, and bring the places we read about in the Bible to life in vivid color – all while supporting the people and small businesses that call this place home?
"So we started small and got to work, searching out the best artisans in different cities in the Holy Land and curating boxes of food, gifts and amazing content."
The business grew quickly with more than 10,000 orders.
"Our merchants have almost cried on the phone to us as we partner with them, thanking us for their support," Schimmel said.
"With one merchant, the bank had literally called them three hours prior to our call, warning that if they couldn’t pay their bills they’d be closed down. Thanks to the support of the Artza family they are still in business."
The boxes — shipped four times a year for an annual cost of $300 ($380 for the premium edition) — hold items that are "are relevant to the life of Jesus and the Bible," he said.
Each has up to nine artisanal products from Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, and Galilee, as well as printed pamphlets that tell the stories behind them.
The items have included: Israeli olive oil, spices, chocolates, teas, nuts, jams, candles, soaps, handmade crafts, card games, postcards of the Holy Land and short tutorials on Hebrew phrases.
"These are made by artisans who rely so heavily on tourism and are really struggling right now," Schimmel said. "These people love their craft and we are so excited to support them and their small businesses at this challenging time."
Jamil Hosh, a Bethlehem artist who makes exquisite carvings from olive wood, including Christmas ornaments, said: "Wood crafting is a skill the people of Bethlehem picked up from the Crusaders in the 15th century. I love olive wood because no two pieces are the same. Each piece has its own character that spans generations, as the trees should be kept for 150 years before being used for carving.
"And, of course, the olive tree is mentioned in the Bible as a holy tree – it was, after all, an olive branch that the dove carried to signify the end of God’s wrath and the flood."
One popular item included in the package this past summer was a hand crafted Mosaic making kit from the shores of the Galilee.
Artza, which means "towards the land" in Hebrew, has also partnered with Sindyanna of Galilee, a nonprofit which produces small batches of extra virgin olive oil in the biblical city of Cana.
It’s run by Jewish and Arab women seeking change and peace.
"It's not just a box, it's a community where people can share, connect and experience together through Artza," Schimmel said. "We have loved watching our subscribers opening up their boxes as date nights, with their kids, with their church groups, as family night and more."
The company’s next project is a cookbook of recipes from kitchens across the Holy Land.
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