JERUSALEM, ISRAEL – Tourists have been returning to Israel after the two-year COVID pandemic. Israel's Ministry of Tourism says the number of people visiting Israel is near pre-COVID levels. For many people, though, a trip to the Holy Land is still a dream.
That's where one business in Jerusalem's Old City comes in. Zak Mishriky runs "Zak's Jerusalem Gifts," a shop in the Old City. Zak also has a website where customers from all over the world can shop from home.
"Zak's gifts is a Jerusalemite Christian site," Zak told us. "Now after the two years of COVID, it has been the largest website in Jerusalem that provides Christian items – items that bring the Bible to life."
Zak's store is a third-generation gift shop that offers a range of gifts from olive wood nativity sets to ancient coins, oil lamps, and much more.
"I want to communicate the Biblical truth, or the Biblical stories, and the things that were found in our Bible," he said.
One example he showed us is a coin from the time of Jesus, which illustrates the biblical story of the widow's mite.
"You see I made this, two replicas of the widow's mite and on the top of it, I wrote, 'it's your heart that matters, not your money.' It's a Biblical truth. God cares for our heart, He doesn't need any money," Zak said.
Workers here do, however, so while providing gifts with meaning, Zak also supports struggling Christian brothers and sisters.
"We need people who love Christ to be here. It's important when pilgrims come to Jerusalem, this is not only stone or churches but they can see real people who have experienced God and who testify that His tomb is still empty," he said. "My business allows people to work, to be productive, to have food on the table and stay here."
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That's where Artza Box also plays a role. It's a Jewish company designed to bring the Holy Land to Christians in North America.
"The main goal of Artza is to connect. Connect people in Israel to people in America. It's to connect people to the Bible, to the words, the stories of the Bible. It's also to connect people to modern-day Israel, to the people that live here, to the small businesses, to daily life here as well. It's kind of connecting this mixture of ancient and Biblical but also modern between Israel and America and combining the whole together," said Artza's founder, Itai Schimmel.
An Artza Box subscription provides locally made gifts four times throughout the year. This month's box focuses on towns connected with the life of Jesus.
"Because it's Christmas and we celebrate the birth of Jesus," Schimmel said. "We have products from Bethlehem, from Jerusalem, from Nazareth, and from the Galilee. Every box has two products from that place and it takes on this immersive journey from all of these regions. And they're really beautiful, they're completely unique and we're incredibly excited for people to receive it."
Like Zak, Artza provides local businesses and charities with much needed work.
"We've had countless businesses and charities cry on the phone to us when we place the order and when we work with them telling us that directly because of Artza and our subscribers they've managed to stay in business for another five months or been able to keep their employees."
He also said the gift boxes b ring the Holy Land to life for the recipients.
"They get very emotional when they open them. They open them up with family and friends and you've got kids opening them up with their grandparents. You have grandparents opening them up with their grandkids, you've got husbands and wives. It's been very heartwarming," Schimmel said.
Artza Box and Zak's Jerusalem Gifts aim to bring the Christmas season to life and regardless of COVID, the message remains the same.
"The last two years the message was, do not worry God is good. You know, now after COVID is over and life came back to normal, I still assure you that God's still good," Zak said. "God is good and that His mercy shall follow you to the end of days with COVID or without COVID. He is good."
Why does Judaism matter and how is it connected to Christianity? Learn more here.