Artza is a first-of-its-kind quarterly subscription box that features products from local Israeli artisans who are coping with the adverse effects on business from COVID-19
JERUSALEM — The blooming flowers that now dot Jerusalem’s rolling hills are a sign that spring has come to the Holy City. Usually, an influx of pilgrims coming to celebrate Easter and walk in Jesus’ footsteps aren’t far behind. But not so this year. With Israel’s airport still closed to tourists, the coming weeks mark the second Easter with a global pandemic and its devastating effects on the businesses and shopkeepers that depend on Israel’s visitors.
“Easter is the time of year when Jerusalem is most vibrant and full of life,” said Akiva, one of the owners of Off the Wall, a specialty spice shop located in the heart of the Old City. “Thousands of people every day from all over the world are coming by. But once COVID hit, the whole thing just came to a stop. By March of 2020, we were forced to close the doors. And we have been closed since.”
Akiva runs Off the Wall with his brother-in-law, Simcha, who grew up in the Old City by the Zion Gate and King David’s Tomb. When Simcha was offered the opportunity to open a store in a location just across from Hezekiah’s wall, he jumped at it, and “Off the Wall” was born.
At its core, Off the Wall sells some of the highest quality spices in Israel. But according to Simcha and Akiva, the store is so much more than that – which makes its closure even more devastating.
“We of course enjoy providing a range of Israeli-made food products, including our famous spices,” said Akiva. “But most of all, we love interacting with people from all walks of life on their spiritual journey through the ancient city of Jerusalem. In that way, I always look at our shop as a spiritual experience. Jerusalem does that. It transforms the mundane into the holy. Every person we met had something special to share.”
Recognizing the burden that the coronavirus was placing upon merchants in Jerusalem, as well as in other parts of the Holy Land, a new direct-to-consumer company has been working overtime to help fill the gaps.
Artza, which is Hebrew for “toward the land”, is a company that offers a quarterly subscription box delivering a mix of artisanal food, hand-crafted gifts, and rich content specifically geared toward Christians across America. Ahead of the Easter holiday, the company is featuring a box filled with items from artisans in and around Jerusalem, offering a much-needed boost to local small businesses.
According to Artza’s founder, Itai Schimmel, the idea is to deliver an assortment of gifts that people will not find anywhere else, all while supporting local small businesses and strengthening people’s connection to the Land of the Bible.
“When we came up with the idea for Artza, COVID was in its early days and you could already see how the lack of tourism was seriously threatening several small businesses here,” said Schimmel. “We feel blessed to be able to connect our customers in America with merchants and shopkeepers all throughout the Holy Land. Our members are truly providing a lifeline to small business owners and their families at an incredibly difficult period, and I know neither we nor the artisans we work with take that support for granted.”
The artisans seem to agree.
“This Artza order made a big difference to our families before the holiday,” said Akiva. “And even though it’s not the same as serving people in person, it’s special to know that people all over America will be enjoying a taste of this special place. We look forward to seeing everyone in person – and seeing Jerusalem rejoice again.”