Christians from across the world have been opening their homes – and their hearts – to Israeli travelers through the HIT (Hosting Israeli Travelers) network since 2000. As the COVID-19 pandemic severely limits travel, these hosts are now longing for their visitors to come back.
“For four years we have had an overlapping string of Israelis, totaling 35 visitors, and for 6 weeks we’ve had none. We miss them immensely,” says Jo Russel from Australia.
As we wrote in a KNI article about HIT back in 2017, young people in Israel typically travel abroad after finishing their compulsory army service and before going to college. As the travelers are usually on a backpacker’s budget, the provision of safe, quality accommodation free of charge or available for a nominal amount, is greatly valued by these young travelers.
Eric Smeith from New Zealand and his wife hosted an Israeli couple for almost 8 weeks over lockdown. “They rang us the morning of lockdown asking for a place to stay,” he says. “They traveled 6 hours that day to reach us. When they arrived I had a face-to-face talk with a father of the couple, thanking us for taking in their loved ones. The most rewarding thing was they became like part of our family and we received a special thank you gift from both their parents. The couple traveled for 2 cold months in the South Island and then returned to us for another week. We have regular contact with them now. We may meet up with them again before they travel home to Israel.”
In some cases, the hosts also offer short-term employment opportunities for Israelis with working visas. There are also orphanages in Haiti, Uganda and India who offer places for Israelis to volunteer.
Omri Jaakobovich founded the network in February 2000, which in the beginning only included New Zealand. HIT branched the network into Australia in 2015. Since then it expanded around the world, and currently 4,000 HIT hosts are located in over 62 countries worldwide. Since it’s founding over 20,000 Israelis have used the HIT network.
“For our 20th anniversary, they shut us down,” Jaakobovich jokes. “We hope it will be back soon. Our goal is to connect people who love Israel with the Israelis who are travelling. The hosts can be Jews or Gentiles, it doesn’t matter.”
Who are the hosts? Della Brown, secretary of HIT in Australia, explains: “Some [of the hosts] are Israelis living outside of Israel. Some are Jews living outside of Israel who love the Land. But the vast majority of hosts are Bible-believing Christians who love Israel and want to meet and bless the Jewish people. The HIT network is designed to give the opportunity for a conversation – perhaps the non-believing Israelis will also meet their Messiah!”
Jaakobovich himself came to faith in Yeshua while traveling in New Zealand in 1997, following his military service. He is an Israeli who grew up on a kibbutz and served in the army as paratrooper. An important step towards his accepting the gospel was hearing the bold witness of a Gentile Christian woman who ran a hostel in which he had stayed.
Evangelism is, however, not the main point of the network, as such, but rather to create opportunities for lovers of Israel to meet and bless Israeli travelers, and IF and WHEN the opportunity presents itself – to also share about Messiah. “We ask the hosts not to share the gospel with Israelis against their will. Be open with who you are, what you believe, and why you love Israel – but don’t try to force deep discussions about Isaiah 53 upon someone who doesn’t care, and just wanted a shower and a mattress to sleep on after a long day of trekking. It will only create animosity. Be a blessing and show love,” Jaakobovich says.
Jaakobovich points out that anyone can sign up to host Israelis wherever they live. “You don’t obligate yourself to host anyone at any time. You just put yourself on the map and allow Israeli travelers to contact you should they be in your area. Even if you need to refuse 364 times out of 365 – you still have that one time when you do host. All we ask is that you host whenever you can, and that you provide them with a shower, a kitchen they can use, and a place to sleep. That’s it. Even if that place to sleep is a mattress, a couch, or even just a garden to put up a tent. Of course, many of our hosts give a lot more than that – hot meals, taking them to interesting places, picking them up from the train station or bus stop, etc. As hosts, you also decide the conditions and rules for your own place. We don’t intervene. You get a profile on our website where you can write what you offer, and the travelers decide if that suits them.”
On HIT’s Hebrew website, Israeli travelers praise the initiative. One writes: “Their house was just one minute from the beach, they took us to kayaking, and we spent an amazing three nights there. They didn’t preach Christianity.” Another writes, “What a great idea to host Israeli travelers with Christian families. It doesn’t matter the reason they want to host us. It made our trip an amazing experience. We experienced their life and had many interesting conversations. I highly recommend it.”
One young Israeli woman testifies: “It’s living with people who love us, just because we are Israelis. I was shocked every day anew; I didn’t understand why I deserve this.”
“It’s an amazing authentic experience, to live with locals. We got to live at farms, taken to beaches we would never discover on our own. And we saved a lot of money,” wrote another.
One of them mentioned: “I even got to visit their church with them, which was a really interesting experience.”
Israelis willingly following their hosts to their churches just out of curiosity is apparently not that rare. “I enjoyed when our Israeli guest played in our church. It was a blessed time. I really hope it will happen again,” said Gun Peterson from Sweden.
In March 2020, when country after country imposed national lockdowns and flights were cancelled, some travelers were stranded. Heather Jean King from Melbourne, Australia hosted an Israeli couple as they searched for a way to get home. “It was such an uncertain time for them and their families with limited options to leave the country. We wanted to do what we could,” she said.
All hosts expressed a gratitude for their experiences and hope for the future. “We’ve really missed having house guests over the past 6 months,” King said. “The Israelis we’ve hosted since 2017 have been many and varied, but we’ve loved the whole experience. Some have stayed for lengthy periods and have become like family. Last year when we visited Israel, we caught up with several of them and met their families. It was one of the highlights of our time there.”
Originally posted at news.kehila.org