OSWEGO, NY â€“ They were thousands of miles away from home. But they felt a unique connection â€“ a bond of friendship and family.
Several members of the Israeli news media took a familiarization tour today (May 13) to promote New York Stateâ€™s Erie Canal communities.
Kay Tours, a tour operator based in Tel Aviv, Israel, hosted the project.
Thursdayâ€™s portion of the five-day (May 11 â€“ 15) tour brought the international visitors to the Port City, and the Safe Haven Museum and Education Center.
The museum highlights the story of the nearly 1,000 refugees who were given safe haven from the Holocaust. Oswegoâ€™s was the only such facility in the world.
â€œThe refugeesâ€™ story should be kept alive because this (Holocaust) should never happen again â€“ to anyone,â€ said Elizabeth Kahl of the Safe Haven Board. â€œThis should not be permitted to ever happen again to anyone.â€
Going through the many exhibits and displays at the museum brought back memories of their families, the visitors noted.
â€œAlmost everybody in Israel has somebody who was lost during the Holocaust,â€ one of them pointed out.
Kahl said she believes it also gave them a sense of hope.
Here was one city that had the equivalent of one-tenth of its population thrust upon them,â€ she said. â€œThey managed it. It wasnâ€™t governments. The government brought them over but it was the people inside the fence in the camp and the people outside the fence; the Oswego people accepted them. They became friends.â€
Many of the refugees were invited into the homes of Oswegonians, she pointed out.
â€œThe refugees would return the favor by putting on plays, operas and things like that,â€ she said. â€œSo, I think it gave them a sense that the United States was not as seemingly indifferent.â€
There are still some former refugees living in Israel, she added.
The tour was organized by the I Love New York marketing team and county tourism promotion agencies.
Taking part in the tour were Mr. Assaf Yaari, Yedioth Daily Newspaper; Mr. Blich Mei, Marriv Daily Newspaper; Mrs. Orna Nenner, Laisha Magazine; Mrs. Saari Birron-Raz, Israel Broadcasting Authority; Mr. Adi Azoulay, Passport News; Mr. Avi Kaptzan, President, Kay Tours; Mr. Danny Saadon, Vice President, El Al Airline; and Mr. Markly Wilson, Director of International Marketing, New York State Division of Tourism.
The group of journalists (TV, newspaper and magazine), tour directors and travel officials say they want to learn more about New Yorkâ€™s tourist spots, other than just the big cities.
â€œWe love it. Weâ€™re having a very good time,â€ said Saadon. â€œThe hospitality has been fantastic everywhere weâ€™ve been to.â€
Usually, when people from his country visit America, they go east (to New York City) or west (to Las Angeles), he noted.
â€œWhat we want to do is promote this part of New York as well. It would be an interesting site for Israelis to come to,â€ he told Oswego County Today.
They landed at Newark Liberty International Airport at about 5 a.m. May 11 and have been spending 12 hours a day touring places like Albany, Waterford, Rome, the locks along the Erie Canal and much more, he said.
From Oswego, they will head west to Fair Haven and then Rochester.
The towns and villages that they have seen along their travels have â€œbeen maintained in a beautiful way,â€ Saadon said. â€œYou can feel the atmosphere, itâ€™s very interesting.â€
His company works with the tourism offices in a lot of different countries. Recently, they were approached by the NYS Tourism Office.
â€œThey asked us if we were interested in coming to upstate New York. And we said yes, weâ€™d love to. Weâ€™re enjoying every minute of it.â€
Kaptzan said his company has been considering for quite a while how it could promote more tourism to upstate.
â€œUsually clients arrive in New York (City) and that is their final stop,â€ he said. â€œTwo years ago we started to promote this area; there has been an increase in demand to come to this area, cities like Rochester, Albany, Syracuse, Ithaca, etcetera. We decided to have the media come and help promote this as a destination.â€
When most people in his country think of the United States, they think of only the mass production cities, New York, Orlando, Las Vegas, Miami and thatâ€™s it, he explained.
â€œBut, if you travel one and a half hour outside of the big cities, you find a totally different world,â€ he said. â€œThe hospitality is there. There is more warmth, the people are more welcoming.â€
It is important for them to educate people about that, he added.
â€œThere is a whole different America. Itâ€™s not just New York City. Itâ€™s upstate as well,â€ Kaptzan said. “It will be brought to the tourist knowledge that there is a different New York. It’s not just only New York City, it’s New York State.”
â€œWe were delighted and surprised that they would stop here,â€ Kahl said of the tour. â€œIn the United States, this was the only camp of its kind, there was no other camp. Itâ€™s a unique story and we think itâ€™s worth preserving.â€
“Oswego is an historic city. The fort is historic, Lake Ontario is historic and this is one of the last and most poignant stories of the fort, the use of the fort,” Kahl said. â€œAnd, it has international significance.
It was primarily, but not all, Jews that came to Oswegoâ€™s Safe Haven, Kahl said.
â€œEighty-nine percent of the people who came were Jewish. The other 11 percent were of all different faiths,â€ she pointed out. â€œThey came from 18 different countries and spoke 16 different languages.â€
The common language was Italian, because they had all managed to get from their countries into Italy, she explained.
Besides the museum, the H. Lee White Marine Museum and Fort Ontario were also on the visitorsâ€™ schedule.
Stories of their visit might entice many more foreign travelers to stop in the Port City in the future.