Can’t go to Israel? Buy a bond, says web developer

Despite ongoing "solidarity missions" to Israel by Jewish activists from the Bay Area and beyond, as the country battles terrorists, tourism is hurting badly, putting a dent in the economy and a chink in its emotional armor.

While their fear of visiting a country seemingly under siege is understandable, many area Jews still want to show their solidarity but don't know how.

Stephen Astor of Los Altos pondered that question, especially in recent weeks, as one friend after another canceled scheduled trips to Israel and he read with increasing alarm the continuing newspaper accounts of violence, injury and death.

His solution: Buy Israel Bonds.

Astor has posted an informational Web site to encourage people to buy Israeli bonds that explains how they can do so; it is called, at

In Hebrew, he explains, bimkom means "in place of." And while he would rather see local Jews "go to Israel and show [their] solidarity in person," Astor understands why many are reluctant. Even he is not rushing off to a travel agent to make plans.

Instead, this is his recommendation: "If you cancel a trip, were thinking of going, were hoping to go, had even the vaguest notion or thought of visiting Israel or sending family or loved ones to Israel or traveling on business to Israel, take the money you would have spent for the trip and buy an Israel Bond."

The idea came to Astor on Aug. 12. The following day, he had his Web site up and running.

A retired physician who moved to San Francisco for professional training 30 years ago, he has built four Web sites in the last 12 months. But the others had to do with a book-publishing enterprise, Two A's Publishing of Mountain View.

Bimkom is purely not for profit; it receives no funds from the promotion or sale of Israel Bonds. It is sponsored by Two A's and the Jeff Astor Foundation, named for Astor's son who died in a plane crash 10 years ago.

Astor said the impetus for his latest goodwill gesture came from several factors. He'd been reading Russian history books to learn more about his family's background, and was disturbed to find correlations between then and now. "I read how terrorism frightened Jews in Russia during the pogroms. The same thing happened in Germany during World War II. At some point we need to stand up and be counted."

Then last fall came the intifada and renewed terrorist attacks.

Astor, who has family in Israel, had visited the country several times with his children and his wife, Merry, but not in recent years. Now he feels that "people are abandoning Israel" when he reads the newspapers. "People have to stand up and say, 'We're going to support Israel and stick with her…'"

While he understands why people don't want to travel — "because it's scary," — Astor says "this is one thing you can do, and it costs nothing."

How so?

Though there are several different kinds of Israel bonds, the 7th Development Issue Bond in particular can be exchanged for goods and services in Israel, according to

"You are not giving the money away," Astor writes. "You are depositing it with the Israeli government, which has never defaulted on a bond payment. After a one-year holding period, this particular bond can be cashed [in Israel] at any time and used in Israel to pay for goods and services. You can even use the bond to buy airline tickets on El Al. If you do not wish to use the bond this way, you will still get your money back with interest. You only need to wait until the expiration date.

"This is the best of all worlds. You and Israel both win."

Astor has purchased Israel bonds for years. He and his wife are members of Conservative Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto and have supported various Jewish causes over the years, particularly through the family foundation.

The family settled on the Peninsula, in fact, because "there was a fairly strong Jewish community," said Astor, formerly of West Roxbury, Mass.

Unlike the relative safety and security here, however, "Israelis are on the front line," he added. "They send their sons and daughters to protect and defend Israel, not just for themselves, but for us and for Jews everywhere. Without Israel, who are we as people?"

Astor has no idea how many people have visited his Web site, but he is hoping it will strike a responsive chord among Jews and non-Jews alike, both here and abroad. He looks forward to getting feedback from the "questions or comments" section of the site, so he can post a "message board."

But most importantly, of course, he hopes readers will heed his message to buy Israel Bonds.

Liz Harris

Liz Harris is a J. contributor. She was J.'s culture editor from 2012-2018.