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From the Ground Up: Rebuilding a City

For lessons in overcoming adversity, look to the history of the Jewish people.

Throughout thousands of years, the Jews have endured far more than their share of trouble. But there’s a fascinating story from their time in Babylonian exile — a period that began around 597 B.C. — that speaks to the situation our industry finds itself in today.

The story is in the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. Yeah, I know — it’s from the Bible, and an obscure part of the Bible at that. But stay with me: This story isn’t preachy, I promise. And besides, if there was ever a time to look for inspiration in sacred texts, this is it.

When the story begins, Israel has been conquered by Babylon. The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and took most of its inhabitants away to live in captivity. But after a series of political changes in Babylon, some of Israel’s leaders saw an opening to return home.

Nehemiah was one of those leaders, and he seized the opportunity to return to his homeland with several thousand other Israelites. But when he got to Jerusalem, he found the city in ruins. And it was surrounded by hostile nations eager to keep it from being rebuilt.

At that point, Nehemiah and his people had a choice: They could give in to fear, give up on their dream and return to Babylon to rejoin the rest of the Israelites. Or they could stay, despite the enemies and adversity, and rebuild.

You can probably tell where this story is going.

The Israelites stayed. Their first job was to rebuild the broken city wall, so Nehemiah sent each man to the part of Jerusalem where his family had lived. And each one rebuilt the portion of the wall in front of his family’s home. When enemies threatened them, they didn’t stop building. They worked with tools in one hand and swords in the other.

Despite the opposition, Nehemiah and his men rebuilt the wall with amazing speed. What should have taken months, they accomplished in a matter of weeks. They went on to rebuild the rest of the city, too. And in the years that followed, many thousands of other Israelites returned from exile in Babylon to the Jerusalem that Nehemiah had rebuilt.

If you’re like me, travel will always be a part of who you are. It’s in our DNA. We may be in exile now, but our day of return is coming.

When the opportunity presents itself, I hope you will join those of us who chose to rebuild. Like the Israelites, we will start even when success seems far from certain. We won’t be deterred by naysayers or difficult circumstances. And we won’t wait for someone else to do it for us. This industry is our home, and we’re determined to live in it again.

None of us can resurrect the travel industry on our own. But we can each rebuild the part around us. And when we do it together, we can create something extraordinary.

Jerusalem, which was once in ruins, went on to become one of the world’s greatest cities. Jesus walked its streets and taught its people. It’s the spiritual center of three major religions. And each year, it welcomes millions of travelers and pilgrims.

That’s the city Nehemiah built. Now, it’s our turn.


Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.