Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Annual Visit to Israel

My company pays for one annual visit to my home country. I usually take it during the Jewish holidays, but this year I had a wedding to attend in August. So I took the ~24 hours trip (6 hours from San Francisco to New York + 12 hours to Tel Aviv + assorted waiting time in all airports) and landed right in the middle of the humid Israeli summer.

Annual visits are fun – you get to see all your family and friends – and they are all glad to see you. You gently dodge the inevitable “when are you coming back?” question in more ways than you knew possible.

And although you pretend you didn’t miss everyone too much, the amount of changes and growth since your last visit (my last was in January) is sometimes staggering. My little niece is now in school – she actually wrote my name on a sign and hung it on her door smile.

After my last visit I wrote about some of the little things that pissed me off during my Israeli visit (see Israeli Thoughts). I was immediately accused of being anti-Israeli by a commenter. Not that I really care about anonymous comments, but this time I wanted to highlight some positive thoughts that came to me during of my visit.
I'd also like to recommend to everyone at least one visit to Israel – just not during the summer smile.

  1. Camaraderie – I already wrote before about the warmth and lack-of-distance between people. Whether in the office, at a wedding, or amongst friends, I could feel that warmth. Colleagues who haven’t seen me for a year continued the same joke they started when I was last there, work offers and personal offers were mingled with gossip everywhere.

    I visit and meet many technical people during my work. On only 2 occasions did I see development sites that match the joie-de-vivre of our Israeli office (one was at a large Canadian company that makes a fruit-named communication device, the other at a Las Vegas gaming company). This trend should be exported (and if I figure out how, I’ll make millions smile).

  2. Hotel - this time, the hotel was magnificent. The Crowne Plaza City Center in Tel Aviv is highly recommended. The rooms design blew me away. The entire hotel sits in a tower atop of the Azrielli mall. It is accessible by bus and by a direct train from the airport (10 minutes). And it’s located in the middle of Tel Aviv. Granted, you won’t see the Mediterranean from your windows in the morning, but you won’t pay $350 a night either. Oh, and this time, the staff was amazing.

  3. Army – it’s hard to understand how much the army life experience is ingrained into Israeli culture. In language, ways of thought, shared experiences and a world of reference not immediately understood by outsiders. Most long term friendships start in the army (as in my case). You learn to think on your feet.

    My favorite army sentence is “This is what we have – and this is what we’ll win with” – meaning, we can make do even with limited resources. I think this is one of the cornerstones of Israeli innovation.

    Oh, and another thing that can drive (certain) American tourists to Israel: in the US, people pay for special magazines that show “chicks with guns” – just come to Israel and stroll down any street, and you’ll meet a female soldier or two, carrying an M-16 - for free smile.

  4. Girls – I may be biased, but I think Israel has the nicest looking girls in the world (and I've been around it a few times. The only place that comes close, in my humble opinion, is Utrecht in the Netherlands). A friend of mine actually gave a lecture about it (with pictures!) during his first MBA year smile. Man I have to find a link to that presentation...

  5. Involvement – during my visit, one of the most gruesome murders in the history of the country occurred: a grandfather murdered his four year old granddaughter, put her body in a tiny suitcase and threw it into the Yarkon river - one of the filthiest, most polluted rivers in the middle east.

    The police started looking for the body, but it soon became clear it was ill-equipped to deal with such a large area, with the limited divers they had. Not long after the police spokesman discussed the issue on the radio and over a dozen ex Navy SEALs reported to the Yarkon bank and volunteered to assist. And indeed, one of them found the suitcase a couple of weeks later. When asked why he left his work and came over to risk his life in the polluted river, he simply answered: “I would like to believe that if it were my little girl in there, everyone else would volunteer to help. So I had to come”.

Well, that's it for this time. Sorry if it sounded a bit sentimental. Hopefully you won't hold it against me wink.

I used one of my vaction weeks to visit Rome (first time – definitely not the last). But that merits a separate post. And perhaps another one on how Hurricane Ike screwed up my homeward trip (and how Continental dropped the ball on the whole Hurricane issue).

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