My Time in Israel – Possibly the Best Two Weeks of My Life
Prior to traveling to the Middle East for the first time in my life, I had absolutely no idea what to expect out of a tiny nation the size of New Jersey not-so-luckily surrounded by ominous neighboring states. Although I am a very well-traveled individual (Israel being the 30th country I have visited so far in my life), I had never been to a place remotely like the one I found myself in for two amazing weeks. In today’s world, Israel unfortunately finds itself at the center of media attention all too often, with images of violence, bloodshed, and war finding worldwide headlines. However, for not one moment during my time abroad did I feel the slightest bit of uneasiness related to my safety. Instead, I found myself constantly being surprised by the diversity such a small nation of 8.5 million people can offer. From one side of the country to the other - Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the atmosphere, scenery, and people completely change. Driving for as little as two hours can prompt numerous changes in geography - from the crystal blue waters of the Mediterranean, to the dry desert, to lush greenlands, rolling hills, and even mountains and craters. I was so taken aback at the differences in culture as well - from the young, vibrant way of life in Tel Aviv, to the orthodox followings of Jews in Jerusalem, to the Arabic influences present throughout. Israel was not one thing or another, not one side over the other; it was beautifully and masterfully everything and anything all rolled simultaneously into one. Before traveling to Israel, I read the book “Start-up Nation” and was thoroughly intrigued by the story of how a historically war-torn nation was able to harvest the world’s most powerful entrepreneurial ecosystem. During my time abroad, I saw first-hand the innovative Israeli spirit through meetings with CEO’s, entrepreneurs, and visits to breathtaking startups. As we worked in cross-cultural teams with students at Ben-Gurion University, I was impressed by the driving work ethic of the students, who in addition to working on our project/report, were taking as many as eight other classes and working on the side. It was so interesting to hear their perspectives on school, travel, and life in general, as they constantly asked us Americans why we were in school at the young ages of 18,19, or 20 years old. “Why don’t you see the world first?”, they would ask. At 26 years old, the Israelis I worked with in my team had already completed three years in the military and then had traveled for a year all over South America. It was great to get to better understand their viewpoints and have a chance to witness the way they live their lives.
One of the highlights of the trip for me (other than riding camels which had been an item on my bucket list) was getting to experience Shabbat dinner. I was very vaguely familiar with the concept of Shabbat prior to traveling to Israel, and I had no idea it was such a regimented and strictly followed practice for many. It was very humbling to be welcomed into a family’s home and allowed to participate in the blessings, singing, and eating of the Shabbat dinner. I learned so much about the Jewish culture through that meal and I found the whole thing to be quite fascinating. The Israel portion of this dialogue was everything and more that I wanted it to be. I made tons of amazing new friends, experienced once-in-a-lifetime moments, tried the best hummus in the world, saw first-hand what makes entrepreneurship and innovation “click” in Israel, and got the opportunity to put my skills to the test as my team and I offered consulting services to reallife entrepreneurs facing real problems. Besides the long, sometimes frustrating days spent researching information for our report, there was the fun - and plenty of it. There were camels, the beach, hummus, Dead Sea floatin’, Masada, bus rides key for sleeping, a Kibbutz experience, an archeological dig and cave crawl, a moment with the Western Wall, drones, cute dogs, shopping, Israeli chocolate treat taste-tests, climbing to rooftops, oh, and more hummus. To sum it up, this trip goes up there on my list of the best two weeks of my life. Like I said before, I have traveled a lot and been all over the world, but there is something about Israel that sticks out amongst the rest. Maybe it's the clash of antiquity with modernity. Or the genuine people who are invested in all that one has to say. Or the amazing cuisine that melts taste buds because it’s so good. Maybe it’s the culture that is influenced by so many places that it becomes a hybrid mix unique to any other. Or maybe it simply was the 104 degree heat that obliterated my brain and allowed me to let loose and see everything in a different light for two weeks. Whatever it was, whatever it is about Israel that makes it so special, I am thankful for because it has given me a long list of reasons as to why I must go back - and bring my family next time.