Israel: From Jaffa to Jerusalem

Traveling Through Israel:Jaffa to Jerusalem

Visiting Israel is an exciting religious, cultural, and overall powerful experience

Most Meaningful Experience: Meeting new friends and getting to know the Israel scene

Most meaningful experience: The tour of Jerusalem showed me that people are very passionate about their beliefs but its possible to exist together. The city is sacred to a number of religious traditions, including the Abrahamic religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

  • Don’t miss a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (even if you’re “churched out”).
  • Experience floating in the Dead Sea and go diving in the Red Sea.
  • Eat at the local restaurants to try delicious shawarma, pressed bagels and unique Israeli fish dishes.
  • Visit the stunning Haifa Gardens on Mount Carmel.
  • Read “Jewish Wars”, “Brave New World”, “Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography” or “My6th sense” as an introduction to Israel.

Hosted by a good friend, Zeev Klein, and his colleagues at Landmark Ventures, I visited Israel for a week. It was to coincide with the annual dealmakers event, which brought together technology and political leaders from across the globe. In addition to the main event, I took part in a VIP tour that basically consisted of Zeev and his friends who received a broader tour around Israel.

I flew in at 1:30 on a Saturday and scurried into the old town of Jaffa to make the first tour at 2:30. I’d missed lunch and was hungry, so Jonathan Hollander and I grabbed a bagel-esque snack that had been stuffed with all types of vegetables, hummus and meat before being squashed in a “sabich” sandwich press. If I could only recreate it!

The tour was well-organized and I learned a lot about the city and its history while meeting some fun locals. We walked around one of the oldest harbor towns in the Middle East, with limestone paving the waterfront area. Apparently, the government had bought the small village and only allowed artists to rent there to preserve its authenticity. But in reality, many artists didn’t live in the dwellings and it all sounded like a bit of a government cover-up to me. That said, I wondered if San Francisco could do the same to preserve its arts scene.

After working up an appetite, we found a seafood restaurant and I was excited to eat my first Mediterranean fish. The menu offered a selection of 20 different types of fish and I had no idea what to choose. I asked the owner, “which fish do you prefer?” and he responded, “a fish is a fish, my friend.” It made me realize that only in Japan do fish really have a difference in taste.

In Israel, people take Friday and Saturday off, with the Sabbath extending from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. So on Saturday, a few of us went out (even though it was a “school” night) and headed to one of the more popular dance clubs, Marquee. It picked up around 10PM and was absolutely jammed. I’d never seen so much intense dancing at a nightclub.

Sunday was more relaxed, hanging out with some friends in Neve, and then Monday was the big Landmark Dealmakers Summit. There were over 700 attendees, from global politicians (Gov Pataki of New York and the Prime Minister of Israel) to company CEOs and scrappy deal guys like me. Everyone was open to meeting, learning about one another and trying to find ways to work together. It was a great atmosphere to be a part of. It was also clear that Israeli businessmen are serious and instinctively good salespeople who are straightforward and move quickly.

As part of Zeev’s VIP group, we started early on Monday with a tour of the local Air Force base and watched a few presentations from pilots showing off their air fights. It was fascinating to see their fighter jets so close up (and sit in the cockpit) and I was amazed to hear that a standard F-16 only has enough gas to last 10-15 minutes at full performance.

After the Air Force base, we went to tour “A Better Place” – a startup that’s building a network of refilling stations for electric vehicles. They’ve raised $2 billion in financing and are rolling out across Israel and Denmark. While their showroom was immaculate and the presentation impressive, there seems to be a lot of questions as to whether they will actually succeed as the electric vehicle filling station of the future.

We ended the day with a trip to Pitango, the largest venture capital in Israel, to hear the story of its formation and its current success. There’s no doubt that a boom in IT companies is on the horizon for Tel Aviv and it made me consider whether I should get more involved in this emerging business hub.

That night we had dinner at the “Meat Place”. Meat is big business in Tel Aviv, with names such as “We Have Good Meat”, “The Meat Bar” and “Meat Meat”. It made me laugh coming from America – I didn’t realize how appreciated really good meat is in other parts of the world.

The following day we rose early and drove down to Eilat, a town on the Red Sea, with the drive being a discovery in itself. About 30 minutes after leaving the city, the demarcation of the poor becomes glaringly obvious. We noticed kids lined up beside the road with pink backpacks, waiting to be taken to school. We passed a dozen coach-style buses that were funded by the government to ensure everyone received an education, not to mention clothes, schooling materials and food. While I thought it was great that the government was supporting education in these communities, I also thought it was sad that there was such a huge societal and economic divide.

Eventually, the villages gave way to sand dunes as we approached the border with Jordan. Tanks and artillery weapons were lined up on the side of the road, waiting to be fired at any instance. The tensions that have grown because of the Israel – Palestine conflict were palpable.

About two hours into the trip, we spotted a McDonalds and of course, I leaped up – “breakfast Sammy!” Although it was 8AM, the McDonalds was still closed, so we settled for the croissant shop next door. An hour later, we arrived at another truck stop, smack-bang in the middle of the desert. The McDonalds there was also still closed, so we had another chocolate croissant instead. Eventually, we discovered that McDonald’s opens at 11AM in Israel….and doesn’t serve breakfast!

After passing a valley where an asteroid had hit, we arrived in Eilat to discover the airport sat right in the middle of the city. It had a bit of a Miami vibe, with hotels that had a Vegas awe, albeit without the crazy themes.

Arriving at the hotel, I grabbed my swim trunks to go deep sea diving in the Red Sea. I’d always wanted to do this and had missed my chance at Sharma El Sheikh in Egypt. Although the visibility was 50 feet, the instructor said they often get 100 feet+ but I was still impressed by the size and iridescence of the fish.

It just so happened that the dive site was near one of the best fish restaurants in Eilat, so of course, I dined there. I had grilled labark, a whitefish that was light, yet tangy, and elevated my fish standards to another level.

The following morning we drove to the Dead Sea and Masada, which is one of the most famous landmarks in Israel. It’s built on a high plateau and is where the Jewish last fell to the Romans, with the remains of living quarters, bathhouses and worship areas still visible today. Our tour guide explained that it was once lush and green, with irrigation used to transport water up by the galloons, and his description really brought the place to life. I was a bit bored so I ran to the top in the heat, it was a small challenge

We continued to the Dead Sea to go swimming, which was actually just lying and floating on the water. Crazy and fun! After a delicious feast at the hotel, we returned to Tel Aviv, ready for the next day’s adventures.

Part 2

After a day spent exploring Israel and floating in the Dead Sea, an emerging venture capitalist, Shmuel, had been gracious enough to set up a meeting with a large retailer who was excited about mobile payments. Shmuel is clearly a great salesman because they bought into our pitch. After the meeting, I grabbed a taxi into Jerusalem to catch up with my tour group at the museum where I saw a scroll of the Bible and historic altars.

From the museum, we walked through the old town of Jerusalem to see “The 12 Stations of the Cross” and an area that’s held in contention by different Christian sects. I was interested to learn that to stop the priests from fighting one another, they have a Muslim security group in place.

Our guide stopped outside a church and said we had 25 minutes to look around before meeting back in the same place. I was feeling a little “churched out” so decided to go shopping and while hanging out on the side, Zeev yelled over to me, hey you are missing the highlight of the tour – the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Not only is it home to Jesus’ tomb but also the rock that he was laid out on and the cross. The rest of our trip, the joke was on me, with the comment “let’s go here…or go shopping” followed by plenty of laughter.

Jerusalem is constructed from hand-carved limestone and is truly an amazing site. The old town is still alive with people living and working in a large market of narrow stone streets and buildings, and is supposedly quite vibrant at night.

For lunch, we ate at a really good shawarma place that was Kosher. This means no meat and milk at the same time, no pig and other animals must be slaughtered by the throat in a certain way. Fish must have gills and fins (no shellfish) and there are even some rules associated with vegetables. To my surprise, turkey (not lamb) was the shawarma of choice and it made me dream that we could build a turkey shawarma franchise in the US, alongside my new bagel sandwich shop.

My final day in Israel was spent touring the Haifa Gardens, a beautiful series of terraced gardens that surround the Shrine of the Báb on Mount Carmel. Imagine the gardens of San Francisco’s Lombardi Street stretching all the way to the bottom of North Beach and you’ll get some idea of what it’s like.

After a dinner of caramelized tapitula at another seafood restaurant, I worked late into the night and readied myself for my 6AM flight. The hardest part was finding a taxi at 3AM in the morning, with everyone still out partying, and hotel security had to intervene when around eight people tried to chase down my taxi once it arrived.

At the airport, I had to walk down a long, wide walkway with glass windows to reach the check-in counter. It was eerily tranquil and I felt that it must represent something for Israel – the long path to peace. Hopefully, it’s not too long.

Thank you Zeev for the experience of a lifetime and an adventure I hope to repeat one day.

 

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