My recent trip to Israel was not my first time off of the continent but it was my first time on a continent other than North America. (I’ve been to Hawaii which is not on any continent. Also, continents are weird and somewhere ambiguous.) I’ve sort of been out of the country if you count driving into Canada or stepping off a cruise ship in the Caribbean, but I felt like this was my first legit trip to another country and it’s one of the reasons I signed up for it.
I now have a much better appreciation for people who make long trips like this. It’s a 10 hour difference and I’ve never experienced jet lag like that before. I work with so many people from other countries and it’s amazing that they do this frequently. I’d say that coming back home (west) was easier than going there but both ways had a pretty big impact.
The most common question I get about the trip is whether or not I felt safe. That’s always a hot area of the world, and while this is a relatively peaceful period in its history, Trump’s peace plan was still shaking things up a bit. Since I knew very little about what it was actually going to be like, I took advantage of a variety of tools. My company has a team devoted to keeping employees safe abroad so I had an app on my phone that gave me alerts from them. I also signed up for alerts from the US State Department. And finally I installed an Israeli app which gives you a notification if there’s a missile launch. We were staying all the way on the west side of the country in Herzliya so that warning would give me about 90 seconds to get to a safe zone. Upon arrival, the only recommendations were to stay out of the West Bank. Towards the end of our trip, they also recommended that we stay out of Jerusalem, but thankfully we had done that tour at the beginning of our trip instead of the end.
Speaking of getting to a safe zone, the office buildings had a steel column in running up the middle and that space was generally used for conference rooms, but it doubled as an area that should be able to withstand a missile attack. In the back of the room there was a ladder that went all the way down to the ground floor. It’s sad that it’s necessary but it was comforting to know it was there.
All that being said, I felt safer walking around in Israel than I do in Seattle. Maybe it was naivety, but people were generally friendly or at least ambivalent. Granted we were staying in a high tech, wealthier area of the country, but even walking around Jerusalem felt pretty safe. Walking around Seattle, I’m always on the lookout for someone who’s a little too desperate for their next drug hit or in need of medication to keep them stable, but there was none of that in Israel. I was all ready to come back and say that I never saw a homeless person in Israel but on the very last morning I spotted one guy sleeping on the street.
Security in the other airports felt much more useful and effective than in the US. Tel Aviv was very impressive. When we flew in from Paris, they made an announcement that within X miles of the airport, nobody was allowed to get out of their seat and the window shades needed to be up. Somebody did try to get up and boy did that get stopped quickly.
Flying out of Tel Aviv was even more impressive. Driving into the airport, everyone stops at a security checkpoint where they take a look inside your car and decide if you need additional inspection. Then before you can even get to the security area, they check your passport and boarding pass. And it’s not just a cursory glance. I had more of a beard than I do in my passport photo and he looked back and forth between my passport and me at least five times. He also took both of our passports and disappeared for a few minutes. I still don’t know what that was about. Then you get to the actual security screening. You don’t just put your bags on the conveyer belt and pull the toothpaste out of your bag. You set your bag on a table and unzip everything. They probably spent 2 minutes per person going through everything and touching everything in the bags with the residue detector. Then there’s the conveyer belt and metal detector plus another check with the residue detector on your shoes. But that’s not all. When you are boarding the plane, they check your bags all over again and scan your passport again. Upon takeoff, the same rules about staying seated applied. Again, it’s sad that it’s necessary, but they do it right. It felt like everyone in security there was doing it because they believed that they were protecting their home and their country as well as the people on the plane. Walking through JFK felt like people were counting the minutes until they were done with their shift and maybe trying to avoid getting a slap on the wrist if they missed something.
Another common question is about the food. We ate breakfast in the hotel every morning and boy do the Israelis take breakfast seriously! I’ve never seen a spread like that or as many different kinds of foods available. We had some good lunches and dinners too. Some of my favorites were Greco and Zozobra, but my favorite was a local place that a couple guys from work took us too called הסביח של עובד. I never would have successfully ordered without their help but my traditional Israeli sabich was great.
As for beer, I tried most of the common brands and even did a sampler at a brewery, but it was… not good. I don’t know if our tastes are that different or if they just don’t have good beer, but of the 10 or so different kinds that I tried, there weren’t any that I wanted to have again.
So all in all, it was a good trip. I’m very thankful for the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and experience another culture, even if only for a week.