By Alyssa Wypychoski
It was Saturday night in Tel Aviv and forty Sternies crowded around the Renaissance hotel lobby bar for the Welcome Happy Hour. Some had just arrived straight from the airport, others spent the day wandering the city and beach; everyone excited for the upcoming two weeks in Israel. With an early start Sunday morning, the group hopped on the bus to meet our wonderful university hosts, Hila, Idit, and Inna, and driver, Avner.
Our first day at Tel Aviv University (TAU) included a program inauguration, an “Israel at a Glance” course with Professor Uriya Shavit, and an onsite museum tour; Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot. After this crash course in Israeli culture, history, and Jewish synagogues & comedy, the group ended the first day with an Eatwith dinner, which is the world’s largest community for authentic culinary experiences with locals. We were hosted by Keren & Yael, an artist chef and a pastry chef, in their lovely apartment in the center of Tel Aviv for a 10-course meal. Split between two large tables, the group was brought over a feast with lots of dishes to share, made with fresh vegetables, fish and meat from Carmel Market.
The rest of the week was filled with lectures, CEO & co-founder speakers, cultural visits, and hummus! We learned all about the Israeli Hi Tech industry, Intrapreneurship & Entrepreneurship, Cyber Security, and Israeli Negotiation. We met with Moti Radomski and Enon Landenberg, Israeli entrepreneurs who shared their personal and national stories. We toured IDE Technologies’ Ashkelon Desalination Plan, which generates 15% of Israel’s annual water supply, and Netafim, an irrigation equipment manufacturer in Kibbutz Magal.
Over the free weekend, half the group set off to Jordan to ride camels, cruise around Wadi Rum, and camp overnight in the Bedouin campsite. They also got to explore the sites of one of the wonders of the world in Petra. The rest of the group spent time in Israel swimming in the Dead Sea and touring other cities such as Jerusalem and Caesarea.
With everyone back from their weekend adventures, Sunday we got on the bus and headed off to Bnei Brak to visit the Orthodox Hub. There we learned about the economic impact of this community and got a first-hand look at the culture and Jewish tradition by walking through the streets and shops of the neighborhood. Later that night, we headed out to meet up with alumni and exchange students at an NYU mixer. With some scheduling changes, our TAU hosts were quick to adjust our agenda Monday and brought us on cultural visits to Haifa, Nazareth, and Acre. Tuesday we were back at TAU for our last day of lectures which included discussions around brain fitness, nano technology in healthcare, and Artificial Intelligence. We ended the day with a powerful presentation by the CEO of Call Yachol, a company that specializes in setting up outsourced call centers, staffed mainly by people with disabilities, followed by dinner at the Blackout Restaurant.
We could not leave Israel without a visit to the Jerusalem. On our last day together, we took the bus to the Mount of Olives and then into the Old City to visit the Western Wall and Church of the Holy Sepulchre. While we explored the markets and streets within the city, we ran into French President Macron who was there for Holocaust Memorial. The day ended with a farewell dinner-turned-party with our hosts and was the perfect end to a fantastic trip.