Venturing North: Haifa and the Golan Heights

Whenever I travel to a new country, I always appreciate it when I have the time to venture outside of the capital city and witness a contrasting experience of life there.  We’ve had such an opportunity in the second half of the Chazen Israel trip, in which we stopped in the industrial city of Haifa for several hours, followed by an evening at a kibbutz and a morning of exploration at Golan Heights.

Our first stop was a visit to Elbit Systems, the biggest private defense company in Israel with revenues of $2.8Bn, 13,000 employees worldwide, and a lot of R&D and international growth.  Tomer Goldberg ’13 had worked there before school and the company’s portfolio includes airborne systems, unmanned vehicles, homeland security, EW & countermeasures, ISR & EO systems, combat vehicle systems, and naval systems.  The presenters shared an in-depth view of their unmanned air vehicle systems, which have applications such as patrolling long borders to identify penetrations, scanning an area for targets with a radar, or moving target detection; in other words, helping the military to attain better “situational awareness.”  They also demonstrated their Helmet Mounting System, a high-tech helmet with display, tracker, and electronic unit to help pilots target the enemy by maneuvering their heads instead of the entire aircraft, and to also monitor the pilot’s health while in flight to help avoid unnecessary tragedies.  The company has made strategic decisions to focus on the defense market and concentrate their efforts on certain markets by operating as a “multi-domestic” company in the countries where they have contracts; they are also conscious of the relationships they build with their clients and won’t, for instance, take any clients from China given their huge business in the United States.

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After visiting Elbit Systems, we stopped by the Baha’i Gardens, a beautifully landscaped garden and memorial to one of their founders buried there (and a UNESCO World Heritage Site).  The Baha’i have a small, transient community in Haifa that comes to the city to study and tend the garden, although they are not eligible for Israeli citizenship.  From our scenic lookout, we were able to view the large port and the coastline facing north towards the Lebanese border.  Haifa was hit by a number of rockets from Hezbollah, but from what I read and heard from our guides, the city, which is home to many international companies, kept operating through the attacks and this hasn’t stopped significant foreign investment.

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Next, we visited the Church of the Beatitudes, overlooking the Sea of Galilee.  The view was beautiful but even more remarkable is that these are the spots where in multiple accounts in the Bible, Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, walked on water, and performed much of his ministry.

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We arrived in Golan Heights in the early evening and spent the night at a kibbutz, or collective community traditionally based on agriculture (today, they typically have at least one factory or other businesses – this one had developed a number of tourist activities).  Many innovations have developed at kibbutzim and although only 2% of the population lives on them, President Shimon Peres mentioned in his speech that they produce 7% of the country’s GDP. Our itinerary included cozy accommodations and delicious food produced at the community, a dance party on a hill, driving ATVs in the nature preserve, and visiting the eerily calm Syrian border (UN operations in the area are uncertain due to the recent kidnappings) one mile from the kibbutz.

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As an aspiring wine connoisseur, I personally really looked forward to our visit to Golan Heights Winery.  The winery is one of about 250 wineries in the country (90% of them are in this region), most of which are small boutique operations, but this one produces about six million bottles per year and has won a number of different awards.  We toured the facilities, learned about the winemaking process, and sampled Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Moscato wines.  The tour guide was engaging and informative for anyone wishing to order wine in a business situation, store it, and open it properly, and also shed light on how to make kosher wines and manage an operation such as this in accordance with the Sabbath.  The winery staff doesn’t work on the Sabbath, and it was also interesting to hear that every seven years, they take a sabbatical in which they do not plant more vines and there are some limits to the amount of pruning that they can do.  Everyone that I talked to really enjoyed the wines and I think that we would agree that Golan Heights Winery is definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area.

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We returned to Tel Aviv for a couple of days and the group is mostly in the process of heading home to New York City now.  I’ll send a final report on the other side!

Krista Sande-Kerback ’14

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