Final Thoughts on Israel

Wrapping up the Israel Chazen Study Tour, here are the five biggest pleasant surprises I came across:

Coffee: From neighborhood cafes to national chains like Aroma (note: it is the Israeli version of Starbucks, and they have a branch in SoHo too!), coffee in Israel never disappointed me. You might not expect that coffee is an Israeli specialty, but many of us were very impressed by the quality of coffee here (much better than the US!), thanks to a different type of milk and coffee bean.

Cats everywhere: Israel might well be a paradise for cat lovers. We found cats in almost single restaurant we went to, and this definitely enhanced our general dining experience with cute cats being our accompany!

People’s passion for the country: From taxi drivers to random people on the streets, locals here are very eager to learn about our experiences in Israel and make sure we are having a good time. We have been greeted with “Welcome to Israel!” in almost all conversations I have had with shopkeepers, waitresses and hotel staff etc. Their passion is of course legitimate – who would not fall in love with a country that can offer so many different things to do for visitors?

The Election: the prime minister election took place during our trip. It was certainly a big, big day in the country. Our tour guide and organizers were all extremely passionate about it, and it seemed like everyone was talking about the Election Day. Such high level of political awareness impressed me a lot, and made me wish I had the right to vote for the PM too!

Israel’s commitment for humanity: Everyone knows Israel is a start-up nation that the number of start-ups per capita is the highest in the world. However, from our company visits, I had the impression that the country’s passion for start-ups is not merely for money. Rather, Israeli people have a more noble vision: they want to change the world and contribute to the human race. Their entrepreneurial spirit and risk-taking attitude is truly inspiring, and in fact, given the small yet developed market in Israel, it is a perfect environment for companies to test out innovative ideas, which can subsequently be applied to the world. It is thus not a surprise that most tech giants like Google and Sony set up R&D centers in Israel.

To conclude, for me this Chazen trip to Israel is not just about learning about a foreign culture or visiting historical sites. Rather, my biggest takeaway was what I learned from Israeli’s passion – for the country, and for humanity. They taught me that even in adverse environments, as long as we dare to risk and be persistent, miracles can happen, just like how Israel has become an economically powerful and influential country in just 60 years, despite the frequency of wars and unstable geopolitical situation in the Middle East.

Last but not least, I must thank our three organizers Adi, Daniel and Rachel, our faculty advisor Professor Kalay and our tour guide Steve for making this trip such a successful and inspiring one. They showed us the best of Israel in just a week, and all of us had such an amazing time here.

Israel, goodbye for now, but I will definitely come visit you again sometime in the future!

Israel – Day 6/7

Day 6 – Jerusalem > Dead Sea > Beduin Chafla

This day was definitely the most memorable day for all of us. Early in the morning, we visited the Old City of Jerusalem, which is divided into four quarters – Muslim Quarter, Christian Quarter, Armenian Quarter and Jewish Quarter. Once passing through the Jaffa Gate, it seemed like we entered a maze with roads leading to everywhere. I am sure we would have got lost without our guide!

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The first stop was the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter. To me, it was a magical moment because I first learned about the wall at age of 8 and have always wanted to come visit. Like other visitors, we wrote our wishes on small pieces of paper and put them onto the wall.

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Next, we visited the Temple Mount, which is widely recognized as one of the most important religious sites in not only Jerusalem, but also in the world. In history, over four religions have made use of the site, including Judaism, Islam and Christianity etc. The site houses the iconic Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque.

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Our final stop was the Christian Quarter where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located. Here we saw many Christian groups from all over the world who came here to visit the tomb of Jesus.

To conclude, the visit to the Old City of Jerusalem was amazing. The experience is just like you visit three or four different countries in just two hours. I was particularly intrigued by how all different cultures and religions can co-exist in the same city.

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In the afternoon, we headed to the Dead Sea, which was by far almost everyone’s favorite part of the tour. When we got there, we were surprised to learn that MBA students from Kellogg School of Management were there as well. During the Dead Sea Mud Party, CBS students even competed with our Kellogg counterparts in various games. With delicious food, excellent weather and upbeat EDM music, our party at the Dead Sea was truly a blast. Most significantly, we all went to “float” in the water! The feeling was very strange, as swimming became very hard as we were floating. But it was certainly a magical moment that I would definitely remember for the rest of my life!

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In the evening, we arrived at Beduin Chafla to experience the life of people living in the desert. Not only did we enjoy belly dancing, we also got to try various authentic food. The tea, which is a bit sweetened, was particularly appealing to us. To make the experience complete, we stayed in the big tent overnight, and had some great bonding time with each other.

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Day 7 –  Beduin Chafla > Tel Aviv

Early in the morning, we all had a chance to ride on camels. It was my very first time and the experience was great. Although I was a bit worried that I might fall down as the camels move around, the ride was actually quite stable.

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In the afternoon, we headed back to Tel Aviv for our final dinner at Mitbach Layla, where we booked the entire restaurant for our group. As we farewell with each other, the bus driver surprised us by singing an Israeli song. While it was sad to leave this wonderful country, I knew I would definitely re-visit the country some time in the future.

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Israel – Day 4/5 in Golan Heights and Jerusalem

Day 4 – Golan Heights > Sea of Galilee > Jerusalem
In the morning, we drove the ATVs to the Israel/Syria border. What strikes me most was the visit to the old Syrian headquarter, which is now an empty building in an area now controlled by Israel. It was my first very time witnessing ruins of wars and this made me reflect on how lucky we are to live in areas free of wars. Later we went up to Mount Bental where we could overlook both Syria and Lebanon. It was also my very first time looking at 3 countries at the same time. During our time there, there were some other UN representatives who explained to us their work at the border.

Driving the ATVs up to the Israel/Syria border
Driving the ATVs up to the Israel/Syria border
At previous Syrian HQ
At previous Syrian HQ
At previous Syrian HQ
At previous Syrian HQ
At previous Syrian HQ
At previous Syrian HQ
This is Syria!
This is Syria!

Next, we headed to the Bahat Winery and wasted some Israeli wine, and then we stopped by the Sea of Galilee. To me, although the stop was short, it means a lot to me, because when I was small I learned about all the stories about Jesus that center around Galilee. And having visited the actual sea, I could now visualize the stories.

Bahat Winery
Bahat Winery

In the evening, we arrived at the holy city of Jerusalem. At first glance, I already fell in love with the city. It reminds me of Rome with its sense of rich history, and I especially loved the Jerusalem stone which is a limestone used in almost every building in the city (as required by the law). This makes the city unique and charming. When we arrive at the highly-rated Mamilla Hotel, we were all amazed by its decor. The organizers also surprised us with a welcoming drinks during which the hotel manager briefed us on the facilities in the hotel. Many of us said that this is one of the best hotels we have ever stayed. We ended the day with a long dinner at Hasadna till 12am.

Jerusalem stone
Jerusalem stone
Welcome drinks at Mamilla Hotel
Welcome drinks at Mamilla Hotel
Dinner at Hasadna
Dinner at Hasadna – delicious!

Day 5 – Jerusalem
We kicked off the day with a visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial. We had a very outstanding guide, who is a Jewish from New Jersey. Learning about the history in this very vivid way was heartbreaking (especially when you got to see videos of how people were killed and buried, and read about the personal stories of victims), yet this reminds everyone that we should ALWAYS learn from this lesson and NEVER AGAIN commit crime that is against humanity. After the memorial, we went to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to meet with Professor Eugene Kandel, who detailed how Israel became a start-up nation in a broader context. Next, we visited OurCrowd, a crowd-sourcing VC fund. I especially enjoyed this visit because the presenter gave us a great overview of the VC scene with data and graphs. Coming from Hong Kong, I was surprised to learn that the company is very impressed by Li Ka Shing, the richest Chinese man who is from Hong Kong, as he invested in more than 24 start-ups in Israeli, more than any other country. The presenter made the point that, even for investors with absolutely no background in Israel or Judaism (like Li Ka Shing who is a Chinese) would understand the great potential of Israeli start-ups. After the meeting, I also had a nice chat with their investor relations manger who is in charge of the Asian clients. This meeting proved to me the best conclusion to all the meetings as it connected all the dots from previous meetings with VCs and start-ups.

Yad Vashem
Yad Vashem
Meeting with Prof. Eugene Kandel at Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Meeting with Prof. Eugene Kandel at Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Meeting with OurCrowd
Meeting with OurCrowd

In the evening, we checked out a local market. With no restaurant in mind, we just asked locals for restaurant recommendations, and we ended up with a BBQ restaurant which served outstanding steak and fish.

Jerusalem at night
Jerusalem at night
BBQ at local market
BBQ at local market
Local market
Local market

Israel – Day 1/2/3 in Tel Aviv & Air Force Base

After 16 hours of flights (transit in Moscow), I am finally in Israel!

Day 1 – Tel Aviv
While the organizers managed our expectation that the immigration process might take very long, it was surprisingly efficient with only 2 quick questions being asked by the immigration officer. Stepping out of the Tel Aviv airport, I was greeted by the beautiful Jerusalem stone and palm trees. Yes, I am now in the Middle East!

My first impression about Tel Aviv is that it very much resembles Miami in terms of urban fabrics and pace – it’s very much like a resort city! And our hotel is right by the beach that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea.

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Our study tour kicked off with a beautiful Mediterranean sunset, followed by a very delicious Israeli dinner at Benni Hadayg, with HUGE dishes of seafood and steak.

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Day 2 – Tel Aviv
Our second day started with a meeting with Mr. Gidi Grinstein of Reut Institute. Mr. Grinstein previously represented the Israeli negotiation team on the Permanent Status Agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in the Office of Prime Minister Ehud Barak (1999-2001). For the many of us who are extremely intrigued by the political issues in Israel, this meeting was the golden opportunity for us to ask tons of questions. Indeed, Mr. Grinstein gave us refreshing insights on Israel’s international relations and role as a start-up nation.

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Next, we toured around Rothschild Boulevard, a relaxing and local neighborhood in Tel Aviv. The tour surprised me with the very strong sense of community. As we walked around, many locals approached our Israeli tour guide Steve and asked about us – “Why are they here?” “Where are these young guys from?”. As we were crossing a road, we came across a truck that delivers flowers. The truck driver, excited about our big group visiting his neighborhood, even got out of the vehicle and gave us a big bouquet of roses (for free)! This really shows their hospitality, which I am extremely impressed of.

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After lunch at a relaxing local cafe, we visited Aleph Venture Capital on the rooftop of a 3-story building with great views of the street. Through the app Meerkat, the meeting was simultaneously video-conferenced with 40 people from around the globe. The presenter, Mr. Michael Eisenberg, is a very engaging speaker who gave us great perspectives of how it is like to work in a venture capital.

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Next, we visited Elevator Startup Accelerator. During the meeting, we met with three entrepreneurs who were working in three different start-ups. The start-up that interested me the most was the one which designs drones. The founder showed us the various types of drones and talked about the challenges, such as legal liabilities and how to sell this new technology in the mass market.

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We had dinner at a Spanish restaurant called Vicky Christina. Food quality and ambiance were outstanding. What’s more, we also had unlimited drinks including sangria and champagne. This was, hands down, one of the best dining experiences in the trip.

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Day 3 – Tel Aviv > Israel Air Force Base > Golan Heights
In the morning, we visited Rumble, which is a smart mobile management system founded by Mr. Al Azoulay, a CBS EMBA alum. Not only did he talk about how the system works, he also described the process through which he became an entrepreneur and shared tips of how to run a successful start-up.

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After the meeting, we left Tel Aviv and headed to the Israeli Air Force. The visit was very eye-opening to me because I had never learned about how a military force works. We were hosted by an officer, who is also an entrepreneur (not a surprise in Israel). He talked about the operations and showed us how Israel is very well protected by the Air Force. I particularly liked the real-life dilemma cases he showed us. This really led us to realize the many difficult situations the Air Force has to face on a daily basis, especially when it comes to life-and-death matters. After the presentation, we also got the chance to check out the F15. Unfortunately, no photo was allowed inside the base. But this is definitely one of the most interesting visits to me.

In the evening, we arrived at the Golan Heights, and we had a very delicious dinner at a steakhouse, followed by a party featuring karaoke and of course drinking.

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Karl Chan, MBA ’15

Chazen Israel: One day more!

Four months ago, I was thinking where I should go for Spring Break. Realizing this would be the last semester ever in my life, I told myself, “I should go to the most interesting place!” Browsing through the Chazen website, I saw a destination that sounds both familiar and unfamiliar – “Israel”.

Back in high school, the name “Israel” always appeared in bible. When reading news, the conflicts in the Middle East have also always brought “Israel” into my mind. In business school, whenever people talk about start-ups, “Israel” is almost always mentioned.

So this country name does sound extremely familiar, but did I know anything more? Not quite. Having done some preliminary research, I found out that Israel, despite the small size, has a lot to offer – beautiful beaches, rich history, vibrant nightlife, delicious food, intriguing political context and ambitious companies. Yes, the country appeals to everyone!

Without doubt, I signed up for the tour. Four months later, I am now soon on my way to my very first trip to the Middle East!

The trip organizers Daniel, Adi & Rachel gave us a great pre-departure session last week. Looking at the itinerary, every item seems to be great fun, but I am especially looking forward to the following:

  1. Bamba (a peanut butter-flavored snack from Israel)
    *Introduced by the organizers. Check out the video “Americans Try Israeli Snacks“. 
  2. Dinner at Vicky Christina 
    *Yes, food again. I checked out all restaurants in the itinerary and this one looks especially good!
  3. Drinks included every night (!!)
    *Seems like unlimited drinks are included in almost every dinner…very impressed!
  4. Dead Sea
    *I still can’t imagine how I can float in water…
  5. Golan Heights
    *Heard from previous participants that we could see Syria from there?
  6. Company visit: Rumble
    *Start-up (mobile app management) in Israel. 
  7. Yad Vashem
    *To learn about the Holocaust. 
  8. Camel ride
    *Self-explanatory!!

As an organizer of two previous Chazen trips, I perfectly understand how heavy the workload can be. Thus, here I’d like to thank the three amazing organizers once again for putting together such a great itinerary. I was also pleasantly surprised that each participant got the book “Start-up Nation,” which would be the best reading in the long-haul flight.

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Tel Aviv, see you in a bit!

Karl Chan, ‘MBA 15