Thursday, January 08, 2004

So I finally have some time to update this. I felt really bad about that post from last week being up for so long without me updating anything, because once the actual trip started things got a lot better. That convention just sucked, and most of the people that were there agreed. It was basically a brainwashing progran, but some of the speakers were pretty interesting and after talking to some other people on the program we realized that the organizers of this convention were probably paying a large portion of the costs of our trip overall. So when I look at it from the perspective that they're potentially paying thousands of dollars for me, it wasn't such a bad thing.

After the convention we started visiting a lot of companies and college campuses around israel. The college visits overall were terrible, they just told us about the school and took us on a bad tour around the campus. For instance, at Technion, basically the MIT of israel, instead of showing us a lab or some research they are doing, they spent about an hour telling us the history of the university, another hour talking about israel's economy, and another hour taking us to the campus swimming pool and the campus gym. But the gym was pretty funny, the people looked like they were right out of an 80s music video. At the Weitzman Institute, the tour consisted of a guided visit to Weitzman's house.

On the trip we also heard a lot of different lectures about israel's economy that were all really the same lecture repeated. I have heard the history of israel's economy and the exact reasons for israel's tech boom about 6 different times. By far, the most interesting speakers were the venture capitalists, probably because they are ones dealing with the companies in israel and know first hand what the problems with the economy are and what needs to be done.

Over thursday, friday, and saturday we stayed at a kibbutz Ein Gev, which is located on the eastern shore of the Kineret. It was beatiful there, with the Golan Heights on one side and the lake on the other. I got some amazing pictures of the sunset...I wish I could upload the pictures from my camera, but the connection is not working. At the kibbutz all the 4 groups of 90 people were together again. It was much better this time though, because friday we did tourist stuff. We could choose which place we wanted to go, and i chose to go the golan heights and visit a winery there. We went to the top of a mountain near the syrian border, and a guide told us about the Six Day War, Yom Kippur War, and israel's relationship with Syria. I'd hear most of it before on other trips, but I still find it all really interesting and enjoyed hearing the stories again. Later we went to the Golan Winery which makes Yarden wine. After a tour of the winery, we did some wine tasting where they gave us all 3 different glasses of wine and let us keep the wine glass as a souvenir. I actually got kind of drunk off it because it was about 2pm at this point and i hadn't had anything to eat yet.

Friday night and saturday were shabbat and everyone just hung out and went to services. On saturday i went to a little discussion group entitled "what does it mean to be the chosen people," which started out interesting but just devolved into a large argument about what the word "chosen" really means. Then saturday night we went to some hot springs in the northeast, but I came down with a pretty wicked cold (along with about 90% of the rest of the people on the trip) and it was really cold out so I just hung out in the warmth.

Sunday the regular business and Tech. trip started again, I think that day I went to the Naot factory on, which is on a kibbutz...there we took a tour of the factory then everyone bought a bunch of shoes at half price. The factory looked and smelled just like I would expect a shoe factory to look and smell...the tour guide pointed out how happy all the workers look and he said it's because the sniff the glue all day long. they didn't let us take pictures, but it wasn't all that cool. The guide, who was a member of the kibbutz, talked about how the kibbutz is dying because no new members are coming in, and they don't know what they're going to do with the shoe factory. I think Naot shoes would be a lot more popular if they were better marketed in the US, they are the most comfortable shoes/sandals i've ever worn. but they are really expensive because the company refuses to export the labor to China or another 3rd world country, and they are largely hand-made. Since they're a kibbutz, they're not as interested in maximizing profit, just in making enough money to survive.

Monday and tuesday we stayed in Tel Aviv, but had no freedom whatsoever. For instance, monday night we were allowed to go to a bar which was only a block away from our hotel but we had to walk together as group there and back...they wouldn't let us walk a block alone or would they let us use the payphone right outside the hotel, because that would be leaving the hotel...and of course it costs $1 to make a 1-800 call from the phones in our hotel rooms.

By far the coolest company we visited was a company called Biosense-Webster. They make catheters that let cardiologists create a 3-d image of your heart and help in treating arrythmia. They demonstrated how it works and showed us their manufacturing room.

Overall, the trip had a lot of problems, but it was worthwhile. I'd say about a quarter of it was really good, half was ok, and a quarter was a waste of time. Probably the biggest problem for me is that right when i started getting to know some of the people in the group, the trip ended. So i didn't get a chance to really get to know most of the people i was travelling with. I didn't even know half the people's names in the end.

After the program was over, I met up with my camp friends Eitan and Gilad. We hung out all night in tel aviv and now i'm at eitan's house writing this...i've spent the last few hours on the internet catching up on e-mail, writing this entry, and trying to get my camera to connect to his computer. Tomorrow i'm meeting up with another camp friend in Haifa, then i should be going to Jerusalem again for a few days.


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