Israel – It’s Not What You Expect
Steeped in history, but ultra-modern. Israel is a place you must visit.
I had gone there because the Canadian Parking Foundation had decided to postpone its Tel Aviv-based 2013 World Parking Symposium because of Mideast “troubles,” and I felt Israel needed our support. I thank the Canadians with all my heart for motivating me, because it was a wonderful experience.
First of all, some of us expect Israelis to be abrupt, forceful and a tad in your face. From my experience, nothing was further from the truth. Everyone I met, whether in the parking business or on the street, was approachable and eager to help. Everyone speaks English, so language is not a problem
Tel Aviv is a Middle Eastern city, with sections that remind one of a city in North Africa, with older buildings housing retail outlets on the first floor and apartments upstairs. Most of the buildings are three or four stories. In these areas, streets are narrow, and when the buildings are refurbished, the phone and electric cables and air conditioning systems run on the outside.
Tel Aviv also is a modern city, with high-rise apartments, skyscrapers and architecture that will blow your mind. If you don’t like a neighborhood, walk a few blocks. You will find broad avenues lined with huge trees, or narrow alleys that hide unique shops and restaurants.
It is a social city as well, its sidewalks filled with restaurants and clubs that are teeming from about 11 a.m. to well into the evening. Every fourth store is a juice bar or bakery, and the food is fantastic.
I’m told that Israel is growing quickly. Immigration is encouraged, and Jews from all over the world are moving there in large numbers. Apartment buildings are going up across the country to provide housing for the new arrivals.
Israel is a small country, and you can reach most everywhere (except Elat in the very south) in less than two hours by car. I drove north to Rosh-Pina, the home of Parx Ltd. and its parent, OTI (On Track Innovations). The ultramodern factory is only a few miles from the Lebanon border. That was great, because after meeting with Arnon Efraty, the Parx CEO, I was able to tour the Sea of Galilee and sites of wonderful Biblical significance.
Also in the north is Yokneam, a tad closer to Tel Aviv than Rosh-Pina, and the home of
HTS (Hi-Tech Solutions), where I met its Founder, Philip Elovic, and Marketing VP
Further south, in the Tel Aviv suburb of Petah Tikva, I visited TIBA with President Isaac Tavori and TIBA’s holding company’s CEO Jerry Schenirer. Tavori took me on a tour of the company’s sites in Tel Aviv, including the city’s command center, where more than 60 garages are monitored from a central location.
Near Petah Tikva is the area of Kadima and the home of Pango Inc. and its CEO Zion Harel.
In Tel Aviv, I was honored to renew my friendship with Amit Kedem, CEO of Central Park Ltd., a thriving parking operator and consulting firm in the city. We visited some locations, and he detailed how parking was done in Israel.
Each of these meetings filled the better part of a day, but gave me the opportunity to see some of this country and meet its citizens.
Israel has agriculture, and is steeped in history, but it also has technology. Pick a well-known name, and you will see it in tech parks around Tel Aviv. I named five companies above that supply parking technology, but I certainly didn’t see them all.
Jerusalem is about an hour east of Tel Aviv, but it might as well be in a different era as well – maybe a time about 2,000 years ago. I spent an afternoon roaming the Old City and visiting shrines and, of course, the Western Wall.
The Old City is small, and you can get around quickly, but it’s not what one might expect. It is a huge souk, or market. Streets are narrow, covered over in many areas. The Via Dolorosa, said to be where Christ carried the cross on his final journey, is so narrow you can almost touch both sides of the alley at the same time.
The merchants in the Old City are great, and change as you move along from Christian to Moslem, to Jewish, to Armenian depending on which quarter you visit. Just have your bargaining hat on, because not only is it expected, you will insult them if you pay full price. Well, almost.
Outside the walls of the Old City is a modern city, but built to a certain style. All buildings must be built from “Jerusalem stone,” and this gives the city a Middle Eastern look in contrast to the modern high-rises and glass and steel of Tel Aviv. It’s higher and cooler in Jerusalem, and not as humid.
Of course, if you drive half an hour farther east, you are at the Dead Sea, and desert. It was hot (over 100), 1,300 feet below sea level and no shade. Even the camels seemed to be taken with the heat. You can swim in the saltwater and soak in the chemical mud baths, and the like. I just kept the accelerator down and headed for Masada.
The ruins at Masada mark a unique point in Jewish history, when Jewish rebels fled Jerusalem and took over the remote mountain, and then when they were about to be defeated by the Romans after a two-year siege, allowed themselves to be killed by their own, rather than be taken by the opposing army and enslaved.
I was in Israel seven days and moved quickly. Only half a day in Jerusalem, half a day at Galilee, and half a day driving to the Dead Sea and Masada. The rest was learning how Israelis park their cars (more about that next month).
What we in America think of Israel, with missiles and suicide bombings, might be there, but I didn’t see it. When I brought up the issue, I was told that, yes, it exists, and they live every day knowing that trouble could come. (A bomb shelter was pointed out to me in the apartment building where I was staying.) But these people go about their daily lives – aware, but living life to its fullest.
I felt no terror, no fear, no concerns at all. Israel is a family-friendly country. There were people with kids of all ages everywhere (the “stroller industry” does well here).
I wrote this as I headed to the airport. Facing a magazine publication deadline, I didn’t have time to give my parking hosts in Israel good coverage in this issue. “PT in Israel” will take up pages of our September issue.
Meanwhile, check out my PT Blog for photos and more comments on my trip.