Sunday, May 6, 2012

Starting a Tel Aviv Movement or Dance Party

Two weeks after I ran the Jerusalem Marathon, I ran the Tel Aviv Half Marathon. Since I knew I was running the Jerusalem Marathon, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to run in Tel Aviv. By the time I decided I was up for running in TA, it was too late to register. I looked for a race number, but was unable to find one. As a result, I decided to run bandit (without a number). I had never run a half marathon without a number before. I went to sleep very late the night before the race (4 am) and when I woke up, I began to question whether I wanted to run the race. I figured if it wasn’t going to be timed, what was the point – very much an “if a tree falls in the forest” conundrum. By the time I motivated myself to get up off my friend’s sofa, I was late for the start. I ended up running 2km to get to the start. I touched the start mat and off I went. I started off way too fast and soon discovered that I was not fully rested and recovered from the marathon.

In all, the race was not enjoyable. I was disappointed about my time (1:59) and did not enjoy the run. There was also a big time shortage of water and water stations, which was my complaint last year as well.
The redeeming factor of the race came after the race when I met up with my friend Frayda. Frayda and I met in 2003 when we were both studying in Israel for the year. She ran the 10k bandit. After the race, we were walking away from the post-run festival when Frayda suddenly stops, looks and me and asked me to help her perform an experiment.

The post-race event included a DJ blaring techno music from a stage overlooking a patch of grass (quite par for the course in Israel – also see my post on last year’s Tel Aviv half. There were around 100 runners hanging out on the lawn, some stretching, and one man in very short shorts dancing up a storm by himself right in front of the DJ’s stage.

Frayda told me she once saw a TED Talk that discussed starting a movement – the talk specifically mentioned a guy dancing in a park alone. No one joins the guy for a while, but suddenly one joins. They dance for a little while together and then another joins. Once that happens, the trio rapidly turns into a dance party. Frayda asked if I’d be willing to try starting a dance party. The idea presented in the Talk is that sometimes, the first follower is more of a leader than the leader. The first guy dancing is looked at like a crazy person, but when someone joins him, they make the entire act less loony and people soon start to think they can do it too.

So we head off to the front of the lawn near the “crazy guy” and start dancing. For a few minutes there, we are got nothing. I am not the world’s greatest dancer, and while I have made headway in my dancing confidence over the years, I was still quite the timid mover and shaker compared to Frayda and the nutter next to the stage. None the less, I stuck at it. Sure enough, about two minutes after the launch of our experiment, a group of three others started dancing nearby. They weren’t completely sold on the dancing idea though – as they shied away from Frayda when she approached them and started dancing with them.
Then it happened. Across the field, two girls start dancing, then a few guys come on over near us and then tipping point – the party starts, and just as the Ted Talk said, we started a movement. Frayda and I walked off as dance party founders leaving some 50+ runners enjoying a post-marathon boogie.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Car Conclusions

From the end of January through the beginning of March, my friend Ben traveled to Australia to see his girlfriend, meet her family and tour what has been called by some of my friends G-d’s country. While he was gone, I had his car. This was the first time in my adult life that I had a car. After college, I moved to the Upper West Side of New York and lived there for four years. For the last year or so of that time, I had a Zip Car account, which was sweet, but I never had a car of my own. In Israel, cars cost about twice as much as in America, which is ironic since people make less than half of what Americans make. When I moved here, it was initially for one year. When I added another, my plan was to serve in the army, and when that fell through, I had 8 months left till business school. With my litmited stay in Israel, it did not make sense to buy a car. Oh and did I mention – gas costs over $2 a liter… or about $8 a gallon!

Having a car over that time was a fortune. It cost about $25 to drive round trip to and from Tel Aviv each day. I tried to give friends rides as much as possible – both for their convenience and my cost offset (standard 15 shekel – just under $4 per person per direction). A few times I was able to cover costs, while more often than not, it cost me a lot. On the other hand, the convenience of having a car – going where I wanted when I wanted was amazing and worthwhile.

As I was doing all of my driving, I got to thinking about car ownership – what kind of car I would buy if I bought one, the function a car serves versus the luxury it can become – both the jalopy and the Porsche get you there at the end of the day. I am not the type to splurge on a car (as seen in the last line). I couldn’t justify sinking in a huge sum of money to something that immediately and perpetually looses value. I have always liked the idea of owning a hybrid car. The idea of great gas mileage in America is nice – when fuel is $3 a gallon (often less) here in Israel, it seems like a no brainer, and although the cars cost more, in the long run, the fuel cost savings quickly add up.

As I navigated to and from Tel Aviv, I was shocked to see first-hand how bad and aggressive Israeli drivers are. Aggressiveness and assertiveness is built into the culture here. Everyone is afraid of being the friar – the sucker. With this mindset, Israeli drivers justify unimaginable craziness. People swerve through traffic, cut you off and do not yield. There is a popular double standard on the road – let me in and I won’t let you in… what you think I am a friar? Beyond the all too often traffic accidents in Israel, which are all too often fatal, Israelis are terrible in traffic. Everyone thinks that by shifting lanes, driving on closed lanes until the very end and not letting other people in, they will get to their destination MUCH quicker. Now I am not saying that some of the tendencies I have just described are not also issues with New Yorkers or any other stereotypically aggressive group of drivers. However, the driving in Israel is BAD – anyone who has driven here will agree. I have several friends who refuse to drive here all together.

As my thoughts of hybrid ownership drifted, I got to thinking of the cars I hope to own in the future. I set myself two car ownership aspirations. The first was that within 3 cars that I own (assuming at some point I do get a car), I want to own a non-fossil fuel automobile. This will likely come in the form of an electric car. The second hope is that within 5 cars, I want a car that safely drives itself. Not too much to ask right?
In the next two posts, I am going to explore, report on two companies that are spearheading initiatives to make my car ownership plans come true… quite possibly well before my 3rd and 5th cars.

Btw – how I came up with 3 and 5 – I assumed I will buy a car within the next year and guess that I will have each car from between 3-6 years (probably buy used). That gives 9 to 18 years for me to hold the keys to an electric car, and 15 – 30 years for a car that drives itself. I think these are both very overly conservative. I’ll explain more in the next posts.

Jerusalem Marathon

I ran the Jerusalem marathon last Friday. It was my second marathon and an accomplishment I am very proud of. As I was running it – near the beginning actually, I got this overwhelming sense of joy. I had a huge smile on my face and felt a sense of elation that I had not felt in a long time. As I looked around, I felt like I was having the time of my life. There I was about 3 or four miles into one heck of a tough 26 mile course and I was loving it like I have never loved running before. Why?

I have asked myself that question since. I keep thinking back to that moment that these feelings came on, and a smile immediately returns to my face (yes as I am writing this I am grinning). I can’t fully explain it – or maybe I think there is more to it than I have thus far pieced together, but there is at least one factor I have thought of that I think contributed to it. Here it is:

Think of a time when you set a goal for yourself – find a job, meet new people, lose x pounds, keep in better contact with family or friends…. Many common goals we set for ourselves have external limitations on them. I may find a job I really want, but someone is better qualified for me. I may try to keep in touch better but friends are “too busy”. Try as one may to meet new people, there just doesn’t seem to be anyone around…
Then there are the other type of goals – lose 10 pounds, be mindful of how I speak to my parents, consider things before you say them, be considerate, run a marathon! These goals are all driven by me. I am accountable for my own success or failure. Achieving or failing these goals can have a strong impact on a person’s self image and psyche. Here in this realm, there is no one to blame but yourself. Sure there are excuses, but at the end of the day we hold the keys to many of our goals.

The marathon on that list is different from all the others. Many of the personal goals I set for myself are more abstract and never ending. I strive to be mindful of the things I say before I speak, to be considerate, not to gossip about others, and even to reach a target weight. Most of these do not have a finite end. I cannot say at any point that I will forever not gossip. That is an ongoing challenge. Weight loss, and other similar goals, are achieved gradually over time. Once I get off the scale and see the number I have aimed for then boom, I am done, and yet I keep going to stay there. 

Then there are the goals that have a finite end, take a long time to accomplish and are fully in your control. The marathon falls in this category. As I ran the marathon, I felt the culmination of my past months of training coming together – I had set a goal for myself that only I could stop myself from achieving. Although I had 22 miles left to run, I knew it was in the bag, and spent the rest of the run enjoying the fruits of my labor – I had worked hard to get there and when I knew I was good to go, I was able to enjoy the experience to the max. I recall having a similar experience with my CPA exams. The CPA is not an easy test. I was lucky that the material really clicked for me and with a lot of studying, I completed the exams. I do distinctively remember in a few of the tests (there are 4) that once I got to the last section, read the question and knew that I owned that material, the test became fun. I would begin to sing to myself (probably in my head) and enjoy the last simulation as I knew I owned it.

If what I am saying here makes sense to you, and you can think of other similar goals/challenges that can offer such an experience, I’d be interested to hear them – I may even take them on. I can say for certain that the feeling I had during the marathon (and still do) made all the training, blisters, aches and sore knees more than worthwhile. I am now thinking about running the Tel Aviv marathon a week from this Friday (two weeks after Jerusalem).

A little on the course – it was tough but awesome. I had run almost all of it several times in training and felt very at home throughout the run. The weather was cold, windy and raining. The wind was really the worst part of it. Many people got hailed on, luckily I missed that somehow – must have been in the right part of the city at the right time. The weather fluctuated so much that I managed to get a slight sunburn on my face (was sunny at parts as well). My brother-in-law Itay had originally registered to run with me, but hurt his foot a few months ago. Instead he joined me at mile 19 and ran the last 7 with me. It was awesome having his company. My time of 4:44:09 was 9 minutes slower than I ran New York in 2009. Considering the hills and a bathroom stop, I was not disappointed with my time, but I am curious how I would fare in the flat 26 of Tel Aviv. We may see soon enough.

As I used to do, here is the video of the course.

Picking up where I left off

When I got to Israel, I blogged on a frequent basis. I really enjoyed sharing my experiences with friends back in the states and also used my blog as a journal to remember the incredible experiences I had over my early months in Israel. Writing posts was also easy. I had a long bus ride back from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem three days a week. Since then, a lot has changed while at the same time, not much has changed at all.

I can’t recall the exact reason I stopped blogging. I stoped shortly before my trip back to America for what I thought was going to be 4 friends’ weddings and a trip to Central America before joining the army. It turned out to be more – I hurt my shoulder in a bike fall in July. Initially, my doctor and I thought I had a partial tear and needed to just rest. The shoulder got worse, and I ended up extending my trip in the US for shoulder surgery. That changed my army plans and the rest is history. Rather than getting more into things that have gone down over the past 9 months, I am going to just go on writing as if I hadn’t stopped. If I hit a part that sounds odd (new job, new apt… I will try to fill you in).

I’ve also decided not to publicize my posts as I used to – at least not until I have something to publicize. Let’s see if I can keep this up. Now that I am working 5 days a week in Tel Aviv, I have a tighter schedule, and instead of taking the bus every day (I am on it right now as I write this), I am blesses to have friends that give me rides. When I am ridding with friends, I don’t blog, so I have less opportunity to do so than I used to working part time but commuting back by bus.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

What Aren’t Americans Great At?

Last week the Giza Technology Consulting group had a group activity evening of bowling and dinner.  We headed out of the office at 4:30 and headed to the Herzeliyah mall for some good old 10 pin. At first, I could not understand why the entire group was so excited to see me bowl. It turns out that they were all under the impression that Americans are all incredible bowlers. I quickly debunked this stereotype.
When we arrived at the lanes, we divided the group of 8 into two lanes and got right into it. I was the last on my lane, lined up with Yamit, one of my best friends in the office, on the opposing lane. Our lane was kicked off by Tal, an Israeli girl that lived in Texas for several years in high school. Effortlessly, Tal rolled a spare to start off the game. I rolled a 4 (or maybe 7) in the first frame, and then proceeded to roll more gutters (almost all the left side) than I did balls that knocked down pins. The group was quickly disappointed to see that as I had promised, I SUCK(ED) at bowling. Yamit asked me “Yoel, how are you so bad at bowling? You are American.” Eyal, the manager of the technology group proposed “maybe it isn’t originally an American game. I hope so for your sake Yoel.” This of course led me to do some research. According to Wikipedia, primitive versions of bowling date back to ancient Egypt, but the game as we know it was created in New York in 1895. Alas, I have no nationality excuse. Towards the 6th frame, I was about 10 pins behind Yamit. I said to myself “that’s it Yoel, you need to turn this around. You are going to beat Yamit.” As we both approached the ball rack to start our turn, I looked at Yamit and said “I may be 10 pins behind you, but I am going to beat you this game.” She gingerly accepted the challenge.
By the end of the first game, the taunting of the group had changed to pitty. I rolled something like a 36. I came in dead last of all 8 players. Tal rolled over 100, as did Ori, who turned out to be the best bowler of the bunch. Needless to say, it was quite shameful, and Yamit was loving it. But wait, there was a second game to be played. This was to be the one I was going to turn it around. I set off strong, and within a few frames, I had fixed my game, rolled a few spares and was above my 10 pin per frame benchmark, on my way to breaking a hundred. Yamit started off slowly, and I was on a streak. Of course, my streak had to end. Yamit picked up her game, and I slipped up. Suddenly I was 20 pins behind! I did not lose my cool. I kept focused and worked on shrinking my pin deficit.
The game ended dramatically. I was 24 pins behind, Yamit had finished her game, and I knew I had to make my 9th frame count. I kept focused and BOOM, 8 pins down on the first ball. The second two needed a precision strike. Sure enough, I kept my cool, summoned all my very limited bowling skills and POW. Spare. I am in it to win it. All I needed on the next turn was 8 pins for the win. Before taking my 10th frame, I started my trash talking “Yamit, pay attention you are going down.” Off I went – the shot started off right, but like most of my rolls for the day, the ball veered left. I ended up with a solid 7 on my first shot. Three pins remained, and knocking down any one of them would lead me to victory. This is where I think I psyched myself out. I looked at Yamit and said “look, we are tied now. How about I just shoot the ball down and call it a tie.” In all honesty, this was just hedge. I completely intended to win. Of course, I didn’t. My ball went left (again) and missed the leftmost pin by a few inches. Game over, we tied. At this point, I figured Yamit would say good game and we’d be on our way. As I turned to tell Yamit that we were in fact the same level of bowling and that I was just warming up for the first game, she says to me “I am still a better bowler than you.” Although I argued that we were the same since we tied, she wasn’t hearing it. After a bit of debate, I had a realization that I have presented in the table below.

The table above presents mine and Yamit’s bowling performance in our two games of bowling. Yamit improved a respectable 48% from the first game to the second. However, at the same time, I improved a whopping 131%. This led me to the realization that had we played a third game, maintaining out respective improvement rates, I would have blown Yamit away in the third game with a killer score of 191 versus her would be 123. I plan on going bowling at least once while back in the US to work on my game in the hopes of a rematch when I will be able to demonstrate my bowling superiority over Yamit, and at the same time, return national pride to the US.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Eilat Beach Weekend

Back in New York, I had a penchant for planning beach weekends. I planned July 4th and Labor Day weekend trips for the past three years. My love of group trips to the beach has not changed. Two weekends ago 9 friends and I headed to Eilat (southernmost city in Israel on the Red Sea) for a weekend getaway. After several postponements, we finally made it happen. Finding the right priced hotel and flights was challenging. A special thanks needs to be given to Jo (friend who came on the trip), who found the best hotel deal for us.
Eilat is about a 4 hour drive from Tel Aviv and 3 hours from Jerusalem (assuming no traffic). The flight from Tel Aviv to Eilat is an hour. Most flights leave from a small domestic airport called Sde Dov, on the northern edge of the city, rather than Ben Gurion, which is about 20 minutes from the airport.
Due to varying schedules, locales and budgets, the group arrived in parts. Shimon, Nina, Ruchie and I were able to leave Thursday morning. In order to get in as much Eilat as possible, we flew down on Thursday morning at 6:30. As we deplaned, the heat immediately hit us – temperatures over the weekend reached above 40° C (104° F)! When we arrived at the Vista Hotel, we were told unsurprisingly that our rooms were not yet ready, so we checked our bags in the luggage room and went our own ways. I hopped a bus to Marina Divers at Coral Beach, to begin my two day advances scuba diving certification.
After three morning dives, including a ship wreck and a navigation dive, I headed back to the hotel. As I returned, Ben, Daniel and Ilan arrived from Jerusalem. They drove down since it didn’t make sense to drive to Tel Aviv only to then fly to Eilat – It’d take almost the same amount of time. By that time, we were able to get into our rooms. We all dropped our bags and headed to the pool, which was by no means sizable but was really fun. Daniel brought a “lay low” (British for an inflatable pool mattress) and I a Frisbee. Between those pool accessories, a floating goal that the pool had and two waterproof cameras, we were set for an unending slew of pool games and shenanigans. Flipping people off the pool mattress was a way of life all weekend. We took turns launching each other in the water and made up a bunch of goal based games initially with the Frisbee and then with the Spider Man ball that Ben bought. [To all you Rehoboth Beach trip attendees, you should know this was by complete chance – Ben bought the ball when I wasn't around. What are the odds – Spider Man balls seem to be a beach mainstay.]
 Pool Shenanigans: Natan and I Launching Jeremy (above) Three Perosn Tower (below)

Chillin @ beach bar
After we all showered up and changed, we met in the hotel for a few happy hour drinks before heading to dinner. Ben and Ilan own a bar and brought a nice assortment of bottles with them from their stock. We sat in the lobby drinking our own drinks, out of cups provided by the hotel staff. All weekend they were SUPER accommodating and nice to us. This is a link to my review of the hotel, which I would highly recommend for group trips. After a few pre-dinner drinks, we headed out to town for dinner at a Shipudim (skewer/barbeque) restaurant. We then walked down the main promenade stopping at bars and shops/stands along the way. We relaxed at a beach bar, sang karaoke to a very non-receptive Israeli crowd and lead by Daniel, most of us got henna tattoos, which are for some reason sold all over Eilat. I got a little baby bunny… cute.

Tattoo time

Karaoke on the beach
The next day we all met up at breakfast and shortly thereafter I headed back to the beach with Natan and Daniel for the second half of my scuba diving course. Natan and Daniel are also divers, and they went to dive the wreck I had dove the day before. Later in the day, we all dove together during the last dive of my course. The group came out to the beach for the morning and the whole group spent the afternoon around the pool.
Shabbat was remarkably relaxing. We had an excellent dinner in the hotel, shortly after which everyone went to sleep. We rendezvoused at breakfast and after service and lounging by the pool for a few hours had lunch together. The rest of the day was spent reading, playing Settlers, lounging by the pool and napping. By the time Shabbat finished, everyone was refreshed and rested.
Saturday night was mellow and enjoyable – Italian pasta dinner, beers at a beach bar and live 80’s music at the Three Monkeys. The next morning, Shimon, Jeremy and I left the airport at 6 am for a 6:40 flight back to Tel Aviv. We were all back at our respective offices by 9 am feeling like we had returned from a much longer trip. Eilat was all in all great. I’m excited to return. My next travels however will be to the United States on August 10th.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Paradise on Earth – Gan HaShlosha

My friend Ari, who I mentioned in an earlier post is visiting Israel from the States for the summer invited me to join him and two friends (Momo and Yossie) on a hike last Tuesday. The plan was initially to hike Nachal Darja – the hardest day hike in Israel. Unfortunately, the plan fell through – we left too late in the day (you need to be on the trail by ~7 am to complete a good chunk of it before the mid-day desert heat sets in. The hike is ~5-7 hours long). Instead, it was decided that we'd head to the north to Gan Hashlosha (“The Park of Three”), also known as Sachne, to hike around a bit and take in some sun and swim. My friend Adam, also visiting from the States, but only for a few weeks joined us as well.
Gan HaShlosha is a little less than two hours north east of Jerusalem, near the top of the Jordan Valley. You may recall the blog post I put up months ago on my first half marathon in Israel, which ran through the ancient city of Bet Shean – the race started and ended at Gan HaShlosha.
The nature park is comprised of three large pools which feed into each other via waterfalls. They pools are surrounded by lush grass fields, beautiful topography and the hills of the Galilee in the distance. When we arrived at the park, we decided to check out the area around the park for a hike before heading to the pools. Right behind the nature reserve, we found Nachal Kibbutzim “The Kibbutz Spring”. After about five minutes of hiking alongside the clear, flowing spring, we quickly called an audible, returned to the car and changed into water clothes and hiked/waded up the stream. The cool water was waist deep and we were surrounded on both sides by tall reeds. We joked that the scenery was right out of Forest Gump in Vietnam. It was really gorgeous.

Nachal Kibutzim

Funny/terrible sign

After about 20 minutes of working our way downstream, we turned around, headed back to the car and drove to the park. Ari and I scoped out a great, somewhat secluded patch of grass that rolled right to the water front, where we “set up camp”. Momo lit up the grill, we threw on some sunscreen and headed to the water. The ‘pools’ at Gan HaShlosha are more like ponds. The water is clear and cool. In the pools, there are little fish that nibble on your feet and snack on your dead skin. You can get a live, free, natural fish pedicure at Sachne. The sensation was very ticklish and I could not help shrieking like a school girl every time the fish went to work. Thanks to my new waterproof camera case, I was able to snag a picture of the fish in action.
After swimming for a bit, we got out of the water to barbeque. After our cookout, we took Ari’s medical advice and skipped the half hour between eating and swimming and got right back in. We swam to a waterfall and then checked out the other pools, and swam some more. When we had our fill of swimming, sunning and lying about, we headed back to Jerusalem.
Sachne was serene and beautiful and is definitely worth a visit, but be warned – on holidays, especially Passover, the place is PACKED and is probably not worth visiting.

Momo swimming with a beer... the good life

Fish eating at my feet

A cave off of the top pool