Thursday, October 14, 2010

Yom Chevra

Yesterday was GSE’s Yom Chevra or Group Day. In Israel, most companies have a Yom Chevra – a day when the office is closed and the whole company goes out for a day of fun – sort of like a really cool company picnic but with more. The day’s activities were filled with mystery. We were told that there would be an activity that would involve water, there would be a team building activity, a creative/artistic event and breakfast and dinner.
My day started at 5:30, when I woke up to catch a ride that would get me to my office on time for the 8 am departure. I arrived at 7:15 and attended services in my office building and then off we went. The company filled a full coach bus and a mini-bus – about 60 something of us (a few people missed out).
Our first stop was in the Galilee at the Tishbi Winery where we eat a great Mediterranean breakfast on a large patio covered with grape vines. We enjoyed great fresh bread with Merlot and Riesling grape jelly and several tastings of wine over the course of the meal.
After breakfast, we boarded the busses and headed north. It was widely rumored that we were going kayaking – the same I had done with my family about two weeks earlier. We were less than 2 kilometers from the place when we suddenly pulled over at a gas station. We were told not to get off the bus, and so of course a bunch of people got off the bus. It at first seemed like a completely random stop. People got back on afte having picked up juices and sodas from the quickie mart – I asked the partner sitting across the aisle from me on the bus why we stopped and he said “Oh you know to get some vodka.” I chuckled and figured it was just a cigarette and drink stop. Not a minute later I looked to the front of the bus and low and behold, someone is pouring Absolute vodka into a large lemonade bottle. He wasn't joking – we stopped at a gas station quickie mart so that people could by juice and vodka. You gotta admire a country that sells hard alcohol at road side gas stations.
By the time we arrived at the kayaking (yes the rumors were true) several GSE people were feeling pretty good. The kayaking marked the violation of a personal policy that I never expected to break. When I was at New York, my policy was ‘bathing suits and co-workers do not mix. I never foresaw a situation where I would be in a bathing suite with co-workers around. This policy was established when the leader of the Due Diligence group had the whole group over for a pool side barbeque – yes we were all invited to hop in and no, none of us – save one colleague that brought her little niece – did. When we got to the kayak place I was really happy that I brought my swim trunks and quickly changed. Before we went kayaking we were divided into teams and given team shirts. I was on the blue-on-white team – our shirts said “River Master” in blue letters on a white shirt. So after breaking my bathing suit rule, I quickly broke my shirtless in front of colleagues policy and followed all the other guys suit and changed my shirt in the parking lot. After out team building challenges, we went kayaking. It was fun but not as much fun as with my family. We had the chairman of the company on our 5 man boat and sadly everyone more or less obeyed his Do Not Splash Us requests, which made the whole ride more subdued.
When we got ashore there was a make you own ice cream Sunday station awaiting us… yum. We then headed off to dinner. Dinner was at a catering hall on a kibutz – having skipped lunch, we arrived famished and went to down on the food and open bar. The caterers were carrying around drinks and people were definitely taking part, which was especially good to prepare everyone for the live band karaoke that followed dinner during desert. While some people lounged on the nice deck off the back of the hall under a beautiful clear starry night, I watched the majority of the GSE team belt out both classic and modern Hebrew songs to the beat of a live band.
I happen to love karaoke, but there was no way I could perform in Hebrew. All of the songs I know well enough to sing equate culturally to performing Yankee Doodle Dandy or Old McDonald at a karaoke place – they are nice fun songs when you a learning them in school, everyone knows them, and no adult sings them.
I was also not partaking in any great quantity in the liquid confidence. I none the less mustered up the courage to approach the band and ask if they had any English tunes. Before I knew it, I was performing “In My Life” and “Hard Day Night” by the Beatles back to back with a GSE colleague that went attended Brandeis. Israelis consistently know some English music and the Beatles are pretty popular and the songs were a great hit. After the karaoke it was time to go. As everyone was heading back to the buses, a colleague asked: “Joel did you have a nice time?” I responded in the affirmative and asked her the same. Her response “I’m wasted so what can be bad.” Quite a day indeed. The Yom Chevra gave everyone a chance to bond closely and relate to co-workers from partners to analysts in a nice personal way. I am sure that the comrodary and goodwill that results from the day is well worth the costs of a day at the office.

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