Friday, April 29, 2011

Life’s Good (2 of 2) – What I've been up to

I left off my last blog post at Saturday April 10th. Since then a bunch of stuff has been going on, so I am going to pick it up from where I left off.
Hadag Nachash:
On Saturday night, I went with my roommate Shimon and a few friends to a Hadag Nachash (“HN”)concert. It was at a small venue called the Yellow Submarine. Prior to the concert, I had heard their music a bit in carpool, but was not overly familiar with them. The concert was awesome. HN is a 9 man hip-hop band that has an awesome eclectic sound. Their group includes a drummer, guitarist, bassist, pianist, trumpeter, tromboner, lead singer/rapper, record scratcher/mix-master guy.
While their music has a general rap sound to it, they mix in an eclectic range of sounds (thus the huge band), which makes the music almost genre in and of itself. In between their 21 song setlist, they jammed to Bob Marley and later performed a Snoop Dogg – Dr. Dre duo .Just an example of the reach of their sound. A lot of their music is performed in Hebrew, but a few are in English. I took a few videos on my cell phone from the show, but the sound is so unclear it is not worth uploading. Here are a few links to some of my favorite songs that I think demonstrate their unique sound. Many of the songs are political and real – lyrics that have strong meanings.
Yom Iyun
Sunday morning, rather than reporting to the office, I went to the Carleton Hotel in Tel Aviv, which is on the beach next to the Hilton for my firm’s Yom Iyun, or Day of Study. The Company holds these days on a quarterly basis. The experience was really amazing and eye opening. The “day” ran from 9 am to 12 pm. Here’s how it went down:
·         The Chairman and CEO gave short opening remarks about the company, performance, progress, strategy and outlook…
·         Apparently, after each quarter, the CEO and partners identify strategic initiatives that the company should consider. He assigns groups of employees from all levels of the organization – analysts to mangers and partners to meet in groups and explore and research the opportunities. A member of each group from the Associate level (about my level) was appointed to present their group’s findings to the whole company. I found this whole thing fascinating. Here's why:       
o   Coming from a larger more formal work environment, employees at the analyst/associate level and to a large degree vice president level were not included in strategic development and were not involved in discussions on furthering the business. Having an associate present an analysis on the market participants, potential competition, risks and opportunities of expanding into a new market that GSE currently does not serve was incredible. People from every level – analyst to CEO – were working together to improve and develop the Firm.
o   The fact that lower level personnel (all of whom happened to be women) were asked to present demonstrated the firm’s commitment to developing its employees. The management does not just want people sitting in their offices crunching numbers, they want everyone to have opportunities to present in the board room setting. Practices like this will ensure that GSE employees are more than number crunchers; they are value-adding, captivating and insightful advisors.
o   This practice not only harnesses the ideas and points-of-view from all along the company’s hierarchy, but also deeply enfranchises everyone involved. A person asked by the CEO to sit with teammates and brainstorm on the strategic opportunities of his firm will undoubtedly feel a strong connection to the firm. People are no longer just GSE employees – they are captains steering their company into new markets and developing innovative approaches to marketing, professional development and achieving success.
·         After the presentations, which were all very well done, the CEO opened it up to questions. Israelis are not shy and again, people from all levels fired questions to the CEO, which he answered as other employees intermittently piped in with jokes.
·         As a final note before we adjourned the formal meeting, the CEO made a special shout out to my office mate Ori Grossman for his excellent work and dedication to the Firm. Ori works really hard and has a tough job. It was really nice to see the company recognize his efforts. There is to be an award given to him, although I am not sure if he found out what it was yet. I told him I get an office-mate 25% cut.
·         After the presentations, we gathered in another room for a toast, after all, it was noon. We all sipped wine and toasted to the company, to Grossman and to our continued hard work and success. Each employee was given a bottle of wine as a happy holiday gift.

Here Comes the Holiday and the Family
Passover in Israel is similar to the week of Christmas-New Years in New York. Things are closed. In the days leading up to the holiday, there is a jovial spirit in the air… a week of vacation is at hand. My parents and brother came to Israel for the holiday, and we took a trip to Eilat (southernmost city in Israel on the Red Sea) before the holiday (link from last trip to Eilat's blogpost). We stayed in a very nice hotel on my parents hotel points, and really took it in. The weather was high 80s/low 90s, the company wonderful and the work not too overbearing… While the office was closed over Passover – everyone is required to take a few half days of vacation (or I guess work from home), the work in New York was still coming in – quarter ends are always busy. Thankfully, I managed to enjoy break while working a few hours a day for New York.
Highlights from Eilat included scuba diving, a boat ride – during which we snorkeled, fished, swam and soaked in the sun, skipping rocks with my little brother (he taught me how well and I am pretty good now) and a dip in the Dead Sea on the way back to Jerusalem.
We spent the first day of Passover with our cousins in Efrat, and had the opportunity to learn and share family traditions during the seder (traditional Passover dinner). The Seder is usually a big family event for all Jews and like most family events, there is no place like home – family tradition for everyone is always the best. Whenever we spend Passover with other families, we inevitably have different tunes to which we like to sing the Passover songs, different styles in which we recount the exodus from Egypt (the point of the Seder) and various traditions and customs. While we learned some new tunes and taught some new tunes, I heavily suspect that next year, when we may not be with out cousins for Passover, we will do everything our way and they theirs – it is hard to make an impact on another family that they would want to change their customs.
In the following days of Passover, family activities included a trip with my dad to the Old City of Jerusalem, ATV-ing, a day at the beach (skipped more stones and found shards of ancient pottery) followed by a barbeque at my brother-in-law’s parent’s home, shopping for gifts, walking on the Jerusalem promenade and making an awesome bon-fire barbeque with my brother to name a few. The holiday was both family and fun filled. When my family comes to visit, I make sure to spend lots of time with them, which ends up making me somewhat of a ghost to the rest of the world. My parents and baby-bro left last night and now I am getting back into the swing of things here. Here are a few pics:
Collecting stones to skip.

Me and my bro in front of our Eilat hotel

As close as Rachel got to diving

In I go

Brothers after the diving
I'm on a boat

Collecting stones to skip and pottery

All geared up


In the coming weeks I will be celebrating Israel Memorial and Independence Days (a week from Monday and Tuesday), going camping, hosting a miracle fruit flavor tripping party, hopefully getting some beach in, taking care of aliyah absorption things and preparing for my trip to the States in mid-May for Jeff Rosenfelt’s wedding and the Birhtright Israel trip, which I will be traveling on right afterwards. I am sure I’ll have more to share soon. Till then, I hope everyone had a nice Passover.

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