An All-Access-Pass to Tel Aviv University's Israel Wednesday, November 14, 2012
"Discover TAU: Campus and Beyond" mission showcases research and influence across the country
An intimate group of travellers from across America had rare access to Israel’s leaders and decision-makers during American Friends of Tel Aviv University’s “Discover TAU: Campus and Beyond” mission from October 28 to November 2, 2012. The first-of-its-kind trip brought Tel Aviv University to life through private insider visits in academia, politics, business and much more.
Helicoptering to Hula Lake
Conceived by AFTAU Chairman Jon Gurkoff and Board member Richard Sincere — both members of the university’s Board of Governors — the trip was designed to show the myriad ways TAU, Israel's top research institution, is inextricably woven into the fabric of the country. Including a private visit at Israel's Supreme Court and special access to the country's largest IDF Air Force base, as well as exclusive meetings with top government officials, business leaders, and TAU's superstar researchers, this trip was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the innovation nation as few visitors ever see it.
At Google Israel
Though it had been decades since her last visit, Merrie Frankel, Senior Credit Officer and Vice President at Moody's Investors Service, said that it was the trip's outstanding itinerary that attracted her interest. "I knew that if I was going to come back, it would have to be for a trip like this – with access to the top people in their fields," she said.
“Nothing was off-limits,” AFTAU President and CEO Gail Reiss said, with the country's best and brightest stepping out to embrace the AFTAU mission. Mayor of Tel Aviv Ron Huldai, Member of Knesset Dr. Nachman Shai. and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro gave exclusive briefings on Israel's social, economic and political situations. A behind-the-scenes tour of the IDF's largest air force base introduced participants to the military's elite Unmanned Aerial Vehicle squadrons. Prof. Yossi Matias, Managing Director of Google Israel’s Research & Development center and a member of TAU’s faculty, illuminated the innovative world of Israeli R&D at Google Israel's offices in the heart of Tel Aviv. Filmmaker and TAU teacher Yaron Shani shared the unique vision that led him to create his award-winning, Oscar-nominated film, Ajami. And Rafi Mehudar, leading Israeli engineer, inventor, and businessman, hosted the participants for dinner at his dazzling home.
Buoyant in the Dead Sea
Ambassador Shapiro congratulated the group on its unique mission, telling them they were "seeing Israel through the eyes of one if its greatest and most dynamic institutions," and noting that he has drawn on the scholarship of TAU’s Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies throughout his entire career.
Dr. Shai also applauded the aims of the trip, saying that AFTAU's dedication to furthering Israeli education was a boost to the country at large. "Nothing is more important than education for the state of Israel and the people of Israel," he said, calling education the foundation of Israel's future. "The country and the government have many needs on our agenda, like defense, security and welfare. [AFTAU's] concentration on education is a contribution to the whole equation."
The world of TAU
At the Knesset
Participants enjoyed in-depth meetings on campus, where some of the university's most renowned researchers shared their ground-breaking work. They also had the opportunity to connect with students, enjoying a mock debate by members of TAU's award-winning debate team, and performances by top musicians from TAU’s Buchmann-Mehta School of Music.
But the mission also offered valuable insight into TAU's connection to the country outside the campus gates. Being able to visit the country and see these linkages first hand, "you absorb them in a different way," noted Keith Spero, a retired trial lawyer. After a 37-year-long absence from Israel, seeing how the country has grown and prospered is what astonished him the most. "You read about Israel and you understand that they are on the cutting-edge in many fields, but here we get a chance to actually experience it."
Private concert by Buchmann-Mehta music school students
Travellers saw Israel from the chambers of Prof. Daphne Barak-Erez, Israel's newest Supreme Court Justice and former Dean of the TAU law school. They explored the ruins of Tel Megiddo with world renowned archaeologist Prof. Israel Finkelstein. And they experienced the birdwatchers' paradise of the Agamon Hula Lake Nature Reserve as seen through the eyes of the "Bird Man," Prof. Yossi Leshem. From access to experts like these, participants gained an understanding that the University and its researchers are “fundamentally intertwined with the country — as guardians of its past, protectors of the present, and champions of its future,” Jon Gurkoff said.
Antiquity to cutting-edge industry
In the lab of Prof. Yechiel Elkabetz
From frequent travellers to first time visitors, “Discover TAU: Campus and Beyond” emphasized the richness of Israel’s history as an incubator for its leap to the forefront of innovation in the modern world. Participants visited the legendary mountain-top fortress of Masada. They burrowed deep into history as they descended into the tunnels beneath the Western Wall. And the power of Yad Vashem, the world's leading museum of the Holocaust, stood in dramatic contrast to a rare access look at the country's most advanced drones.
"I think yesterday, under the Western Wall, was one of the most overwhelming experiences in terms of thinking about how many years we're talking about in history – where all these different periods of time fit in, how many cultures intersect at the same place," said Jay Gershman, president of Retirement Visions, LLC and a first-time visitor to the country.
Also experiencing his first trip to Israel, Tim Schlindwein, Managing Principal of Schlindwein Associates, LLC, was drawn to the trip through his interest in global investments. "It's phenomenal. The sense of history is here, and all that's modern is clearly here. Israel is a small country physically, but it's large in terms of impact," he said.