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Israel Through A TAU Lens

"Discover TAU: Campus and Beyond" mission spotlights singular influence of Tel Aviv University on past, present and future of Israel

A congenial group of travellers — academics, medical professionals, lawyers, and business people — arrived in Israel on March 22, 2015, for our "Discover TAU: Campus and Beyond" adventure. The five-day whirlwind tour of TAU's Israel offered rare access to Israeli insiders and decision-makers, brought TAU to life through adventures in the desert, "jungle," and on the coast, and in exclusive meetings with academics, politicians and business insiders.

Led by AFTAU President & CEO Gail Reiss, and chaired by AFTAU Chairman Jon Gurkoff and AFTAU Secretary Richard Sincere, both members of TAU's Board of Governors, the trip provided a panorama of the ways in which TAU has made its indelible mark on the country — and the world. With exclusive access to one of the archaeological world's most important excavation sites, the chance to swim with the fish at Israel's only tropical coral reef, and the opportunity to canvass the country’s north through the air, as well as private meetings with top government officials, business leaders, and TAU's superstar researchers, this trip was a rare opportunity to experience the start-up nation as few see it.

Though it had been years since her last visit, Phyllis Topchik, longtime AFTAU member and wife of late AFTAU Chairman Robert Topchik, said of coming on the "Discover TAU" trip with her daughter Meryl Topchik, "For me this has been an incredible journey back to my roots. I knew the people whose names are engraved on the buildings of Tel Aviv University — they were dear friends. It is heart-warming and truly inspiring to be back here."

"This is a golden opportunity to watch TAU in action," AFTAU President and CEO Gail Reiss told our disembarking group. Enthusiastic delegates enjoyed exclusive access to a rehearsal of TAU's student orchestra at the Israel Philharmonic Symphony Hall, an expert panel debating cybersecurity threats, former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Dore Gold's insights into the complex Israel–U.S.–Iran balancing act, the mysteries of King Solomon's mines at the Timna Valley dig, Israel's only tropical coral reef, a "Bat Cave" monitoring the social behavior of bats, Israel's first LEED Platinum building, Google's spectacular new Tel Aviv headquarters and a sunset helicopter ride across Israel's north.

"This has been an amazing bonding experience," said Alison Axelrod, who joined the delegation with her sister Marjorie Kaplan, both of New Jersey. "We lost our mother last month, and my sister has never been to Israel before, so the trip — which has been fascinating and fulfilling all around — has even greater personal meaning for us."

Amos Elad, Vice President for Resource Development at Tel Aviv University, welcomed the group on campus, saying, "It is so important that you are here today. AFTAU is TAU's most important supporting association, and Gail, Jon, and Richard are making AFTAU a true leader in the eyes of other TAU Friends organizations around the world."

At Google, surrounded by Israel's leading techies, we heard about contributions TAU grads had made to R&D. "One thing I will stress — students today, more than ever, are in a position to change, to make a real impact, and Tel Aviv University is one of the top places we look for candidates," said Prof. Yossi Matias, Director of Google's R&D Center in Tel Aviv and a VP at Google.

On campus, our group enjoyed in-depth meetings with some of the world's preeminent researchers and had the opportunity to connect with TAU students at a mock debate and lecture series by budding entrepreneurs. We made our way through the animal kingdom — the Zoological Gardens — straight into the future: the Porter School for Environmental Studies Building, the first self-contained and most environmentally friendly edifice in Israel. "We are paving the way to the future here," Porter Professional Director Prof. Arie Nesher said mischievously. "Our motto here is: Garbage is gold."

Travellers also delved into the heart of darkness with Prof. Dina Porat, Yad Vashem Chief Historian and Head of TAU's Kantor Center for Contemporary European Jewry, who said, "It can't be denied that we are experiencing a rise in the cruelty of violent attacks around the world."

"Having been to Berlin and now coming here to Israel, I have a newfound appreciation," said Janene Edlin of New Jersey. "What sticks is the irony of the Jews being able to leave Germany in the beginning — but of their having nowhere to go. Had other countries only allowed them in, we might not be at Yad Vashem today."

Relaxing on a yacht after a dusty day in the desert, the delegates dove into deep seas and swam among the fish in Eilat, exploring the ruins of Timna together with TAU archaeologist Dr. Erez Ben Yossef. "Timna was out of control," said Rich Edlin of New Jersey. "It was like landing on a Martian landscape but one with direct connections to important sections of the Bible. It was unreal."

From frequent travellers to first time visitors, "Discover TAU: Campus and Beyond" took us on a wild ride through Israel's past and present and, with the help of TAU's star researchers, straight into its future.

"It is clear to us all that TAU is fundamentally intertwined with the country — as guardians of its past, protectors of the present, and champions of its future," said Co-Chair Jon Gurkoff.

"It might have been my first trip to Israel," said Marjorie Kaplan of New Jersey. "But it certainly won't be my last. I have just gotten started."

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