Keeping up with the pattern, this entry is being started on a plane flight – this one from Istanbul to Chicago.

My last entry ended in the departure lounge in Istanbul, and I’m back there again a week later having spent the intervening time in Israel. The Turkish Airways premium lounge is really comfortable, with great food and drinks, free WiFi and really helpful people.

We landed in Israel two hours late (the inbound aircraft from New York was late, so we left late). I was expecting a security grilling, but found the immigration and customs process going into Israel similar to most countries – going out was completely different, which I’ll talk about below.

The customer I was visiting has a regular taxi driver Miri – she was waiting patiently for me to arrive and shepherded me through the airport into her very comfortable Mercedes for the trip to Netanyia (check spelling), about 30 mins from the airport to my hotel – the Island Luxurious Suites Hotel,I checked into a very comfortable two-bedroom apartment on the 18th floor.

Miri told me that someone else (Kevin) from the customer was staying in the same hotel and suggested we should ride together in the office in the morning, which we did. Kevin is from the UK, and we ended up spending a lot of our leisure time together for the next week. It made a difference having someone to share the time with, and to help explore strange new eating places.

In the morning I discovered the view from my window out over the Mediterranean. A great way to start the day. The breakfasts at the Island are very nice. Kosher food so plenty of fish (salmon three ways), tuna salad, herring, a large variety of cheeses, lots of different sorts of olives, salads and fresh fruit. I made sure of a good start to each morning πŸ™‚

Sunday is a working day in Israel, so it was off to the office with Kevin to meet my participants and deliver the first day of the course. This course is very much about creating a culture and environment of collaboration, and presents a lot of ideas that are different to traditional management thinking. The team were healthily skeptical and questioning, challenging everything in a good way – no-one was dismissing what I had to say, but I was constantly challenged to provide substantive answers to why the ideas I was propounding work, and to give meaningful examples. This type of group is tiring to teach, but often provide the most rewarding experience for the instructor as they really make you think, and these people surely did!

All four training days exercised my mind and kept me thinking – thank you to the teams for such an enjoyable training experience.

Sunday evening Kevin & I found El Gaucho, a steak restaurant close by our hotel that makes a good meal, although it felt way overpriced for what we had. I made my first (but definitely not last) cross cultural faux-pas over the meal. The restaurant is Kosher which means no dairy products available since they serve meat; at the end of the meal we wanted coffee and I asked for a capachino to which the waiter patiently said only espresso was available. I did the tourist thing – repeat the request slower and louder (he’s foreign, so he must be deaf, and unable to understand English). The waiter then very politely pointed out in impeccable English that the restaurant is Kosher and I couldn’t get milk in my coffee. Oops! I knew that, just didn’t make the connection.

Tuesday was another good day in the office, I roped Kevin in to acting as guinea-pig and he & Guy generously played the customer roles in a real project the teams worked on in the afternoon. Doing real-world exercises can help cement the learning and it definitely seemed to work here.

Monday evening we ate at a restaurant in the hotel complex, looking out over the Mediterranean sunset. The only problem we faced is that neither of us speaks Hebrew, and their menu was only available in Hebrew. A very kind waitress patiently talked us through the dishes on the menu, we both ended up having grilled salmon with chips and a salad to share. Our friendly waitress’ interpretation of the drinks list resulted in the availability of “shandy” (I was looking for a wheat or light beer) which I misunderstood to be beer and sprite. Turns out Shandy is a brand of alco-pop – I got a very sweet cherry flavored syrupy drink, which I manfully drank most of, probably not the wisest move I’ve ever made. It’s really awful! (perhaps designed for the pallets of 18 year old girls). As if to make up for my faux-pas over the milk the previous evening, Kevin tried to order Prawns in a Kosher restaurant; our helpful waitress actually looked shocked πŸ™‚

Tuesday evening Marcio took us to Caesarea to view the remains of the 2000+ year old seaside town and enjoy a meal there. The ruins are being carefully excavated and are now a national park, some of the buildings have been restored and serve as restaurants, night clubs and stores – art galleries, souvenirs, jewelers etc. It was nice to see the practical use of a historic site – people are encouraged to come there and experience life, not just look at a pile of old stones. It’s a very popular meeting place and you can understand why Herod wanted his palace there so long ago. It struck me as we wandered the grounds how much has happened in this place, and in this region. This is where Salome danced for Herod and requested the head of John the Baptist. This is where Herod wrote the decree murdering hundreds of first born boys… I can’t help but be moved by the sense of history that pervades this and many of the other places in Israel. History HAPPENED in this land.

Dinner was in a fantastic restaurant right on the waterfront – we shared a variety of salads, bread and grilled eggplant to start and I had a delicious shrimp and scallop dish cooked in Ouzo as my main dish – makes my mouth water remembering it. We shared an excellent local wine (from the Golan Heights, where the gravel soils and climate are conducive to producing some great vintages).

One of the dishes we ate is a Sabra Salad; Sabra is the term the Israelis use for themselves and it comes from the nature of the fruit. The English name for this fruit is Prickly Pear. Marcio explained that the reason for using this term to describe the inhabitants is because a typical Israeli is tough and a bit prickly on the outside but filled with flavor inside, just like the fruit, and if you take the time to get past the surface prickles and tough skin you’re in for a pleasant surprise.

I certainly found this to be so, and didn’t struggle much with the tough skin part either. The people I dealt with were almost uniformly helpful and generous. The course participants took nothing at face value and would debate a topic with vigor in a positively challenging way, and when the point had been discussed we’d move on and examine the next one. I felt these people really wanted to learn and understand how what I was saying could be applied to their environment.

Wednesday was my last day in the office, and I was humbled to receive a round of applause at the end of the day from the participants, so I must have done something right in the course delivery.

Wednesday evening Shay, Guy, Kevin & I went out to dinner – the opposite extreme to the previous day in terms of location; we headed towards Tel Aviv and into one of the areas that make up Israel’s Silicon Valley; hi-tech companies and modern tall buildings. Guess what – Israel has traffic and parking problems too :-). We ate at an Italian restaurant, shared starters with roast vegetable salad, carpacio and chicken liver pate; my main was a nicely cooked sirloin steak. Again a delicious meal. Over dinner we discussed the practicalities of implementing the changes and how to help the teams get the maximum benefit from their new knowledge.

I made some new friends in Israel and had a great time!

My next post will be all about my trip to Jerusalem and leaving Israel

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