After meandering in Marrakech and easing in Essaouira, I craved the bustle of a city where it was possible to find work. All my planned projects were on hold, and remote networking for new clients can be tough for strategy work. Face-to-face meetings and relationships are hard to beat.
For weeks I searched the web for just the right destination, and I had quite a checklist. In addition to networking, I wanted a place that’s warm, sunny and on the water, where I could make some friends and go out on the town. And let’s not forget liberal; the constraints of two months in a Muslim country chafed my skin like a rope burn. I yearned for sleeveless shirts, bathing suits, and the sight of an empowered woman.
Enter Tel Aviv, Israel. It checked off on all the boxes and my gut said “go.” I booked my flight and touched down a few weeks later in the Startup Nation of the Middle East. I loved the city the moment I landed: youthful and carefree, shimmering under the golden sun, ubiquitous Lime scooters zipping across the same land trodden by Alexander the Great, Ottoman sultans and the Tribe of Dan. Tel Aviv feels like freedom, safe under the Iron Dome. A bubble within a bubble.
Ignoring the barrier
Tel Aviv is called the Startup Nation for a reason: with around 3,000 active startups at any given time, it’s in the global top 10 list not far behind Silicon Valley, New York and London. It would be misleading to say I jumped into this buzzing scene with both feet; it was more of a toe dip. I told myself this was a terrific business opportunity and that I’d have fun working in the start-up space. I loved the energy compared to staid corporate life… and yet.
You know in office buildings when the windows won’t open all the way? They do that to keep people from jumping, as if toiling your life away in cubicles under florescent lights would make anyone want to jump. We find protective barriers everywhere — along roads that hug cliff edges, around construction zones, and within us human beings — to keep us from doing stupid things.
Sometimes stupid is fun and liberating, and we should step over those barriers from time to time. But other times, stupid is beating your head against the wall trying to make something work that your soul really, really doesn’t want to do. When we persist in the name of shoulds and expectations, failure can be the best thing that happens to us; the tragedy would be to succeed at something that will eventually suffocate our passion for life.
The trick, of course, is knowing which is which. For a couple years now I’ve been trapped by the “fear” barrier blocking the way forward, and “those-are-not-my-paths” barriers on either side. Frozen, unable to move forward or successfully detour, was partly the motivation for this whole international adventure in the first place: my way of shaking things loose. Startup Nation was another attempt at a detour, and it didn’t work. In my heart of hearts, I knew it wasn’t my path. But it didn’t keep me from trying for a few months.
Enjoying the detour
While I unsuccessfully yet diligently tried to sustain my enthusiasm for anything business-related, I also zipped around on Lime scooters and learned some essential terms like todah (Hebrew for thank you) and the always-fun-to-say “Yalla, habibis!” (Arabic for let’s go, loves!). I made some fabulous friends, went paddle-boarding, and got back into a swim routine in the clear Mediterranean sea.
Finally by the end of June — when the sidewalks sizzled, the seawater lost its cool and the jellyfish ventured within the swim zones… when the only comfort was to nap in air-conditioned bliss, and my tourist visa ran out — it was time to go. I intend to return. There’s so much I haven’t yet seen of Israel, including the Dead Sea, and of course I’ll look forward to seeing my Israeli friends.
What to do
- Wander 3,000-year old Jaffa for a taste of antiquity.
- Head to the flea market, an extension of old Jaffa; it’s fun to poke around during the day, and there are some great little restaurants and live music in the evenings. My personal favorite was Onza.
- Do your food shopping in Carmel Market (the shuk).
- Go to the beach (obviously). They all have different vibes. Rent paddle boards by Gordon Beach, or play matkot (paddle ball) around Jerusalem beach.
- Eat and shop in the delightful Sarona Market.
- Walk up Dizengoff Road for boutique stores and coffee shops.
- Pack a picnic and hang out in the greenbelt on Rothschild.
- If your taste runs a bit more grunge and street art, don’t miss the Florentin neighborhood.
- If you’re into the bar scene, it’s all around Rothschild and Allenby.
If you are the adventurous type, simply download the Lime app (if you’re taller) or the Bird app (if you’re shorter.) It’s the easiest and cheapest way to get around. Alternatively download the Gett app, which is like Uber for taxis (sorry, no Uber in TLV.) I heard that it’s easy to navigate the bus if you download Moovit, which is the only way in English you’ll figure it out. I never tried.
Outside of TLV
I ventured to Jerusalem twice (separate write-up here) and took the train to explore the ancient coastal town of Acre. You’ve probably never heard of Acre (or Akko, as the locals call it) but it’s definitely worth a side trip. One of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, its prime location was appealing for many a conquerer — Persian, Byzantine, Islamic, Crusaders and Ottomans. The Crusader fortress is especially fascinating.