Experiencing Jerusalem

December 13. 2013
by Abby Rigney

It is barely three days into the trip - we are recovering from our jet lag and embracing every bit of the experience.  Highlights from our last two days of exploring the city and it's businesses:

1.  Hebrew University.  Hebrew University was founded in 1925, twenty-three years before the state of Israel.  (Interesting fact: Albert Einstein laid the cornerstone and bequeathed his name to the university.)  It is a world class university, consistently receiving high rankings internationally.  We heard from Dana Gavish Fridman, Director of Marketing, for Yissum, the university's technology transfer company.  She spoke of the strong innovation and technology culture which reminded me of UCSD (naturally).  From Yissum, the university has had many start up companies including two blockbuster drugs used around the world.  Perhaps my favorite part of the visit was our talk from Haim Rabinowitch, who has revolutionized the shelf life of the tomato plant.  He had an incredible sense of humor and ability to explain science to a less-than-savvy, humanities minded individual (like me).

2.  The businesses.  We have been to PowerMat, PICO (People, Ideas, Community, and Opportunity), and SIFTECH, and heard from some other companies that are part of the PICO ecosystem.  I was impressed by the leadership that all of the presenters displayed.  They were humble, but in their delivery and their words, you could hear the passion and pride for their companies and their teams.  As a self-proclaimed patriot, my favorite element of the culture here, especially noticeable in these presentations, is the nationalism for Israel.  Many of the speakers referred back to "the Start Up Nation" and take pride and ownership in being a part of building that ecosystem.  Interesting fact:  Israel has the highest number of start ups in the word per capita, and the second highest (after the US) overall, and the country is also home to the third highest number of companies trading on the NASDAQ stock exchange. 

3.  Old City Jerusalem.  For me, driving up to and walking through the Old City was like watching a story coming to life. While it was hard to see through the crowds back into history, I couldn't help but imagine so many Bible stories I have read over and over again happening in front of me.  Watching people pray at the Western Wall (what I have always heard called the "Wailing Wall") was an experience in an of itself, but walking through the old city along the Via Delarosa is when the past truly came alive.  I have always been fond of stories from the Bible.  There are stories of heroism, courage, defeat, love, treachery - anything one could hope for in a good tale.  So much of those stories happened where we are today, and what seemed like a fictional place as a child is here at my fingertips.  Touching the rock of Calvary, looking at Jesus' tomb, and walking through the ancient church was simply marvelous. 

4.  My run.  I am training for an upcoming race and afraid of losing valuable training time, I decided to go on a run in Jerusalem.  Unfortunately, my sense of direction gets ever-so-slightly skewed when I am in a big city.  A run intended to be a short thirty minute maintenance run turned into an hour long adventure.  As I realized how lost I was, I ran into a fellow runner and asked for directions.  He ran with me back to the hotel, and as we continued, he told me of his love for the city.  We talked about what an amazing place Jerusalem is and how it is treasured and honored by so many people and so many cultures.  As we ran by Muslims, Orthodox Jews, and so many others, I couldn't help but think the same thing; as I ran and took in the sights and sounds of the city, I finally understood why so many are willing to fight for such an amazing place.

5.  The food.  (How could I not mention the food!)  There is something for everyone.  Every meal we have had has been extraordinarily filling and incredibly delicious. 

With ten days left, there will be much more to come….

Abby Rigney is a student at UCSD's Rady School of Management in the FE14 cohort and a U.S. Navy reservist.  She is currently participating in the Israel-San Diego Immersion Program with the US-Israel Center on Innovation and Economic Sustainability.