May 26, 2024
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My Experience as an Indian Visiting Israel

“What preconceived ideas do you have about Israel?” This was the question posed to me by my colleague and friend Dr. Jonathan Lewin as we disembarked at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. As an Indian, I didn’t know much about Israel other than what we have all been shown by cable news networks over the years, when the events were controversial or sensational enough for them to cover it, usually a region in constant conflict. I like to travel to different parts of the world and explore different regions and cultures. Israel was beckoning. I travelled with my practice group of Jewish doctors to get a more authentic experience.

A trip to Israel is not complete without the El Al security experience. I was told they are a bit paranoid regarding their security. As everyone else on the flight from Newark I was taken aside for some questioning. The security agent was extremely courteous and polite. He saw my Overseas Citizen of India booklet with the US passport and uttered almost a friendly “aha.” The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, had recently visited Israel. Modi always admired Israel’s courage and spirit of innovation in the face of adversity. PM Netanyahu and PM Modi seemed to be BFFs. By the end of the question session I almost half expected the agent to invite me for dinner! I call it the Modi effect—the warmth for Indians in Israel.

Israel is a small country and has limited width but a long coastline. A Segway tour of Tel Aviv—Jaffo harbor with all its history, its azure-blue waters on a clear, warm, sunny day and a cool November breeze was simply beautiful. Modern buildings and gentrified neighborhoods rub shoulders with ancient and historic houses. Lovely restaurants, with excellent Israeli and continental food, dot the boardwalk. The population seemed to be younger, energetic, aspirational and mostly religiously liberal, quite unlike my preconceived thoughts of it being a more conservative country. From the airport to our hotel, David Intercontinental, and to our sumptuous waterfront dinner, people were warm and fun loving, and living normal lives no different from in any other major city in the world.

The evening harbor cruise experience was quite exhilarating as our captain had to navigate very rough waters to get us out of the port. The view of the Tel Aviv-Jaffo skyline at sunset was enchanting. One could see city lights almost all the way to the Gaza strip!

Israel is also a land of ancient history and hi-tech modernity. Their unique and innovative irrigation system for individual plants and trees on traffic islands and around sidewalks was quite remarkable. I have been to many different regions of the world but never come across such a painstaking effort to fight the dessert and create an oasis for 8 million people where there was none. The innovative spirit and hardworking nature comes through in hi-tech research and development. The R&D corridor at some distance outside Tel Aviv showcases to the world what a determined, intelligent and hardworking population can achieve in spite of limited resources and a relatively hostile geopolitical environment. Case in point is the innovative software called WAZE, which was designed and created in Israel. It is one of the most widely used GPS navigation apps, used by millions on the US eastern and western seaboard to get to their locations using real-time traffic updates and route alterations. Personally, I can’t imagine navigating NYC traffic without it.

Mazor Robotics is another first for Israel. Our visit to Mazor Robotics, headquartered in Caesarea, was a revelation. It is the first company in the world to devise and market a spine-surgery robot for complex spine surgery and advancement of minimally invasive spine surgery. There are over a hundred Mazor systems worldwide and close to 70 in the US. We had a special interest in visiting this company as we, The Center for Musculoskeletal Disorders in Englewood, and Brooklyn Premier Orthopedics in New York City, an orthopedic and spine-surgery group, are possibly the only independent private practice group in the entire US to own the Mazor robot. We experienced firsthand their dynamic thinking and innovative approach. We came away confident that we had made an excellent investment.

Israel is also ancient, with a very rich history. It has been home to three major faiths—Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It has also been an integral part of great empires of the past—the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires, as well as the British empire, until 1948. The scale and lavishness of the Roman ruins in Caesarea bears witness to its importance as a luxury beachfront township in the Roman Empire. The Walled City of Jerusalem was the crucible of three world religions and was considered to be the center of the world through the Middle Ages. The Temple Mount and the Wailing Wall, the Dome of the Rock and the Via Dolorosa and Golgotha rock, all in very close proximity, can’t help but make one offer a prayer—“O Lord if you love your disciples so much then please stop them from fighting in your name.”

The unfortunate divide-and-rule policy of the British in the region, as in the Indian subcontinent, brought only pain and misery to the people of the region. Communities that were coexisting for years turned against each other and the strife and bitterness continues to this day. It is sad to see 18- and 19-year-old boys and girls having to conscript in the IDF in order for Israel to protect its way of life, and as consequence learn an “us versus them” mindset. On the other hand, it is heartbreaking to see 7- and 8-year-old Palestinian children throwing pebbles at our van and mouthing expletives in Arabic when we visited Hebron (West Bank, Area B—Oslo accord) and the Cave of the Patriarchs, just because the van had an Israeli license plate. It is sad to see such a rich common religious and cultural heritage for three faiths become the source of deep resentment in the region.

Maybe a drive through the barren lunar-like landscape of southern Israel, flotation in the tranquility of the Dead Sea and a compulsory hot-mud spa treatment might help the powers that be on all sides of the divide detoxify their minds. Maybe they will then see the beauty of the whole region and uphold this region to the world as an example of peaceful coexistence that other strife-torn regions of the world can strive to emulate.

Having had a taste of Israel figuratively and literally (the chicken shwarmas at gas stations are out of this world!), I would definitely return with my family to experience once again this historic and modern nation, with its exceptional achievements, eager to welcome the world.

By Dr. Vagmin Vora


Dr. Vagmin Vora is a partner at the Center for Musculoskeletal Disorders in Englewood.

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