April 18, 2024
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April 18, 2024
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The State of Tech in Israel, 2022

I was in Israel with my family for my youngest daughter’s bat mitzvah in 2016. Six short years later, technology in Israel has changed dramatically.

Backing up a bit, I was a seminary student in 1988, and using asimonim (a dedicated phone currency) was how you made phone calls. The wealthier students had phone cards. ATMs were negotiated by hand signals; food was paid in shekel, and delivery? Not really a thing.

At that time, using U.S.-based electronics was a risk since the 220-volt converters often didn’t work. Laptops and smartphones were still a long way away.

If you were bold enough to rent a car, you relied on the friendly (or not-so-friendly) Israeli as your GPS. Anywhere you went or asked, the reply was “Yashar!”— straight.

Fast forward to 2022.

I knew things had changed when I saw soda vending machines in the airport that took credit cards.

I have written in the past that my phone carrier is Google Fi. I partially got it for all my children and mother who, before Google Fi, used Sprint internationally, which never worked right and left us stranded. Now with Google Fi, with a quick restart of your smartphone, voila, Israel phone service! The rates can be tricky, though. So I took my son Mendy’s advice, as he is now a local living in Herzliya. I purchased an unlimited phone card from Golan (even though the last four digits spell out Garb)! I know phones can be rented, and SIM cards can be bought from various Judaica stores or rare phone stores. All of this can be purchased in the U.S. But this is a bit more complicated.

Most folks will not rent cars and instead will use the popular app called Gett. Uber is not available. Gett is a simple app to use from anywhere in Israel, at least where I was based, out of my favorite city, Netanya. I would recommend downloading all of these apps before you fly. In Israel you can order a driver with Orthodox beliefs so as to better navigate the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. Just ask for Mehadrin.

We did have a “guy” who was able to negotiate a fair rate smack dab in the middle of the Sukkot holiday. A welcome delight was seeing an automatic credit for Shabbat and yom tov. The car I drove was about as big as I was, with no “park” option. Instead, one needed to be in neutral with the parking brake pulled up. We were able to travel with a built-in gas-purchasing device around the gas door.

No longer is your friendly neighborhood Israeli needed for directions. Drivers now use Android Auto and Waze (formerly an Israeli company before being purchased by Google).

Much to my wife’s objections, I did rent a car. Be forewarned: Parking may be literally impossible. Segway into my next app called Pango Israel, where parking can be paid for through the app.

We in the U.S. are surely spoiled with our many delivery apps. In Israel, Uber Eats is not available but a few delivery services are quite good, and kosher food was easily available (though the wait is something you’ll need to adjust to). The two apps are Wolt and TenBis (Hebrew for “give bite”). Both apps are helpful even if you pick up and want to learn about some great restaurants to visit.

Every food vendor not only took credit cards but even supported tap and pay. I use TD Bank, which has lower exchange rates. However, there are still cafes and such that only allow shekel. I highly recommend getting the local currency.

My beautiful wife, who works for Nefesh B’Nefesh, is a traveling expert. (I tell her she should write a “Journey by Rachi” column). Her advice was invaluable.

A little-known fact about me is that I have a math learning disability that has plagued me since I was 7 years old. I have overcome this disadvantage by using many calculator apps and my son Mendy, again, who is a math whiz. There are many apps that do a real-time conversion from shekel to dollars and vice versa. I used USD x ils. Imagine having a math disability and having to divide by 3.5.

My wife and children are fluent in Hebrew. I am fluent in Spanish, English, Yiddish and French. I have difficulty speaking Hebrew, but when I tried the locals would reply, “English, please,” so they could learn English. Today, very often, Hebrew is your best bet, though in Netanya, I found French to be easier.

I am a couch potato, known to my mother and sisters as “Garb TV time.” Not something I am very proud of. We rented an apartment, and many visitors used Airbnb or Sweet Inn (currency is listed in shekel). I had everything: three bedrooms, near the beach, kosher dairy and meat kitchen, in Netanya, within walking distance to many synagogues (the new shul, aka McDonald’s, and Chabad, being the two I visited the most). However, to my surprise, there was no internet or TV. At first, I was upset about it, and wondered, “What will I do during Garb TV time?” This may have been a hidden blessing. I rarely missed it, and I was shown how to use my unlimited SIM card as a hotspot. Being the tech person I am, I used my Amazon Echo, which also showed me my front door Ring back home in Teaneck.

I am here now at 6 a.m., waking up to joggers, dog walkers, electric bikes and honking cars. Israeli school students look like most U.S. teens. I am waiting for my new cafe of choice, Cafe Nirtza, to open.

Israel’s technological advances have indeed upgraded the country; at least I think so. There must be some rule that Israelis can talk loudly using their smartphone headset anywhere, for free. One lady was eating geranim, having a video call with a friend eating … geranim, LOL.

All the technology in the world, though, doesn’t compare to the many amazing sites, places to visit and pray. At one synagogue known as Anglo, everyone had thick accents in English from wherever they hailed, but in Hebrew, everyone spoke the same.

To my great surprise and excitement, my youngest seminary student, whom we came to visit, showed me street hakofos called Hakafot Sheni. Music, dancing and celebrations were everywhere. All kinds of Jews celebrated together (no technology needed).

I had some business meetings with friends who had moved from the U.S. Some are pretty impressive. They gave up profitable businesses to live life in Israel. Many succeed; they do what they can to live their dream in Israel without question.

I want to mention one friend who showed me the ropes for business meetings in Israel. We had our meeting in a hummus-only restaurant, eating delicious pita, with hummus dripping everywhere, right in the middle of the street. I adjusted quickly.

This friend is Yaakov Ishay, who owns many businesses, including a delivery service that predates all the ones we see today, and another called KCupsforSale.com, and he continues to amaze me with his determination. Yaakov, thank you for showing me the technology in Israel—sabra style.

Shneur Garb is the founder of the Garb I.T. Consulting Group, which does Deep Drive Engineering projects and MSP services for Healthcare and ed tech services in the cloud.

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