Israel is complicated and complex. Spending just six short days in the country would always mean there were places we did not visit, people we did not meet; people with stories to tell who perhaps desperately needed to be heard. We were only ever going to get a small snapshot of Israeli life. We would never get the full rounded picture; there would always be missing pieces to its complex jigsaw.
Yet the purpose of our trip was not political and I am not a political blogger. While issues of conflict and military service did not go unmentioned during our trip, I am not in a position to pass comment on a situation too complex for me to fully understand. Except to say I could feel the tension at times and it does seem hugely important to acknowledge that the relative wealth, opportunity and love of life evident in many parts of Israel we visited, will not be enjoyed by all.
Nevertheless, my perceptions of Israel have dramatically changed. It was not a country I had ever considered visiting; I would not have travelled there had it not been for the invitation from Kinetis. I had perceived Israel as unsafe, underdeveloped and with such a dominant military presence that it would make travel intimidating and visitors unwelcome. I certainly did not consider it a place I would ever want to take my family.
Yet Israel exceeded all expectations. The people we met were extremely warm and welcoming, my fears about a country swarming with guns were unfounded and the tight security at airports in both Heathrow and Tel Aviv actually felt reassuring rather than threatening.
Having imagined a war-torn country riddling with army checkpoints, Tel Aviv turned out to be anything but. It is, cosmopolitan, full of trendy bars, designer boutiques and, it has to be said, beautiful people. The desert was break-taking and Jerusalem moving, spiritual and steeped in history and archaeological treasures.
I will take a lot away from this trip. Not just an new-found love of food, an interest in relaxation following our visit to Shari Arison’s Essence of Life, and a renewed interest in geography and environmentalism following our visit to the Dead Sea, but also a determination to move forward in life, in a direction of my choosing, having been inspired by many of the incredible women we met during our time there.
Women like Hagit Neeman Gorny who used her experience as a mother of four to design and produce a range of high-end diaper bags; Zoe Lasri, a mother of two, who set up a website for kids’ activities that she runs from home; and Ruti Arazi who, after discovering a website that designed chocolate bouquets, went on to establish her own candy bouquet company Zer Matok.
Also Tamar Hadar and Efrat Adiv who created the A Be-See-Do children’s exhibition “Adventures in Hebrewland” after noticing that Israel lacked such a facility. It is home to an impressive range of interactive games and exhibits, some of which help children to learn sign language and also gain an understanding of the braille alphabet.
And our host Joanna Landau, the founder and executive director of Kinetis, whose family are the inspiration behind the Daniel Rowing Centre, set up in memory of Joanna’s late brother Daniel, which now offers world-class sporting facilities.
These are just a small selection of entrepreneurial women we met during our visit, all mums in business, with vision, ambition and the desire to give something back.
We saw the best Israel has to offer in a trip which turned out to be moving, emotional, exciting and an incredible adventure. I would return to Israel without hesitation, and I would take my whole family with me. I found it a warm and welcoming country with a positive vibe and a love of life: innovative, creative and inspiring.
I sincerely hope that these positive qualities, together with the strong sense of national pride that exists in Israel, will enable the country to move towards establishing peace in the lifetime of the children and families we met and those we did not.
A huge thank you goes to Kinetis who covered the cost of my trip, to Joanna and Adi and their fabulous team. Thanks also to my amazing travelling companions who were great company, who laughed with me, cried with me and were an absolutely pleasure to spend time with: Exmoor Jane, Sally Whittle, Blog de Madre and Accidental Mente. And also to Susie Newday who joined us on our incredible journey, baked us cookies and reminded us to apply sunscreen. Thanks to all of you, for everything, always.