Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict



Under The Lime Trees

My first ever Berlin visit took place last week. It was a very emotional trip for me: To the city where my father was born, less than two months after he had left us. I was supposed to plan the visit with him, take some relevant addresses, and share my experience with him during and after that visit. Instead I found myself spending a 4 day journey into skipping between past and present of a city that has many stories to tell and loads of scars to show. And still it was sort of a memorial trip.

My father was born and spent the first 4 years of his life in a part of Berlin later known as East Berlin. His family history is entangled with this city’s history, and his wounds are, too. His first ever visit to Berlin as an adult was paid for by the German government. After years of deep resentment and anger, he was able, well, not to forgive, but live with what had happened and narrow his anger to the individuals and circumstances, and not a nation or a country.

We were so lucky to meet Aviva Brueckner in Berlin on our visit. She has made it into a really special visit. I think I found a kindred spirit there. She is an amazing story teller in person as well as through her remarkable art. The whole strange mixture of the Berlin history, the promise it keeps and the horrors it experienced, came to life. Touched us and confused us in a way we couldn’t imagine.

Unter Den Linden
Being an Israeli all you can think of when you first visit Berlin is The Holocaust. But Berlin is a war stricken city for centuries, and the last holocaust it experienced was actually the dividing of the city into east and west, good and bad, us and them. The city and its residents are still licking these wounds. It didn’t exactly end on 1989.

Since Aviva grew up on the east, and was only 14 when the Berlin wall was taken down, it was the first time we could learn how things look, or looked, from the other side. How the east was happy to find freedom, yet unhappy to feel concurred. How teachers became confused. Or how it is to be young people growing up in the 21st century in Berlin, belonging to the German nation and living with movies like Indiana Jones, who portray German as the ultimate evil. But young Berliners aren’t just living with it, they love these movies, exactly like their peers over the ocean.

And all through this trip, I could feel my dad’s presence, or lack of, in and around me. Pointing me to childhood photos like this one, taken 1938 or so on Unter Den Linden, the main avenue crossing Berlin. Taken by a loving father he didn’t get to know.


Share a Little Happiness

A surprise trip to the US, to New York and San Francisco, has changed my plans for this summer. Between my daughter’s dream to go to the Roger Waters concert “The Wall”, her being invited to a Thiel Fellowship (20 Under 20) summit in San Francisco and my desire to meet more of my education related contacts worldwide, my husband has surprised me with a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card, in the form of a flight ticket to the US with my daughter.

This was a different travel for me, as I didn’t have too long to schedule meetings, and I found myself having a relaxed time between just a few meetings. I even had time to play tourist in California for 3 days, experience Couchsurfing for the first time ever at the house of Hillary and Marcus in Santa Cruz and drive to Monterey and Carmel.

Since I am developing a new startup now, that has a lot to do with knowledge and curiosity, every little thing plays a part in creating an inspiration. A friend has suggested I look at Couchsurfing when I had trouble finding accommodation for our stay in the West Coast. He did not know how wonderful a suggestion I found it. My favorite kind of tourism is People Tourism. The kind of tourism that allows you to meet local people, talk with them, spend time with them, and learn about their places through their eyes. You learn about the problems and challenges, as well as advantages and “secret best”… And it’s always a great opportunity to make new friends.

Sharing Ideas & Inspiration
Sharing Ideas & Inspiration

Couchsurfing is a term used for people moving about from one friend’s couch to the other. The company, however, started as a tourist service in 1999. Wikipedia tells that The Couchsurfing project was conceived by Casey Fenton in 1999. “According to Fenton’s account, the idea arose after finding an inexpensive flight from Boston to Iceland. Fenton randomly e-mailed 1,500 students from the University of Iceland asking if he could stay. He ultimately received more than 50 offers of accommodation. On the return flight to Boston, he began to develop the ideas that would underpin the Couchsurfing project.”

Obviously the immediate reaction I got from my closest loved ones was “they must be serial killers”. It made me wonder why would people perceive Couchsurfing hosts as more dangerous than, say, AIRBNB hosts? I think that the fact that people open their house to perfect strangers and on top of it do not ask for a financial compensation – that, apparently, is perceived as an act of a crazy person, there for leading to the perception there are social deviations on Couchsurfing.

Think again.

In a way, Couchsurfing isn’t that different from Wikipedia. People sharing knowledge – people sharing their roof. In fact, on so many of our daily surfing we share. We share our lives on Facebook. Our thoughts on Twitter. Our photos on Instagram. We share our travel plans and experiences and reviews. We share entertainment and games. We share shopping experiences. We share, reach out and touch strangers and, well, it feels good to extend the human touch.

Now back to work on my new venture. Sharing learning.

Travels With My Family – Part II

With A Camper In New England

It was a first attempt, and a pretty good experience. We decided to rent a camper for our long route through New England. This turned out to be a really smart decision. We had all the convenience of, well, a small mobile home really. The camper felt nicer, better equipped and safer then the Airbnb rental we had experienced in New York the week before. Comfy beds, kitchen and bathroom travelling with us everywhere… And the kids being able to switch seats, and not be pressed together most of the time was one of the best features.

We prepared a long route and based our timing on references made by other travelers before us. But we hadn’t taken into consideration how slow we are in getting organized in the mornings, or how many times the iGo GPS will lead us through the wrong route. We had extended our camper rental for a day, and we still didn’t get enough of the beautiful New England views, sites and towns.

The worst of this part was my 9 year old breaking his arm. We took him to the wonderful Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and he got his arm in cast. He was particularly disturbed by not being able to draw and not having the chance to see whales, since we had to continue south, towards the next site on our route. On the bright side, the cast is coming off next week and the whole thing has been marked as just one more experience.

I think perhaps one of the best days of this tour was our visit to Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth New Hampshire on the very day they had a harvest festival. We enjoyed the shepherd dogs demonstrations most of all and got very excited by the whole happy atmosphere.

Museums With Kids

It amazes me when people say that “New York is not for kids”. What do you mean? I ask, what about all the museums?

For some reason most teen-parents we spoke with think a family vacation is Disneyland oriented, totally dismissing museums and defining them as “boring for kids”. This was never the case with my kids. Not that they don’t like Disneyland. They did. Still, with all the excitement we had experienced in Paris 2 years ago, I am not sure where they got more excited – at Disneyland or in the Louvre. We almost got kicked out at closing time, the kids simply refused to leave.

Similarly we had this fantastic experience now in New York. Two visits to the Natural History Museum, one to the Metropolitan and one to the fantastic (wish we had time to go back) MOMA. Why would anyone think this could be boring is beyond me. Each museum is like an expedition of something new, surprising, exciting or beautiful.

My 13 year old son is an amateur photographer, with way too simple cameras, and he collected many of his impressions through the lens of our old mini Cannon. We really should get him a serious camera (recommendations welcome).

Travels With My Family – Part I

Repeating Experiences

When my daughter was 12 years old we took a vacation together in London. This was our first ever mother-daughter vacation, and it was great. It wasn’t only a 5 day vacation. It was the foundation of phase two relationships between mother and daughter.

We strengthened it two and a half years later, taking a 2 week vacation to spend time in New York, Washington and Boston.

This fall we decided to take a family vacation in the US. Packed the family – one husband, one 17 year old daughter, one 13 year old son and one 9 year old son and went for the longest vacation we ever dared to take: 23 days. Some of it was re-visiting places for me and my daughter.

Revisiting has its own charm. The exchange of meaningful looks between us girls, or the enthusiastic chase towards a familiar site we visited 3 years ago. But most of all, it is so important to know you can return. That good times, or good vacations, aren’t a “once in a lifetime” occurrence. It’s so good to know you can do it again.

We also had a chance to improve on another experience. This time I haven’t lost her on the subway. She took her travels freely and happily to meet us at the Metropolitan Museum one morning. That one was for me…

In the movies

I had full intention of sharing my travel log with my readers. But too many things prevented it from happening. To count only a couple – lack of internet connectivity throughout most of our vacation, and me getting really sick for a big chunk of it.

So I’m left with bits and pieces. My 13 year old, on a first glimpse of Manhattan, 6AM, from the taxi riding into town said “I feel like I’m in a movie”, which became this vacation’s slogan.

We had the privilege to celebrate Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year, twice – once at my brother’s apartment in Manhattan, and on the following night with their kind friends at their apartment not far from there. People tourism is the best type of tourism. The kind that fills you with real excitement or revelations. And having that privilege of being invited to join a festive meal with people we met for the first time was moving. Thanks Dara and Seth Kessler. More to follow.

Rosh HaShana Desert

People Tourism

One of my greatest pleasures in traveling is meeting people. I just got back from a family vacation in Scotland where I met several interesting people. Not just Scottish, by the way.

You can talk about anything with new people. Starting with the weather. Scottish people don’t really appreciate their weather, which I can understand after spending only 2 weeks there…

But I guess the most interesting meeting I had on this vacation was with a couple from South Africa. As if to complete the interesting conversation we held in a pub, during the final game of the Mondial, the movie I saw on the flight back to Israel was “Invictus”, the 2009 production by Clint Eastwood about Nelson Mandela’s first run as president of South Africa focusing in his relationship with the captain of the South African Springboks rugby team and the clever use of sports to unite the nation. Really great movie.

The South African couple we met love their country passionately. They have 3 daughters there and they are very proud of them all. Obviously, given my interest and their eldest daughter’s, the conversation soon turned to the topic of education. Shortage of budgets make education a difficult task there, as in many other countries around the world. I just keep wondering how is it possible that education falls behind so often, when in fact, it is the key to solving so many problems: in health, employment, personal safety and security and can save governments so many budgets in the future…

We also spoke of entrepreneurship, as their second daughter has recently established a business. They said unemployment rates are very high as many people in their country have no tendency to entrepreneurship or interest in work, and so poverty spreads. This is very sad and something I find hard to understand. From where I’ve been standing, especially for the last 3 years, it seems I am right at the junction of the solution to most global problems: education and entrepreneurship.

Surprisingly last night I came across a nice TED presentation, by Cameron Herold, that speaks about educating kids to entrepreneurship. Well, what do you know? My thoughts exactly!

Watch it here:

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