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Memories that will give us ‘cold comfort’ now we’re back in Canada

A sunrise over Makhtesh Ramon

I can still remember sitting on the couch with my then fiancée as we contemplated our future. We knew we were to be married that summer, but did not know exactly where we would live afterwards. My wife had just finished her Master's degree and I was in the process of wrapping up my doctorate in London, Canada.

The logical next step in my career was to perform research as a post-doctoral fellow. Although initial thoughts were to complete this next stage in Europe, the opportunity arose to perform research at the Turbulence Structure Laboratory in the School of Mechanical Engineering at Tel Aviv University.

From a Canadian perspective, without any familial or religious connection to Israel, it was not the most straightforward decision to make. When telling people we were thinking of moving to Israel, it was not uncommon for friends and family to be concerned about the perceived danger.

During my doctorate I was supervised by two professors. One was a professor from the University of Western Ontario in Canada and the other from the Ben Gurion University of the Negev. My Israeli supervisor was the one who presented me with the opportunity to work at Tel Aviv University and it was he who assured me that I would not regret the opportunity of living in Israel.

My wife and I arrived with many of our worldly possessions at Ben Gurion Airport on a direct flight from Toronto in November 2011. It was the first time that either of us had been to the Middle East and we were not sure what to expect. (My mother-in-law had actually worked for a year on a kibbutz in the late 70s; however, we assumed that much had changed since that time). 

The beach at Tel Aviv.

We arrived on a Thursday afternoon and slowly began to settle into our new life in Tel Aviv. Apparently we settled in a little bit too slowly as we had yet to really grasp how much everything shuts down on Shabbat. We managed to get by that first weekend with the limited groceries we picked up on Thursday and the kindness of my supervisors.

The next week, still suffering lingering effects of the jet lag, I met my colleagues on the sprawling Tel Aviv University campus. It was there that I first encountered one of the parts of the Israeli culture that I admire so much: the earnest respect for and the desire to advance science and technology.

During my stay in Tel Aviv I was the beneficiary of a program dedicated to fostering the academic culture in Israel as well as strengthening the ties between academic research in Canada and in Israel. In addition to supporting the graduate studies of Israeli students, the Azrieli Foundation supports Canadian post-doctoral fellows pursuing research opportunities at Israeli universities. Beneficiaries also have to do community service and I volunteered to write articles for ESRA Magazine.

As part of the program with the Azrieli Foundation, we were exposed to and connected with some of the brightest Israeli scientists and innovators. It soon became obvious why Israel is known as the "start-up nation". Everyone with whom I interacted showed a clear desire to push the boundaries of our knowledge and what we thought was possible.

Although I enjoyed fruitful research and professional development while in Israel, I did not spend all of my time confined to the laboratory. In contrast to Canada, Israel can be explored from end-to-end relatively easily, and we took full advantage of that. In addition to the common tourist destinations in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the Dead Sea, we were also fortunate enough to explore some of the more remote regions.

It was amazing to see the stark contrasts in landscapes over such a short driving distance - at least from this Canadian's perspective. From the lush mountainous North to the desert in the South, we enjoyed taking in these landscapes that were so foreign to us. We will always remember exploring Nimrod's fortress and eating the most delicious steaks at Tachana in Metulla. Likewise we will never forget catching the sunrise over Makhtesh Ramon or scuba diving in the Red Sea in Eilat. 

Zachary Taylor and his wife Lisa pictured in Jerusalem

Memories of our life in Tel Aviv will be with us always. One of our favorite features of life in Tel Aviv is the nearly year-round café culture of lounging along the shores of the Mediterranean and enjoying warm cappuccinos or a cold beer. The appreciation for food is evident from the cafés to the quality of the produce at the markets. In addition to all of the wonderful Middle Eastern foods, we were surprised and excited to fully explore the great burger scene in Tel Aviv.

Like many in Tel Aviv, we were within walking distance from anything we could need - including the beach. From going for long runs or walks down the shores of the Mediterranean to just relaxing on the beach in the evening or on a crowded Friday afternoon, we made full use of living near the sea.

All of these memories have ensured that Israel will always have a warm place in my heart. Having returned to Canada, there are often moments where I long for our life back in Tel Aviv. Perhaps it is because the cold dark winter is descending on us here, but I believe it is due to all of the wonderful people, culture and landscapes that we encountered while exploring, living and working in Israel. 

 

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Saturday, 29 January 2022

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