By Shmuel Katz
As I traveled around the U.S. this past week (mostly the Midwest, with stops in Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, New York, and Connecticut), I was struck by how vastly different simple things are in each country. Simple things, like touring, require a lot more attention and planning in our new home as opposed to our old one.
Take hotels, for instance. Goldie and I used to enjoy packing the kids in the car for a week each summer and roaming in a general direction. Although we usually had hotel reservations, we often would venture off our intended path and end up staying at whatever hotel we stumbled upon (that had a good deal on their 1-800 reservations number) when we were ready to stop.
Hotels are plentiful along the roads and highways in the U.S. Once we moved to Israel, we noticed the dearth of hotels on the highways here and realized how different our society is set up. While they are not always prevalent in residential areas, you can almost always find a hotel on the road in the U.S., and more often than not you can get a good deal—even at the last minute.
In Israel, the best deals need to be booked in advance, usually through a travel agent. And hotels are mostly clumped in urban areas or near tourist attractions like the Dead Sea. You almost never simply stumble upon a hotel as you drive along the roads in Israel and you certainly can’t expect to just wander in without a prior reservation. Security would look you over very carefully.
Having just “Pricelined” all my hotel accommodations, I marvel at how well the site works and how beneficial it is for travelers who need to be in different cities and are budget-conscious. Unless people are traveling to Europe or some other international destination, our country is so small that there is almost zero domestic overnight travel for business. Hotel stays are for leisure trips.
I cannot remember ever seeing a hotel in Israel with any programs or special amenities geared for the business traveler, though it could simply be that I do not stay in nice enough hotels when I vacation in Israel. I am sure that the most expensive hotels serve business travelers, and often. But the mid-level hotels don’t seem to, and certainly not at the level and pricing that I see in the U.S.
Since most of my travel is outside NY and NJ, I find myself food-challenged as well. I forget how comfortably we live in Israel, with plenty of kosher food conveniently available almost everywhere. With all the flying and driving and presenting, I had to really plan each day’s meal stops in advance and frequently found myself picking up an extra sandwich for that night’s dinner when I got to my next city.
Thankfully, I had the chance to meet with a lot of graduating seniors (ten schools in six cities over a week) and really enjoyed talking about the yeshiva. And yes, you did see a crazy ad in last week’s (and this week’s) paper publicizing our raffle of a year’s free tuition at Migdal for some kid, somewhere.
No, we aren’t really crazy. We have noticed over the past couple of years that we often hear that a student is not considering coming to Israel because he does not want to burden his parents with the cost of the year. We made the raffle to attract the notice of that student (although any student can win).
We have scholarship programs; every yeshiva has them. And those students who do not win can certainly avail themselves of such programs. Yet, if they do not express interest or have a dialogue with us, there is no way for them to know that this assistance is available. So, we’re getting their attention.
Will we get attention from other kids? Sure! And that is a terrific benefit for us. But the main focus is always to try to make the “year in Israel” available to as many kids as possible. We are trying to think creatively to make it happen. And who knows? Maybe it will be your kid who wins the raffle.
Shmuel Katz is the executive director of Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah (www.migdalhatorah.org), a new gap-year yeshiva. Shmuel, his wife Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July of 2006. Before making aliyah, he was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Shmuel Katz