It was fall 1982, and I was glancing through the Chronicle of Higher Education when I happened upon an article about teaching shortages at Israeli universities. All able-bodied citizens must serve in the Israeli Defense Forces for at least two years. Following active duty they enter the reserves until age fifty-one and may be called up each year for a maximum of thirty-nine days. University faculty who have completed their regular tour of duty often meet this responsibility during summer months when regular school is not in session, and the story documented the problem Israeli universities had offering summer classes since many of their staff were serving in the armed forces. The shortages were especially acute in engineering, medicine, business, and computer science (emphasis mine).
Light bulbs popped! Trumpets blared! The article may have been published in a newspaper perused by thousands, but I felt like it was speaking directly to me. Most Chronicle readers would barely notice this tiny feature story buried at the bottom of page 23, and those that did would likely not appreciate its potential for generating an all-expenses paid working vacation. That is exactly what I meant about being tuned in to the hidden travel clues lurking all around. Working vacation invitations do not announce “WE WANT YOU” in 36-point type; instead, they are often couched within stories or casual discussions that require you to uncover and reveal their underlying opportunities.
I showed the article to my wife who was ready to dig out her passport and start packing immediately. Israel was particularly attractive as a destination because of our heritage–many Jews dream of going to Israel in the same way that Irish-Americans hope to walk the emerald green sod of Eire. Teaching in Israel would give my family an opportunity to spend months learning about the country and its people rather than simply whizzing past tourist attractions for a week or two.
I emailed my resume, references, and courses I was qualified to teach to the Chair of Computer Science at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I soon received the following terse but positive response:
You are hired and will be paid $X for teaching course Y as well as $Z in
travel reimbursement. If these terms are acceptable please report to the
Computer Science office on the Givat Ram campus of Hebrew Univ. in Jerusalem
on the morning of June 5, 1983. Thank you.
So much for “I’ll meet you at the airport,” “Let me help you find a place to live,” or even “I cannot wait to meet you.” However, unknown to us at the time, Israel turned out to be a perfect second working vacation. It allowed my wife and me to develop the confidence, independence, and “street smarts” needed to handle overseas travel on our own, without the crutch of helpful and willing hosts eager to smooth over whatever bumps might occur.
We immediately began preparations for our three-month working vacation Aliyah!