Three Perfect Days: Tel Aviv
Story by Justin Goldman | Photography by Yadid Levy | Hemispheres June 2019
Tel Aviv means “hill of spring" in Hebrew, and perhaps no city in the world has a name that fits better. Western religion was conceived just a few miles away from here, thousands of years ago, but neither that fact nor the associated, ongoing complications have stopped this 110-year-old town from showing the blooming, hopeful, renewed energy of springtime. It's the super-cosmopolitan home of cutting-edge museums, world-renowned dance companies, and celebrity chefs. The only thing more beautiful than the beaches is the population that flocks to them and then later fills the bouncing bars and clubs. The tech industry is booming so fast the country has been nicknamed Start-Up Nation. If you think all that sounds like a mash-up of Brooklyn, Miami, and San Francisco, you're right. Many visitors come to Israel to learn about the past, but in Tel Aviv, all eyes look to the future.
Day 1: Rooftop views and rock 'n' roll grooves
City views at Blue Sky
The Statue of Meir Dizengoff and his horse on Rothschild Boulevard
I start my first visit to Tel Aviv the way everyone should: with a view of the Mediterranean Sea. I'm sitting on the deck at Manta Ray, a restaurant perched on the tiled promenade above Alma Beach, looking at the water and thinking about my family's short, fraught history with Israel. My grandparents moved here in the late 1940s, along with many other Jewish refugees in the aftermath of World War II. It may have been the homeland, but it was also hot and dusty and underdeveloped, and my grandmother, whose pre-war life had been a bit more refined, hated it. They lasted less than a year and soon settled in America (in that most refined borough of New York City, the Bronx).
As of today, I'm the first member of my family to return to the homeland. It's not particularly my homeland—I wasn't raised religious, and I try to steer clear of the politics—but I've always wondered how I would feel here. For starters: hungry. On my table is a scattering of mezes (roasted peppers with feta, mullet ceviche) and a tower of bagels, smoked salmon, pickled onions, and heirloom tomatoes. I work my way through it all, thinking, Pace yourself, Justin, while I take in the scenery. To my left rises Jaffa, the ancient clifftop port city from which Tel Aviv sprouted; to my right stretches a ribbon of sand below the skyscrapers of the modern metropolis; in front of me, waves lap upon the shore.
After breakfast, I set out into the city, passing through the narrow streets of Neve Tzedek, the first neighborhood Jews settled outside of Jaffa, in the late 19th century. These cobblestoned alleys went into decline for a time, but over the last few years glassy condos have joined the squat Mediterranean houses, making this 'hood the home of the city's most expensive real estate (“the bougie-est of the bougie," a young local tells me with an eye roll).
Chef Eyal Shani at North Abraxas
On the far side of Neve Tzedek, I hit Rothschild Boulevard, the pedestrian greenway that arcs through the heart of the city. The tree-lined path bursts with dog walkers, cyclists, moms and dads pushing strollers, teenagers lined up at gelato kiosks. As I stroll the long boulevard, I soak up the sun—and also the history. Israel celebrated the 70th anniversary of its statehood last year, commemorating the occasion with an itinerary of sites called the Independence Trail, including the Tel Aviv Founders Monument; a statue of Meir Dizengoff, the city's first mayor, atop a horse (he used to ride from his house to City Hall every morning); and Independence Hall, where David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948.
OK, enough history—I'm ready to eat. Just a block south of Rothschild Boulevard, I snag a barstool at North Abraxas, a sunny spot created by celebrity chef Eyal Shani and film director Shahar Segal. The bartender brings me a hunk of fresh sourdough, with a dip of rich crème fraîche and chopped tomato and spicy green pepper. The guy seated next to me nudges a bowl of tahini in my direction. “I can literally drink it," he says. Next comes a head of baby cauliflower roasted to the point of melting and a skillet of chraime (tomato-fish stew) adorned with another slice of that bread. I have failed to pace myself.
A lifeguard tower on Frishman Beach
I need to lie down after all those carbs. To the beach! A short cab ride (pro tip: download the ridesharing app Gett) takes me to my hotel, the Carlton Tel Aviv, a fortress of luxury looming over the promenade and the sea. The front desk loans me a towel, which I take down to Gordon Beach, where every manner of ball you can think of is being bumped or tossed or kicked or paddled around by impressively tanned people. I skip over a stack of paddleboards to dip my toes in the Mediterranean, but the water's a bit chilly, so I retreat and stake out a patch of sand, where I close my eyes and bask in the rays.
As the sun begins to fade, I retire to my balcony at the Carlton, from which I watch the sky and sea turn pink. Once the colors have faded to black, I ascend to the 15th-floor rooftop and celebrity chef Meir Adoni's Blue Sky, which specializes in seafood and incredible 360-degree views. I order a grouper fillet with bouillabaisse butter, potato cream, shoksha pepper, roasted fennel, and chickpeas. “Our chef is known for mixing flavors," the server says as she pours me a cabernet from the Israeli winery Flam, “so try to get everything in each bite." I take care to heed her advice while eating the Citrus Aromas in Kyoto, a dessert of roasted rice ice cream, white foam, matcha crumble, and citrus compote that transports me, for a moment, from the Middle to the Far East.“On the beach, every manner of ball you can think of is being bumped or tossed or kicked by impressively tanned people"
Tel Avivians are famous for partying hard, and where better to work off a few calories than at the club? I hail a cab to Beit Romano, in Florentin, a recently behipstered neighborhood on the city's south side. At first, I think the driver has brought me to the wrong place—it looks a little dodgy, with a graffitied industrial door surrounded by scruffy kids—but inside I see two stories of restaurants and bars, a radio station, and a bandstand. Soon, the smoky courtyard is full of 20-somethings bobbing their heads to the Santana-esque, afro-psychedelic band Tigris. I get my groove on, losing track of time until the musicians take their curtain call. Time for me to do the same.
One perfect day in JerusalemJerusalem is about an hour from Tel Aviv by bus (and only 20 minutes from Ben Gurion Airport thanks to a high-speed train that debuted last year). Here, a cheat sheet for a day in the Holy City—a must for any visitor to Israel.
Start with a breakfast of meze dips and muesli at the Villa Brown Jerusalem, a 24-room boutique hotel that opened two years ago in a refurbished 19th-century mansion in the centrally located Russian Compound district.
A 10-minute walk from the Villa Brown takes you to the Jaffa Gate and the ancient walls of the Old City. Hire a guide (try Hemispheres favorite Tours By Locals) to help you navigate the crowds and give context for all the sacred sites—the Temple Mount, the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the City of David, the Via Dolorosa—and then stop by one of the many Palestinian merchant stalls to buy one of the beautiful rugs.
For lunch, walk back through the city center to the Machane Yehuda Market. Snag a seat at Azura for Turkish-influenced takes on homestyle dishes like kibbeh and shakshuka.
Next, take the light rail to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, home to an exhaustively comprehensive history museum (featuring many video testimonials from survivors), as well as a National Mall–style campus dotted with public art pieces. The tragic history commemorated here is critical to understanding the modern Israeli state.
You'll need a drink after that, so head over to the Mamilla Hotel, just steps from the Old City. Taste a few local vintages at the Winery bar, which sources its roughly 120 labels exclusively from Israeli wineries, and then go up to the Rooftop restaurant for astonishing views and tasty dishes such as grouper shawarma and roasted goose breast.
For a nightcap, stop in at Gatsby, where the hostess will slide open a bookcase to reveal a Roaring '20s–style speakeasy, complete with faux-tin ceiling, bartenders in leather aprons, and a Sinatra soundtrack.
An alley in Old Jaffa
Day 2: Eat, pray, dance
Bread displays at Abouelafia
A shop at the Jaffa Flea Market
Hotel breakfasts are a big thing here, and the one at the Carlton is particularly lavish, but I skip it, because the whole city is about to become my buffet. A cab takes me along the waterfront to Jaffa, the historically Arab area that's now one of the hottest parts of Tel Aviv, where I meet Lainie Schwartz, a tour guide with Delicious Israel.
Schwartz, a bubbly 27-year-old originally from Winnipeg, starts me out at Abu Hassan, a hole-in-the-wall that's renowned for its hummus, which is eaten as a breakfast food in Israel—hot, fresh, and with a peculiar vocabulary: “We say in Hebrew that we wipe hummus," Schwartz says. “We don't say, “Do you want to go eat hummus with me?' We really say, 'Do you want to go wipe hummus?'" Following her lead, I wipe up all the impossibly creamy stuff, first using warm pita and then segments of raw onion (don't knock it till you try it).
Hummus dispatched, we stroll past The Smiling Whale, a bronze statue that commemorates Jonah's biblical joyride (which supposedly occurred just off the coast here), and through the sandstone-walled corridors of Old Jaffa. We pause at Suspended Orange Tree, a small tree growing from a hanging jug that honors Jaffa's historic orange groves, and then at the 3,000-year-old Ramses II gate (named for the Egyptian pharaoh).
Down the other side of the hill, past the Jaffa Flea Market, I try an astonishing za'atar flatbread at the neighborhood institution Abouelafia. Then, crossing into Neve Tzedek, we stop at the Dallal Bakery to try a chocolate babka—and to meet Inbal Baum, who was born in D.C. to Israeli parents, moved here 10 years ago, and founded Delicious Israel in 2011.
The Chapel bar
“My big initial goal was advocacy, trying to get journalists to write about Israel in a way that wasn't about politics," Baum tells me. “That has changed in a big way. We now have almost no problem inviting journalists, and a lot of that is because of the way Israelis eat."
I don't think I can eat any more, but then Baum suggests we get a falafel at the Carmel Market, a bustling shuk in the otherwise sleepy Yemenite Quarter. I love falafel—I eat it three times a week in New York—and this being my first trip to the Middle East, I can't say no. At the stand, Baum asks the cook, who's rapidly forming the chickpea dough into perfect spheres and tossing them into the fryer, if we can have just the falafel, but he insists we taste it properly, in pita with tahini (at least he cuts the pita into quarters). My first bite sends me reeling. Literally, I almost fall down. “I wish I had recorded that," Baum says, laughing and handing me a craft pale ale from the Beer Bazaar stand next door to bring me back to earth.
I thank Baum and Schwartz for all the deliciousness and then walk (I wish I had Dizengoff's horse) back to Old Jaffa. It takes some looking, but at the top of the hill I find Yoko Kitahara House of Treatments & Gallery, a spa hidden behind a small iron gate marked with scarcely more than a business card. I ring the bell and enter a sparse space inside a pair of 500-year-old, arch-ceilinged Ottoman homes. My appointment begins with a traditional ashiyu (Japanese footbath) and continues with a hogushi aromatherapy massage. Afterward, I have a cup of tea while seated on a tatami mat, looking out a window at the sea and chatting with the spa's eponymous owner, who says she moved to Tel Aviv “for love."
Suspended Orange Tree, in Old Jaffa
“I wanted to do a nice place in Jaffa," Kitahara says, “but I didn't want to create a Japanese 'shrine.' We want it to be a surprise, a hidden place with some Israeli culture and Japanese culture—to make harmony."
I tend to prefer cacophony to harmony, so next I peruse the flea market, which is surrounded by bustling bars and trendy boutiques. I stop at the gallery 8 in Jaffa to gawk at grotesque ceramic sculptures by Alma Moriah-Winik, and at The Cuckoo's Nest, an antiques shop/gallery/bar, to take in a heart sculpture composed of paint brushes. Just across Jerusalem Boulevard, I reach my new digs, The Drisco Hotel, a landmark boutique hidden down a narrow street at the crossroads of Jaffa, Neve Tzedek, and Florentin. Nap time!
“My first bite of falafel send me reeling. Literally, I almost fall down."
Mushrooms and tapioca at Opa
The sun has set by the time I'm done snoozing, and I'm (miraculously) ready for dinner. It seems as though every wall and garage door in Florentin bursts with graffiti, which makes the unadorned white decor at Opa, around the corner from the Levinsky Market, even more sleek and refreshing. That description also applies to the entirely vegetarian menu: sliced pears with chervil and green garlic; a prime rib–like cut of red cabbage with grapefruit foam and white balsamic dressing; a circular presentation of mushrooms and crispy tapioca that I'm not sure if I should eat or wear on my head like a crown. Who needs protein?
I finish my meal just in time to make the curtain at the Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theatre, a performing arts hub that sparked the renaissance of Neve Tzedek and is home to the famed Batsheva Dance Company. On stage tonight is The Hill, in which a trio led by choreographer Roy Assaf enacts a visceral portrayal of the experiences of veterans—a particularly relevant topic in a country that has compulsory military service and has been through numerous conflicts with its neighbors. The depiction of PTSD, in which one of the dancers repeatedly hits himself in the head while one of the others tries to restrain him, is breathtaking.
Spices at the Carmel Market
After the show I stop by the center's chic new restaurant, Cordero, to have a glass of Burgundy with Claudio Kogon, the deputy director of the center. “We are only 8 million people, but the amount of culture per capita is huge," says Kogon, who was born in Buenos Aires but moved to Israel 32 years ago, at the age of 22, to live on a kibbutz. “Tel Aviv is very vibrant. In every corner, something is going on. And in dance, we are a superpower."
Next, I seek out another corner where something is definitely going on. The Chapel, at The Jaffa hotel, is the most beautiful bar I've ever seen—and the most appropriately named, as it's inside a 140-year-old hall of worship with 40-foot-high arched ceilings. I order a smoked, shaken mezcal Negroni and lean back in my seat to fully take in that soaring ceiling. The soundtrack in here may be techno, but somehow all I can hear is Leonard Cohen's “Hallelujah."
Day 3: Bauhaus Beach Babylon
An art installation on the Bauhaus exterior of the Center Chic Hotel
Bauhaus Center Tel Aviv guide Alisa Veksler
I'm standing in the city center, a block east of Dizengoff Street, amid a group of tourists staring up at a curvilinear house. Tel Aviv is home to about 4,000 International Style buildings, designed in large part by architects who fled the Nazis in the 1930s—a period when the population here, not coincidentally, boomed—and it's now a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the White City. As we look at one of these houses, Alisa Veksler, a tour guide from the Bauhaus Center Tel Aviv, explains to us the particularities of the Tel Avivian style, which occasionally strays from the Bauhaus ethos that function must dictate form.
“A round facade gives it the association of a ship," Veksler says of the house in front of us. “This was a desert, and when these immigrants came from Eastern and Central Europe in the '30s and built their houses, they put a ship in the middle of the desert."
The artsy interior of Kuli Alma
We continue on for a few blocks, with Veksler explaining the reasons for various architectural details—slit balconies to offer relief from heat, roof gardens to encourage social interaction—finishing at the recently restored Dizengoff Square.
“In 1934, they did a competition for the design of this area," she tells us, “and the winner was a young woman named Genia Averbuch. She was only 25—wow!—and she designed a big circle with a garden and a fountain in the middle, surrounded by Bauhaus buildings with the same unified facade. It instantly became the coolest spot in Tel Aviv. This is a huge milestone in the culture of Tel Aviv. Once Dizengoff Circle was built, we were not immigrants from different countries anymore—we were suddenly people of our own city."
The group gives Veksler a round of applause, and after picking up a White City tote bag at the center, I walk a couple of blocks east to Hakosem, a falafel joint that takes its name from the Hebrew word for magician. It's just after noon, and a long line stretches across the patio and out to the sidewalk. I'm line-averse, but y'all know how I feel about falafel, and soon a tattooed Israeli line cook—“I have eight!" he proudly says when he sees the ink on my arms—is stuffing a pita with falafel, hummus, chili sauce, sauerkraut, pickles, and eggplant. When I take a bite, I have to admit, it really is magic. Also: My life is ruined. I'm never going to be able to eat falafel in New York again.“When immigrants came from Europe and built their houses, they put a ship in the desert."
After breaking free of Hakosem's spell, I move on to take in another architectural marvel, the nearby Tel Aviv Museum of Art, which has a geometric exterior that looks a bit like a broken Rubik's Cube. Inside, a series of ramps carry me from gallery to gallery. The holdings in the Impressionist and post-Impressionist collection read like an art history syllabus—Picasso, Cézanne, Gauguin, van Gogh, Chagall—but I'm drawn to contemporary works such as Following You, Following Me No. 1, a breathy, haunting video piece by 37-year-old Israeli artist Yasmin Davis.
As I wander west, back toward the beach, I happen across Rabin Square, where Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli ultranationalist in 1995, a year after winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the Oslo Accords. As I watch a few kids chasing pigeons around a fountain and a Holocaust memorial, I find myself reflecting on how inextricable this nation's psyche is from existential threats past and present.
Anyway, I need to lighten things up a little bit—both emotionally and physically, given how much I've been eating this week. So, after moving my bags to the Miami-esque Brown Beach House hotel, I slap on my sneakers and hit the promenade, running north to three side-by-side beaches that illustrate the surprising diversity of Tel Aviv: one that flies rainbow flags to welcome gay beachgoers, one that's walled off for Orthodox Jewish swimmers, and one that's populated by dog owners. Few things will brighten your mood like watching a sandy dog take a shower on the beach.
The Tel Aviv Museum of Art
Running a 10K does wonders for the appetite, so after cleaning up—no, not at the dog showers—I head to Mashya, one of the city's hottest restaurants. The space, on the first floor of the Mendeli Street Hotel, features a bright green living wall and an intricately patterned black-and-white ceiling. The food is just as attractive: I order a fresh fish crudo with labneh and mint; an arugula salad with medjool dates, pineapple, and avocado; and a six-hour-braised oxtail terrine. Something about the whole experience feels celebratory, so I top things off with Israel's finest bubbly, the Yarden Blanc de Blancs.
For a nightcap, I walk to the nearby Imperial Craft Cocktail Bar, which has appeared on the World's 50 Best Bars list and slings complex drinks inspired by the city. As a hoopshead, I'm compelled to order a Red by Heart, a mix of amaro, banana syrup, and lime juice that's dedicated to the outdoor court the city's popular Hapoel Tel Aviv basketball team once called home. It's smoky, bitter, and delicious. Nothing but net!
Old Jaffa, seen from Alma Beach
As I leave the bar, I look at the Brown Beach House, right across the street. I have a 12-hour flight tomorrow … but I can't quite put myself, or this city, to bed. So I hop in a cab to Florentin, where I descend a stairwell decorated with a comic-book style mural and a giant red neon heart into Kuli Alma. I wander through the labyrinthine space, sipping a Goldstar beer and taking in the murals and prints and paintings that decorate every surface as dancers twist to thumping music. This place just feels right somehow, and I can't help but wonder what my grandmother would say about today's Tel Aviv. Something tells me that if she had experienced three days like these back in the '40s, I would have been born an Israeli.
A dog takes a shower on the beach
Where to Stay
Carlton Tel AvivThis Brutalist building overlooking the marina was designed by Israel Prize–winning architect Yaakov Rechter and opened in 1981. A recent $12 million renovation included an update to 268 guest rooms and suites, the addition of a rooftop pool, and redesigns of Meir Adoni's two on-site restaurants. Don't miss breakfast on the beachfront deck. From $370, carlton.co.il
Brown Beach HouseIn a city that gives off plenty of Miami vibes, few hotels feel more South Beach—note the three live palm trees and the neon flamingo in the terrace lounge—than this 40-room boutique one short block from Jerusalem Beach. Pedal out to the promenade or into the city center on one of the free bikes available to guests. From $250, brownhotels.com
The Drisco HotelThis 42-room-and-suite boutique property opened last year in a 150-year-old building that once housed the city's first luxury hotel. The Drisco is walking distance from the restaurant-studded neighborhoods of Jaffa, Florentin, and Neve Tzedek, but don't miss the hotel's recently reimagined Mediterranean eatery, George & John. From $360, thedrisco.com
To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month — recognized nationwide from September 15 to October 15 — we're highlighting the extraordinary impact of Hispanic Americans on our nation, starting close to home with our more than 13,000 Hispanic colleagues at United.
As part of our festivities, we're showcasing the stories of a few of our Hispanic employees, who were nominated by their colleagues as rock stars. In addition to their personal or professional achievements, these employees were selected because of the significant contributions they've made to United by going above and beyond to help our customers, their fellow colleagues, and the communities we serve, thrive. Whether donating their time volunteering for a worthy cause, leveraging their unique perspective to address a critical business challenge or helping foster an inclusive culture, they make United a better place to work. Let's get to know them better here.
Captain Gabriel (Gabe) Vaisman, based in Houston, has been part of the United family for over 34 years. As a native of Argentina who immigrated to the U.S. with his family at a young age, Gabe faced multiple challenges during his school years, including financial struggles and learning a new language. However, with discipline and determination, and even working two jobs in high school, he was able to obtain his commercial pilot's license and multi-engine rating at the age of 18. He quickly moved up the ladder and landed his first job at United in 1985, where he continued to move up and became a captain for our Boeing 737 fleet 22 years ago. When he is not busy flying customer to their destinations, you can find Gabe visiting children hospitals as part of his volunteering efforts with the Pilots For Kids organization in Houston. For the past 14 months, he has also served on the board of Lone Star College, acting as an advisor for their professional pilot degree program and inspiring a new generation of pilots.
Gabe pictured at a lecture at Lone Star College (LSC), with LSC students, and at one of our recent events for Girls in Aviation Day.
"All the volunteer work I do has helped change one life at a time, and I hope that my career story inspires anyone who feels hopeless with no way out of their current situation. The message I always try to leave with young people is that no matter what career you choose, you will have to sacrifice time and maybe give up a few good times with your friends to accomplish what you are pursuing."
Vania Montero Wit
The daughter of Bolivian immigrants, Vania earned her law degree from Harvard University and joined United's legal department 20 years ago. Throughout the years, Vania Montero Wit has advanced to become one of the key leaders of United's legal department as vice president and deputy general counsel. As one of the highest-ranking Latinas at United, Vania represents a crack in the glass ceiling for Hispanic women in corporate America. Despite the heavy demands of her job, Vania is very generous with her time, serving as executive sponsor for uIMPACT, a business resource group supporting women at United, and has given career advice to employees as a panelist for UNITE, United Airlines multi-cultural business resource group. She has made a positive impact in the community as Chair of the legal department's Pro Bono and Community Service Committee, where she even took on and won an asylum case. Vania's compassion for others and continued support of the company's diversity-and-inclusion initiatives make her a role model for both Hispanics and non-Hispanics alike.
Vania (center) speaking at a leadership event at United.
" As a working Latina woman, I strive to be a role model for any and all who are working in a corporate environment and struggling to find their voice or simply looking to make connections and expand their network. My long tenure at United has afforded me a range of experiences and teaching moments all of which I am happy to share with others."
Katherine Gil Mejia
Katherine Gil Mejia is a human resources representative for United Ground Services in at New York/Newark. A native of the Dominican Republic who moved to the U.S. only 8 years ago, she joined United shortly after at the young age of 19. With her work ethic and drive, she quickly became a go-to-person for many departments offering assistance or guidance when needed. Katherine never hesitates to step in and translate for customers or colleagues that are struggling with a language barrier, and she does so while providing amazing customer service. Katherine's knowledge of United — as well as her caring and friendly personality — have earned her the trust and respect of her colleagues. Katherine also has a passion for helping others, giving back, and making a difference in the community. She always offers to volunteer during United Airlines Fantasy Flights, and when she can, she also takes the time to bring Ben Flying bears to kids at hospitals.
Katherine in Newark.
"I know the language barrier for some employees can play a role in potential miscommunication. I often put myself in their shoes and try to relate. My upbringing in Dominican Republic taught me to work and trust my neighbors, community and family. It was natural to bring that trust mentality into work with my colleagues and employees. I believe that is what makes me successful in HR."
Antonio (Tony) Valentin has been working as a ramp service employee at Chicago O'Hare for three years. He's earned the respect of his colleagues by going above and beyond and always stepping in to help both colleagues and customers alike. It's not rare to find him around the terminal translating for Spanish-speaking customers and helping them find their ways to their gates. Tony's caring personality shines beyond the airport in all the volunteering work he does in the local community, especially in the Chicago Humboldt Park area, and in the work he has done as lieutenant commander in the U.S. Coast Guard, including his deployment to Puerto Rico where he assisted with relief effort after Hurricane Maria.
Antonio at Chicago O'Hare.
"I've always had a passion for helping people and I truly believe that being a good person is equal to being successful. As a prior educator, I am always encouraging members of RSE (ramp service employees) to return to school and to live their lives as lifelong learners."
Sylvia Gomez is the daughter of Mexican immigrant parents that moved to the U.S. in 1960. At the age of 5, her family moved back to Mexico so they could build strong connections with their heritage and culture. They eventually returned to the U.S. in pursuit of a better education, as her father believed that education was the key to success. The move back to the U.S. was not easy, but it gave Sylvia the opportunity to understand two different cultures, which has been instrumental in her career. She recently celebrated 30 years at United, where she currently serves as managing director of IT Infrastructure Program Management. Sylvia has been making a mark in the company with her efforts to pass forward her experience and knowledge, and she spends a great amount of her time mentoring United employees. She is currently mentoring five young women, and she also makes sure to stay in touch with previous mentees to make sure they are still on a path toward success. She is also an active participant on the planning committee for a Women in Technology group and volunteers with Junior Achievement USA, mostly working with inner-city high school students.
Sylvia (center) pictured with Digital Products managing director, Francisco Trejo and Security Technology managing director, Diego Souza at the HITEC San Jose Summit.
"Always look for people that have been there and learn from them. And, always look to see who you can help. Never underestimate the power of having people around you. Have the confidence to take risks and celebrate your successes."
Carlos Palacio, a lead customer service representative in Houston, has been part of the United family for 20 years. When speaking to Carlos, you can clearly see how passionate he is about his job and about United, and embracing his Cuban heritage has been instrumental in delivering excellent customer service at the airport. He even takes extra time with Hispanic customers that cannot speak English, making sure they have all their travel documents and that they have all they need for their journeys. On his spare time, the new father often travels to Latin American countries like Colombia and Cuba to visit children's hospitals and to donate schools supplies for children in need. Seeing the smiles of the little kids he helps keeps Carlos motivated and pushes him to continue his efforts to help others.
Carlos pictured in the cockpit of a United aircraft (left) as well as donating school supplies to children (right).
"I want young people to know that this is a great country … to go to school and make a career and pay attention to mom and dad who want the best for them, and one more thing, never forget we are all human. My culture is very fundamental in my job. I help people every day who need help in Spanish. Speaking Spanish at work helps many of our customers."
Roberto Hernandez was born and raised in Puerto Rico. His passion for travel and customer service ultimately led him to the airline industry four years ago, when he joined United as a flight attendant. Roberto worked as a purser for a while, displaying excellent leadership skills and customer service. He now works as a base supervisor at New York/Newark and is also the local chapter director for EQUAL, a business resource group at United. In his role at EQUAL, Roberto has been focused on fostering diversity and inclusion at United, especially for the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, he recently played a great role organizing this year's company celebration of Pride in New York and was there front and center representing our company in Pride Live's Stonewall Day on World Pride. Roberto really values his heritage and culture, and is very proud of where he comes from, which is why he did not hesitate to help with the relief efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
Roberto, posing in the engine of one of United's aircraft.
"I bring my true, authentic self to work each day, ready to assist in whatever way I can. When I say 'true, authentic self' I mean the person I was raised to be. A kind, caring and patient individual who is ready to assist in any way I can. I think the most important piece is to respect each other and to learn from one another. Be proud of who you are, no matter where you're from. We're all different, but if we all integrate together we can make things happen. That's what I love about United. We're doing that."
In their own distinct way, these rock stars exemplify the many ways our company is enriched by our differences and unique journeys. When we create an environment where people feel valued, this influences how we treat one another and our customers across the globe. In the words of our chief executive officer, Oscar Muñoz: "This month is also an opportunity for us to think about our efforts to build bridges between cultures and communicate authentically to all the communities we serve," he said. "By becoming more culturally aware, we can be more effective ambassadors for United's values around the world and embody them in the way we serve our customers and one another."
We hope you're as inspired by this group of dedicated, passionate and talented rock stars as we are.
Yirlany Moya, a United aircraft move team employee in Los Angeles, is nothing if not an eternal optimist. Which is part of the reason why, for the longest time, she wasn't too concerned about the lump that had formed in her right breast. It couldn't be serious, she reasoned. After all, she was young and healthy.
One afternoon, while talking with her neighbor Cari, Moya joked about the "little ball," as she called it. Cari shot her a serious look and urged her friend to get it checked out. Moya's sister, Joscelyn, did the same after hearing about the lump, but, for weeks, Moya stubbornly refused.
"I kept telling them, 'It's not cancer, stop being negative.'"
Finally, the pestering got to her and Moya called her mom, Esther, who is a retired nurse, for advice. Over the phone, Esther told her daughter not to worry, but talked her into coming to Costa Rica, where she was living, so that they could see a doctor together just in case.
There, a physician examined Moya. When he finished, he asked her to get dressed and meet him in his office. With a grave expression on his face, he said there was a fairly significant chance the mass was cancerous. Her mother broke down in tears, but Moya took the news in stride, not yet ready to consider the worst-case possibilities. It wasn't until she was back in Los Angeles a few days later, after a mammogram and ultrasound confirmed that she had stage-3 cancer, that reality set in.
In March of 2017, Moya underwent a double mastectomy, followed by a difficult three months of chemotherapy. By that fall, she was cancer free, but she wasn't physically able to return to work until October 2018. When she did finally get back to the airport, it was a welcome return to normalcy and a long-awaited reunion with her colleagues, many of whom are like family to Moya after 23 years with the airline.
They welcomed her back with open arms and she, in turn, talked openly about her cancer with them, hoping that it might help someone else. There's nothing wrong with assuming the positive, Moya says, but she tells other women to get checked out immediately if they notice a lump or anything else out of the ordinary. She also reminds them of the importance of yearly mammograms. And recently, when her supervisor was diagnosed with a form of cancer, she guided him through his treatments with encouragement and advice.
Sometimes, she's certain that she went through her ordeal so that she could be a beacon for others in that way. If that's the case, she feels it was worth it. Cancer gave her an ironclad resolve to spread goodness and hope. Her tattoos say it all: Inked across her chest, where her breasts once were, is an anatomically correct heart wrapped in bright pink swirls, with the words "Life doesn't allow you to be weak." On her right calf is a cancer awareness ribbon, with splotches of pink exploding out of it, symbolic of Moya's unbridled joy, which stems from her feeling of unending gratitude.
Moya's Tattoo across her chest: "Life doesn't allow you to be weak."
"I'm in a good place in my life," Moya says today, two years removed from her last round of chemotherapy. "I have a great job, and I'm blessed with a great family and great support system. I wake up every day and give thanks to God. I think there was a bigger purpose for what I went through. Ask me what it is, and I can take a guess, but I haven't figured it out yet. One day, though, I know the dots will connect."
Ask someone to name their favorite thing about fall and you'll likely get a different answer depending on where they live. For many people, the mosaic of vibrantly colored leaves and foliage is what defines the months of September through mid-December. Others find the scent of autumnal spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and turmeric is what makes the fall so special. And for some, it's the cooler temperatures that make being outside even more enjoyable. Plus, fall is full of fun activities no matter where you are — from pumpkin patches and apple picking to watching football and enjoying a bowl of chili. All of these things, and more, make the fall so magical. To help you celebrate the season, here are seven fall-themed activities to try this year.
Go apple picking
Apple picking combines outdoor fun with delicious and healthy snacks that can be used in a variety of ways, making it the perfect fall activity for adults and children of all ages. Though you'll find countless orchards around the country worth visiting this season, New England is widely considered a prime apple picking destination with over 120 varieties found in the region. It can be argued that the variety they are best known for is the McIntosh apple. This type of apple and many more can be found at Honey Pot Hill Orchards in the lovely town of Stow, Massachusetts, so be sure to stop in and take home a bushel that you pluck from the trees yourself. Picking times are from 9 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. daily, making it easy to schedule a trip.
Meanwhile in California, apple season runs until the end of November, giving you plenty of time to pick a few baskets of Red Delicious or Gala apples before winter. Riley's at Los Rios Rancho in the city of Yucaipa is one of the largest farms of its kind in Southern California and has been welcoming apple pickers to their 10,000-tree farm for more than 100 years.
Visit a pumpkin patch
If there was a fall mascot, it would be a pumpkin, so to celebrate the true essence of the season, it's hard to beat a trip to a colorful pumpkin patch. A pumpkin patch is more than just a place to find the perfect candidate for this year's prize-winning jack-o'-lantern, it's a wonderful way to create cherished new memories with your children or friends. The Great Pumpkin Farm in Clarence, New York, is perfect for pumpkin picking, but also offers weekend activities throughout the fall, including scarecrow making lessons, cider brewing demonstrations, pumpkin pie eating contests, and live music and barbecues.
If you're traveling through the Midwest this season, hop aboard a vintage farm wagon at Polly's Pumpkin Patch in Chilton, Wisconsin, and make your way out into their scenic fields where you can pick as many pumpkins as you want. Other activities at Polly's include a livestock petting zoo, a 40-foot slide and a popular corn cannon that lets older kids launch corn cobs at targets for cash prizes.
Enjoy a harvest festival
An annual tradition in America that dates back to 1613, harvest festivals are outdoor celebrations that coincide with the growing and reaping seasons we all enjoy. Filled with food, fun, music and dance, you haven't truly experienced the wonder of the fall season until you've participated in a local harvest fest. The good news is that there are plenty to choose from around the country this year. Two of the most popular are the Autumn at the Arboretum festival in Dallas, Texas, which runs until October 31, and the incredible North Carolina Pecan Harvest Festival in Whiteville, North Carolina, which ends on November 3. Both of these festivals have been drawing huge crowds for years.
For a harvest fest that's slightly spookier, head to Wisconsin where you'll find the classic Jack O' Lantern Days celebration in the cozy town of Fish Creek, and the Halloween-themed Zombie Days festival on the coast of Chequamegon Bay. Ghoulish activities include an undead musical show, a zombie pub crawl and a traditional harvest festival pumpkin parade. The scary fun lasts from October 26 through October 27.
Hit the trails
Hiking is more than just great exercise; it's an excellent way to bring the whole family together during the fall. And since the leaves are changing colors, it's also a great way to snap some incredible nature photos. So lace up your hiking boots, grab your kids and your camera, and find a trail that's right for you. If you're looking for suggestions, Sterling Point Trail in Vermont and Rome Point Trail in Rhode Island are impossible to beat when it comes to picturesque fall hiking.
On the opposite side of the country, the trails at Dry Creek Falls in Portland, Oregon, were voted one of the most photogenic hiking spots on the west coast by BuzzFeed, and it's easy to see why once you've been there. Covering a distance of just over 4 miles, this beautiful trail is perfect for all skill levels, making it a solid choice for families with kids.
Roll in the hay
Hayrides and corn mazes are traditional fall activities that have never gone out of style, and for very good reason. There's just something wonderfully nostalgic about introducing a new generation of children to the simple pleasures of wandering through an overgrown corn maze, and with so many participating farms scattered across the country, there's a plethora of options to choose from. The Johnny Appleseed corn maze at Shady Brook Farm in Yardley, Pennsylvania, and the popular horse-drawn hayride at Papa's Pumpkin Patch in Bismarck, North Dakota, are two of the best.
In honor of Halloween, the massive haunted hayride at Fear Farm in Phoenix, Arizona, brings an assortment of ghosts, goblins and ghouls to life from early October until the first week in November. Filled with sinister special effects, creepy costumes and macabre makeup, this Hollywood-worthy hayride is recommended for adults and children over the age of 12. With five terrifying corn mazes to choose from, Fear Farm certainly lives up to its name!
Up, up and away
Hot air ballooning during the fall is a dazzling way to experience the season in all its natural splendor. After all, how else can you get a spectacular birds-eye view of the colorful trees as their leaves change from green to golden orange? Balloons Over Letchworth, located near New York's Letchworth State Park, offers astonishing views of the surrounding area, including majestic waterfalls and stunning forests. Best of all, they offer a variety of family tour packages, so you'll find just what you're looking for, regardless of the size of your group.
If you're visiting Southern California's wine region this fall, reserve a balloon ride with the fine folks at California Dreamin'. Their friendly FAA commercial licensed pilots will take you and your family on an unforgettable balloon voyage high above the vineyards of Temecula wine country.
Pitch a tent
Though typically associated with summer, in many ways the fall is truly the best time of year to go camping. Thanks to the cooler weather, there are few — if any — insects to bother you and your family. Plus, there are less people claiming all the best spots, so you should have no problem picking a prime location to pitch your tent. And when it comes to toasting marshmallow for s'mores over an open campfire, everyone agrees that they simply taste better when eaten on a brisk autumn night.
For the ultimate fall camping trip, book a spot at Earth First Farms in southwest Michigan and set up your tent in an actual organic apple orchard. The 49-acre farm provides campers with complimentary firewood and plenty of fresh produce to pick.