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Between a Valley and hard place

The compass points one way for careers, another for home

Beyond business, life is not just amusing e-mails and sipping java downtown for Israelis who move to Silicon Valley.

Settling in Palo Alto means leaving behind another place -- home.

"I'm probably going to be torn apart the rest of my life," entrepreneur Eyal Hertzog said.

Hertzog founded Metacafe, an online video-sharing site, in 2003 in Tel Aviv. After successfully netting funding from firms such as Accel Partners and Benchmark Capital, he moved Metacafe's headquarters to Palo Alto's Hamilton Avenue in 2007.

The video-sharing Web site now counts more than 1.5 million daily visitors -- and he's a short stroll from the offices of his funders, Hertzog said. Now, his career seems rooted in Silicon Valley.

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"From a professional level, there's no doubt that this is my place," he said.

And it's so nice here, he explained, matter-of-factly running down the perks: "The people are great. The weather is amazing."

But his family and friends are roughly 7,400 miles and 10 times zones away. He prefers to socialize and express himself in Hebrew, his native language, and wants his infant son to be fluent, too.

It's a conflict he hears again and again. Entrepreneurs realize the ideal business climate lies in Silicon Valley, but their hearts remain in Israel.

One family bought televisions adaptable to both American and Israeli voltage for 30 years, in case they moved back, before realizing they had settled in the U.S. for good, he said.

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That's not the whole picture, however, Hertzog said. He's only heard from the people who never made it back, the ones still frequenting Palo Alto cafes and basking in California sun. There's bound to be plenty who returned, he said.

Amit Porat is half of one such couple. She and her husband moved to Palo Alto 18 months ago so he could accept a stateside promotion with Shopping.com. Yet they planned in advance to return to Israel and will leave Palo Alto no later than next summer, she said.

She loves Palo Alto and lists the same factors as Hertzog -- friendly people and beautiful terrain chief among them. A family can travel frequently or go hiking in wide-open wilderness in the Bay Area, a contrast to the cramped and sometimes claustrophobic atmosphere of Israel, she said.

It's not tricky to find other Israelis, either. The booming community in Sunnyvale stands out, but she also quickly made friends through an Israeli mothers' group at Palo Alto's Parents Place, she said.

Politically, it also easier to live here. Her brother is a soldier. The reality of conflict is part of daily consciousness back home -- and she feels her children are safer in Palo Alto.

In fact, her family urges her to stay in the United States, she said. Bemoaning the oppressive heat and disheartening wars, they tell her to explore her opportunities stateside.

Despite those problems, her parents, siblings and language exert a powerful emotional pull, she said. She shouldered the tough aspects of relocating -- putting her career on hold, raising two infants with neither family nor, initially, friends -- well aware she would eventually return.

She's also eager to re-start her career in naturopathy, temporarily on hold because there are no California schools where she can complete her clinical study, she said.

Then there are the nomads. Some people settle fully neither here nor there, preferring to psychically shuttle between the two places. Palo Alto investor Eric Benhamou is like that, comfortable in both countries, taking pleasure in promoting their continued good relations through business and governmental initiatives. He has invested in Israel for decades, most recently through his firm, Benhamou Global Ventures, and he travels there often. He estimates he's spoken in exactly the same number of video conference calls in Israel and Palo Alto, the latter conducted from his Cowper Street office.

And his children attended a Sunnyvale school, the South Peninsula Hebrew Day School, whose curriculum mirrors that in Israel.

For many, travel isn't a choice. Israeli firms, including Hertzog's Metacafe, often maintain research offices in Israel, making frequent communication -- and the occasional 24-hour trip -- a necessity.

The peripatetic lifestyle can take its toll. Gadi Behar, the Israeli founder of Los Altos-based Silicom Ventures, has lived in Silicon Valley for 30 years. The recent conference on early investing he hosted in Tel Aviv notwithstanding, Behar said he's eased off of traveling so frequently. The long trip to the Middle East has becoming taxing to his health, he said.

Of course, others enjoy the thrill of cruising on an international jet stream of dealmaking.

"For me it's very hard, but some people like it. One guy said, 'I live on a plane.' Some people like the excitement," Behar said.

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Between a Valley and hard place

The compass points one way for careers, another for home

by Arden Pennell / Palo Alto Online

Uploaded: Wed, Aug 6, 2008, 3:27 pm

Beyond business, life is not just amusing e-mails and sipping java downtown for Israelis who move to Silicon Valley.

Settling in Palo Alto means leaving behind another place -- home.

"I'm probably going to be torn apart the rest of my life," entrepreneur Eyal Hertzog said.

Hertzog founded Metacafe, an online video-sharing site, in 2003 in Tel Aviv. After successfully netting funding from firms such as Accel Partners and Benchmark Capital, he moved Metacafe's headquarters to Palo Alto's Hamilton Avenue in 2007.

The video-sharing Web site now counts more than 1.5 million daily visitors -- and he's a short stroll from the offices of his funders, Hertzog said. Now, his career seems rooted in Silicon Valley.

"From a professional level, there's no doubt that this is my place," he said.

And it's so nice here, he explained, matter-of-factly running down the perks: "The people are great. The weather is amazing."

But his family and friends are roughly 7,400 miles and 10 times zones away. He prefers to socialize and express himself in Hebrew, his native language, and wants his infant son to be fluent, too.

It's a conflict he hears again and again. Entrepreneurs realize the ideal business climate lies in Silicon Valley, but their hearts remain in Israel.

One family bought televisions adaptable to both American and Israeli voltage for 30 years, in case they moved back, before realizing they had settled in the U.S. for good, he said.

That's not the whole picture, however, Hertzog said. He's only heard from the people who never made it back, the ones still frequenting Palo Alto cafes and basking in California sun. There's bound to be plenty who returned, he said.

Amit Porat is half of one such couple. She and her husband moved to Palo Alto 18 months ago so he could accept a stateside promotion with Shopping.com. Yet they planned in advance to return to Israel and will leave Palo Alto no later than next summer, she said.

She loves Palo Alto and lists the same factors as Hertzog -- friendly people and beautiful terrain chief among them. A family can travel frequently or go hiking in wide-open wilderness in the Bay Area, a contrast to the cramped and sometimes claustrophobic atmosphere of Israel, she said.

It's not tricky to find other Israelis, either. The booming community in Sunnyvale stands out, but she also quickly made friends through an Israeli mothers' group at Palo Alto's Parents Place, she said.

Politically, it also easier to live here. Her brother is a soldier. The reality of conflict is part of daily consciousness back home -- and she feels her children are safer in Palo Alto.

In fact, her family urges her to stay in the United States, she said. Bemoaning the oppressive heat and disheartening wars, they tell her to explore her opportunities stateside.

Despite those problems, her parents, siblings and language exert a powerful emotional pull, she said. She shouldered the tough aspects of relocating -- putting her career on hold, raising two infants with neither family nor, initially, friends -- well aware she would eventually return.

She's also eager to re-start her career in naturopathy, temporarily on hold because there are no California schools where she can complete her clinical study, she said.

Then there are the nomads. Some people settle fully neither here nor there, preferring to psychically shuttle between the two places. Palo Alto investor Eric Benhamou is like that, comfortable in both countries, taking pleasure in promoting their continued good relations through business and governmental initiatives. He has invested in Israel for decades, most recently through his firm, Benhamou Global Ventures, and he travels there often. He estimates he's spoken in exactly the same number of video conference calls in Israel and Palo Alto, the latter conducted from his Cowper Street office.

And his children attended a Sunnyvale school, the South Peninsula Hebrew Day School, whose curriculum mirrors that in Israel.

For many, travel isn't a choice. Israeli firms, including Hertzog's Metacafe, often maintain research offices in Israel, making frequent communication -- and the occasional 24-hour trip -- a necessity.

The peripatetic lifestyle can take its toll. Gadi Behar, the Israeli founder of Los Altos-based Silicom Ventures, has lived in Silicon Valley for 30 years. The recent conference on early investing he hosted in Tel Aviv notwithstanding, Behar said he's eased off of traveling so frequently. The long trip to the Middle East has becoming taxing to his health, he said.

Of course, others enjoy the thrill of cruising on an international jet stream of dealmaking.

"For me it's very hard, but some people like it. One guy said, 'I live on a plane.' Some people like the excitement," Behar said.

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