Several times at the IBM Lotus Customer Council in Israel today, people saw my name badge and said "You go by חיים now?" (That spells Chaim, pronounced cha with a throatal-sound - yim).  When I answered "It's my Hebrew name", I usually got a sort of blank stare, since of course Israelis don't typically have a separate religious name from their given name.  Any which way, it was an attempt to show those I had not previously met that my affinity to being here is more than just a chance to eat good falafel, we are connected.

Image:Lotus Customer Council in Israel, 6 December

There are other slightly-awkward moments to the daily interactions.  I've been wished "Chag Sameach" a few times -- it means "happy holiday" -- and had to remind myself that we are smack in the middle of Hanukkah, a holiday that is actually more meaningful here than it is at home.  I often find myself downplaying Hanukkah when talking to non-Jewish friends in the US, because it's nowhere near as important a holiday as Christmas -- they just happen around the same time, so it has become the all-purpose gift-giving holiday.  Here, people actually do take time off work and school for Hanukkah, so I've been told that traffic is lighter or whatever.  Seeing the candles everywhere has been a beautiful thing.

Anyway, we had a very successful customer council event here at IBM Israel today.  More people in the room than I see at typical user group meetings, representing many corporate and government customers and partners.  More than we had the last time I was here in 2007, when I promised I would not return until we had fixed all the issues with the Hebrew language in the earlier versions of Notes (and we have).  And still more who would have come if it weren't a holiday week.

My friend and coworker Alex asked me this evening to try to sum up the day, and I answered him that the questions and concerns raised at the user group were the same ones I hear many other places in the world.  We agreed this is actually a good sign that some of the uniquely Israeli challenges have been addressed, and that there is recognition of some of the marketplace issues on a more global basis.  It had been a while since I heard that we should be giving away Notes for free for home usage, but a good opportunity to discuss that again and see if my previous thoughts still resonated.  We turned it into a conversation about Symphony.  There was also the moment of applause when I boasted that I run a completely Microsoft-free life, at least in anyplace I have any choice in the matter.

The IBM Israel team wants to organize the customers into a user group and have them meet a few times a year, similar to other geographies.  One objective is to use the force of the user group as a recruiting tool -- this market needs more partners, and to indicate that there is clearly opportunity for those who pursue it.  Don Nadel (Distinguished Engineer who is the CTO for our software services team's Notes/Domino practice) and I discussed this with a journalist as well this afternoon, and I promised to carry the message to non-Israeli business partners who are interested in expansion.

You can't really argue with an event that serves completely decked-out lox and bagel sandwiches for lunch, along with other local specialties and sufganyot.  I hop and expect that it builds some momentum, not just for Notes/Domino but for all the IBM collaboration solutions.

Todah Rabah to everyone who came out today, and to Alex Balk for organizing and providing me this wonderful reason to return to Israel.  I'm not sure I can come back as soon as the next instantiation in March, but I will be back.

I have more to write about Israel, but now it is time to cat-nap before my 7:30 AM flight towards Copenhagen.  El Al recommends arriving at the airport three hours before flight for security processing.  Yikes.

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