I studied abroad at Tel Aviv University this past fall, and though the experience was thrilling, satisfying, and, dare I say, perfect, in almost every way, I was disappointed with one small but crucial aspect. I was unable to find the internships or business experience that I sought while I was there.
There were two influences that drove my decision to study abroad in Israel. The first was my Zionist idealism, the post-birthright high that drove me to return to Israel as soon as possible and stay for as long as I could. But the other reason was that I wanted to spend time in a growing, business-oriented country. Israel, as I read in the omnipresent Start Up Nation, has become a hotbed of entrepreneurship and innovation. I saw this economic growth as the future lifeblood of the Jewish state—and maybe my career—and made it my goal to become part of it.
Unfortunately, things did not play out as I had hoped. I attempted to get an internship, but by the time I made any sort of contact, I was told that I did not have enough time left in Israel to justify one. I attended the Globes Conference in Tel Aviv, the largest annual business conference in Israel, but I struggled to make connections there. I was frustrated by these experiences because I felt like I was missing out on some serious opportunities.
When I returned to the University of Maryland in the spring, I learned about a new organization on campus called the TAMID Investment Group. TAMID is a program that would have been perfect for me had it been at Maryland before I left for Israel. Started by undergraduates at the University of Michigan, it connects American students to Israeli companies. Notably, it sponsors a summer trip in Israel that allows participants to work with startups. I expressed an interest in participating in TAMID and joined the executive board soon after. Though I missed my chance, other should have the opportunity to intern in Israel.
Why is TAMID so important? Simple. It fills a void that exists in Jewish life on campuses across the US. It provides a professional development experience that cannot take place in a typical class or internship. And finally, it diversifies Israel’s public image away from disparaging news headlines and media reports.
The quintessential indictment against Jewish education in the Diaspora in the past two hundred-plus years can be conveyed in just two words: Hebrew School. Seriously, is there anyone who liked going as a child? And though Hebrew school needs to be reinvented, that is a topic for Jewish educators. Rather, there are hundreds of thousands of Jewish kids around the country who have been permanently scared away from religious programs. TAMID appeals to these students because it is a secular, apolitical organization; like Birthright, it allows otherwise uninvolved students to build meaningful connections with Israel. TAMID is open to students of all faiths and beliefs, but one auspicious side effect of the program is a flood of students that are newly engaged with Jewish life on campus.
To say that today’s job market is terrible is an understatement. A college degree alone may never again guarantee a decent paying job. Graduates need a competitive advantage, an experience that makes them more valuable to employers than the next guy. TAMID offers professional opportunities that students would be hard pressed to find elsewhere, especially as underclassmen. At the beginning of the program, students have the option of joining the investment or consulting track, where they manage the TAMID endowment or work with Israeli firms, respectively. In addition, we regularly bring successful businessmen to speak to the group about Israel and business. Finally, the program will culminate in a subsidized summer trip to Israel where participants will work directly with Israeli startups in Tel Aviv. Students that complete the TAMID program emerge with professional connections, with the skills to invest profitably, and most importantly, with the ability to think critically. TAMID is producing the next generation of forward-thinking investors and entrepreneurs.
At one of TAMID’s events this past semester, we invited Lior Shalit, the Director of Investment at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, to speak to our group. The talk was nonpolitical, as we requested. Nonetheless, a student asked about the ethics of doing business in a country that “violently occupied and oppressed the Palestinian people.” I groaned when I heard this, as I had seen many speakers compromised by these protestors before. Mr. Shalit, however, mounted one of the most effective defenses of the Jewish state that I have ever seen. He brought up the example of Norway, which is a world leader in green technology but wreaks havoc on its aquatic environment with a booming fishing industry. He questioned if this should disqualify doing business in Norway. His point was that ethics are a tough subject, and if you demand to do business in countries that are free of ethical dilemmas, you cannot do it anywhere. I would add that those who desire to boycott areas with ethics questions should pursue the lucrative opportunities in central Greenland, Antarctica, and on the Moon.
Israel suffers from a public relations disaster, in the sense that it has been defined exclusively by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Chances are, if the media is talking about Israel, it is talking about the Palestinians and the West Bank. This tendency, to define the whole by one part, is a serious bias that rears its ugly head often. It is like viewing a small section of a Monet painting under a microscope and then claiming the piece is flawed. Our group exists, in part, to remind that politics is not everything in Israel, and that there are unprecedented opportunities for growth and innovation in this complicated, rapidly developing state.
We hope to use TAMID as an opportunity to give students a head start on the business world. And while we do this, we will strengthen the Jewish community and introduce Israel to non-Jews. I have been stunned by the interest in TAMID at the University Maryland—and we just started the program! Our chapter is looking for support from the community, whether through financial support for our endowment or from speakers who have business lessons to share with our group. Please join TAMID as we lay the groundwork for the future of American-Israeli business relations.