A brief history of internships in Israel

When I first decided to intern in Israel, I was a sophomore in college. I cold-emailed a publishing house in Jerusalem with my interest and available dates, and the next day I received the response, “Do you need housing?”

When I arrived, a key was waiting to the small cottage adjacent to the publishing house. As their first intern ever, I was tasked with proofreading and marketing Jewish cookbooks and histories, which, to my pleasure, got me a mention in one acknowledgement section. In order to meet other young people also interning in Israel, I registered for the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Stagerim internship program (which is no longer in existence). I participated in one tour through Jerusalem, where I got a box dinner and met a travel buddy, a computer science guy who was interning with a developer in Modiin. His living situation was even better (or weirder) than mine; he lived with a family who fed him and did his laundry…

The next summer, I decided to put my Russian skills to work. I discovered a nonprofit called Immigrants for a Successful Absorption, and connected via email with the director, Nadia, who promised to pick me up at the Beer Sheva bus station when I arrived. Through Stagerim, I got housing at the Beer Sheva absorption center, and lo and behold, it all worked out. Nadia paid me in Russian lunches—blini and pelmeni—and I built the organization’s website from her apartment because their office didn’t have internet!

Each summer, I left for Israel never knowing quite what to expect, and I returned with a ton of new skills and stories. Unlike my American peers with internships in the States, I never made coffee for a boss. I never ran around doing errands. I was never ignored by the head honchos.  Instead, I was asked to develop English extracurricular programs for at-risk youth. I led weekly ESL courses for Russian immigrant adults. I taught children at a foster home about personal hygiene.

Five years later, the internship field in Israel, which had been quite small, has exploded. The number of people participating in these programs since 2004 has more than quadrupled. A ton of long-term internship programs have sprung up in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, including Career Israel, Oranim Tel Aviv Internship Experience, WUJS Intern, and Real Life Israel.

Yet, even with this added level of professionalism, internships in Israel are still unlike those anywhere else in the world. Last week, I spoke to Jonathan Levi, a Berkeley graduate who sold his first e-Commerce company at 24 and then headed to Israel to intern at a private investment firm through Career Israel. His exact role? He advises incubated startups on branding and product design. Another young American, Jenna Krueger interned at Hadassah Medical Center’s Cardiology Department through Real Life Israel and helped create a national database for Hadassah’s amyloidosis patients.

Then, there’s my friend Larissa who got an internship at MATIMOP, a non-profit organization that promotes joint developments of advanced technologies between Israel and foreign governments. Two months into her internship, they flew her to Paris to help out a conference.

Not the typical internship experience, huh?

So, when, in 2011, we brought a group of Fortune 500 companies, including Citi and Cisco to Israel to meet these interns, they were blown away by the amount of responsibility these interns take on and started recruiting them for jobs on the spot. They also decided to add their brain trust to the internship field in Israel and wrote up a best practices internship guide for Israeli companies.

And now these internships are some of the most cutting-edge in the world—which is why someone like Rachel Scheinkopf can intern at Rounds.com, a social media company right out of college and then land a job at HashtagArt, another social media company.  And Michelle Golden can intern at Haaretz and Time Out Israel and then get a job in publishing in New York.

So five years later would I choose to intern in Beer Sheva or Kiryat Gat if I knew that all of these options existed in Tel Aviv? Probably. Then again, a big piece of me would wonder if passing up an internship at McCann Erickson or Ruder Finn might not have been such a good idea after all.

About the Author
Rachel Sales is co-founder of Pink Pangea (www.pinkpangea.com), the magazine for women who love to travel. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University. She currently lives in Israel.