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Connecting students to Israel through business and innovation

More and more Jewish students see commerce and innovation as their pathway for connecting to Israel

Max Heller is among a growing number of bright, savvy American business students eager to connect with Israel as a thriving startup nation that is fast becoming a global epicenter of innovation, business and technology.

As a freshman at the University of Michigan, Max joined TAMID Israel Investment Group, a student-run organization that connects American business students with Israeli companies. He quickly became an active participant in the program, bridging the gap between his personal interest in Israel and his academic interest in business. He went on to serve as national student director for two years, laying the groundwork for the organization to expand its presence to 15 campuses and hire its first executive director this year.

Many students like Max are applying for programs like TAMID, Birthright Excel, Israel & Co. and Onward Israel that enable them to spend time in Israel gaining hands-on experience working for established Israeli powerhouses and innovative startups. These opportunities are critically important because they provide a potent avenue for students to gain cutting-edge work experience, expanded personal and professional networks and, most importantly, an enduring sense of connection to Israel.

Indeed, these programs are laying the foundation for a generation of new leaders in the global economic and technology sectors who feel deeply invested in Israeli innovation and ingenuity.

While many of these programs are relatively young, they are already experiencing growing demand from students hungry for these opportunities. This year alone, TAMID, Excel and Israel & Co. will send more than 900 students to work in Israel. Excel, which places outstanding college students in summer internships with Israeli companies, received over 2,500 applications for 36 spots. Similarly, Israel & Co. and Onward Israel are also scaling rapidly in an effort to meet student demand.

Part of the success of this form of Israel engagement is that it feeds a desire for high-level, hands-on professional experiences that are both hard to come by and speak directly to the careers these students want to pursue post-college. Participants in Excel’s intensive summer internship are involved at the highest level of operations in their full-time work with top-name companies, such as Ernst and Young, Bessemer Venture Partners and KCPS and Company, while TAMID participants spend a full semester on campus studying Israel’s economy and can then join an Israel-focused investment fund or consult for Israeli start-up firms. Some go on to participate in the summer fellowship that lets them work directly with Israeli companies. After graduation, alumni are securing jobs with Bain & Company, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and promising tech startups, among others, and they are bringing a strong appreciation for Israel’s potential to their new careers.

The personal and professional connections the students forge are a compelling part of the draw as well. The programs enable them to find mentors in the executive and C-suite levels of the organizations for which they work and also have them rubbing elbows with high-level business and political leaders, who offer insight into the future of the global business landscape. They form deep relationships that last far beyond the duration of the program with their mentors, Israeli counterparts and, of course, with the fellow participants with whom they share common interests, recognized talent as rising leaders and the potential to form significant partnerships. Alumni-networking programs like AlmaLinks further enhance and expand the strength and potential of these relationships.

Most significantly, students are creating deep and enduring connections to Israel, rooted in understanding and respect for Israel’s entrepreneurial approach and significant contributions in technology, science, medicine and business at local and global levels. For some, these programs also present an accessible entry point for engaging more broadly with Jewish life. As a unique catalyst for exploring and strengthening Jewish identity, Israel has an important role to play in the lives of young Jews and for those invested in ensuring a strong Jewish future.

Finally, part of what makes the Israel-business connection so special is that it is a win-win both for the students and for Israel. While young people gain valuable hands-on experience, Israeli companies benefit from the insights of and continued relationship with American students. Indeed, an increasing number of Israeli companies want to be involved. Time and again, they are struck by the added value these interns create, and many want to keep them as full-time employees.

Connecting to Israel through business and innovation is not just a fad. Even larger institutions are recognizing the potential in connecting American and Israeli innovators, with Cornell University and Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, set to launch a shared campus in New York later this year.

The demand and initiative undertaken by students themselves across campuses nationwide prove that they want to shape a meaningful connection to Israel and the Jewish community through the lens of their personal and professional interests. They return home eager to continue their professional development and to share their excitement and understanding of Israel with their peers.

As Israel continues to grow its status as the Startup Nation, it offers enormous potential for creating a new narrative on American campuses, one that transcends the political or religious and opens the door for new audiences. And as the participants grow in their careers, Israel will benefit from a worldwide network ripe with resources, drive and passion for this entrepreneurial nation.

For Max Heller, TAMID turned into “one of the most formative experiences” of his college years, one that helped him land a job in the financial services industry after college. These programs deserve more investment. With greater funder and organizational involvement, we can ensure that many more students nationwide have the same opportunity as Max to build a professionally relevant and personally meaningful relationship with Israel.

About the Author
David Rittberg is a Senior Program Officer at the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, which is part of the Schusterman Philanthropic Network.
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