IRF: the key that opened doors for me

This is a call to action!

Ask yourself an important question: How many times can you point to a specific instance and say, “It was here, it was at this moment my life changed”? At the age of 27, I can point to about seven. Seven sparks, each illuminating a pathway which was previously shielded from view.  Today, I am here to talk about number five.

Like many other new immigrants, my life in Israel has had its ups and downs. Yet since moving to Israel four years ago, I have remained due to many opportunities facilitated by the greater Jewish community.

I try to imagine my life had even one of those opportunities been absent- specifically number five. Number five relates to a program called the Israel Research Fellowship (IRF) formally known as The Legacy Heritage Fellowship. It is at risk of disappearing unless the Jewish world steps up to save it.

IRF is an extraordinary fellowship whose essence is to help exceptionally qualified Jewish leaders sidestep bureaucracy by fully funding a professional position of their choosing. In addition, it provides them with a platform to create their own innovative projects, publish articles and connect them to the appropriate professional network. This fellowship changed my life and the lives of many young Jewish leaders looking to make an impact. This fellowship has, in turn, immeasurably strengthened Israeli and Jewish society worldwide. It has identified many young stars who would have gone unnoticed because of the hierarchical, bureaucratically bogged down system characteristic of many large institutions that often bars new innovators from entering their domains. This fellowship is at risk of being eliminated from among the opportunities that are necessary to strengthen the Jewish world. This program must be saved and I will explain why.

For those who personally understand and for the many more of you who do not, being a new immigrant in Israel forces you in many ways to “start over.” You have to learn another language, another culture, create a new social network and moderate the pace of your professional expectations… at least until the first two challenges are met. There is this invisible ceiling constantly pushing down on your aspirations to advance Jewish and Israeli society. Sometimes you feel excluded, especially without a well-oiled network of connections, the kind of connections you spent your entire life building in your country of origin.

In 2009, with nearly six years of political experience (four in the USA and two years in Israel), a bachelor’s degree, a few publications and fresh off the Obama campaign, I was convinced that I could assist Israel’s newly-formed government in navigating the waters with a new American President. I called all my contacts in the Israel government and non-profit sector and after many months, meetings and false promises, I was made an offer to join the Prime Minister’s National Security Council. That phone call, for me, was the call heard round the world. It was my chance to break the seemingly unbreakable professional ceiling above me.

But after a few weeks the office called and said, “Sorry Guy, we want you to join us, we think you can be a major asset to our team and we know how much this offer must have meant to you but we cannot get the tekken”. Tekken is that dreaded word no Hebrew speaker wants to hear. It is the Hebrew and bureaucratic word for “an official opening of a position.” Bottom line, they offered a position before it was financially and officially authorized. So my heart sank into my stomach.

The Israel Research Fellowship turned all that around. Not 48 hours after receiving the heart-wrenching news did I learn of this seemingly, too good to be true prospect. After a rigorous application process I was accepted to the program and a few months later I was able to take the identical position offered to me by the Prime Minister’s Office. (Ironically, had I gotten the position through the government it might have taken even longer to approve my start date.)

I was introduced to what amounted to me as a new professional universe. The ceiling disappeared and I felt that one large obstacle to success in Israel had been lifted. From there, I would go on to be intimately involved in foreign policy and during my time as an Israeli Research Fellow I was able to publish multiple articles. One of Israel’s most prestigious policy gatherings, The Herzliya Conference, asked me to do a full strategic analysis of Israel’s gas discovery (Israel’s New Gas Discovery: A Diplomatic and Geopolitical Nuance or Revolution?). I made hundreds of connections across the Israeli and Jewish world, one of which would make me an offer to become the Country Director for Israel’s Development Mission to Haiti (a position which I took for a year and just completed).

This fellowship changed my future and, in turn, the future of all those individuals and entities which I was exposed to. It buttressed my confidence to stay in Israel and to continue to use my skills to improve Israeli government and the larger Jewish Society.  Had IRF not been number five on my list, I am not sure where I would be today. I cannot sit idly by and watch this amazing, life altering creation fade for the hundreds who should come after me.

This is a call to action!

If you are reading this article and have the ideological and financial means to act, you must do so. Think back on your life and ask yourself about the series of major events that brought you to where you are. Now remove one, are you still here reading this article? Are you still sitting in the same home or have the same job? I can tell you that if it were not for the Israel Research Fellowship I would not be writing this article from the land of Israel.

If you want to help and donate to keep this fellowship alive or know someone that can, please email at I will put you in touch with the right sources. If you want to learn more about the Israel Research Fellowship please visit their website.

About the Author
Guy Seemann was a junior advisor in the National Security Council and just finished up his position as Country Director for Israel’s Development Delegation in Haiti.