Nearly 300,000 young Jewish adults have traveled to Israel on a Taglit-Birthright all-expense paid trip since the program began in 2000. Birthright participants have traveled all over the country, visiting places such as the Negev, the Dead Sea, and the North, but they’ve never actually lived like an Israeli – until now.
Begun in 2011, the Birthright Israel Excel program has already provided over 50 Jewish young adults the once-in-a-lifetime chance to live and work in Tel Aviv.
The highly selective program is designed to give talented Jewish undergraduate and pre-graduate students the opportunity to intern with different prominent Israeli business, technology, and engineering companies over a 10-week period. However, the program also accepts students who show a strong interest in pursuing careers relating to these fields.
Anywhere from 20 to 40 participants live in a dormitory with assigned roommates. This year’s group of 36 students stayed in a hostel that was part of New York University’s study abroad program in Tel Aviv.
However, 36 Israelis that were also part of the program did not live in the dorms with them.
Each of the American participants was assigned an “Israeli buddy” based on his or her gender. This buddy served as a foreign friend who would extend invitations to Shabbat dinner, recommend places to go, and also attend the Birthright Israel Excel trips.
Aside from going out at night with their Israeli friends and working at prestigious companies, students also explore the country on Birthright Israel Excel’s tours that aim to educate them about the local history and culture.
Sharon Prince, the US Coordinator for Birthright Israel Excel, added that participants this year visited the YMCA in Jerusalem and met Forsan Hussein.
“He’s a Muslim leading a Christian organization in a Jewish country. So he gives an interesting perspective,” she explained.
Hussein was only one of a number of highly respected members of the business, political, and academic communities that the program meets with.
“We heard from a lot of great speakers,” Abigail Jablansky, a member of this year’s program, told Jspace News. “That was an integral part of the program, several nights a week after work.”
She added, “On Fridays we heard from people very high up in the Israeli media or business world, technology, military, social activism, just to give us more perspectives and really get our juices going to think of creative ideas in such a fast moving world.”
Jablansky worked for Shaldor Consulting, the top strategy-consulting firm in Israel. She was responsible for a project that involved redesigning a major Israeli company’s business strategy. A presentation that she put together is currently being shown to the top management at the client company.
Participants are also required to attend a retreat after their program ends in November, where more speakers motivate them stateside.
“I actually really appreciated the opportunity to open the door to certain connections. For example, later on throughout my school year I had the opportunity to meet ambassador Dennis Ross and mayor Corey Booker again, two people who I met throughout my time at the Birthright Israel Excel retreat,” said 2011 participant Steven Greitzer.
“It was absolutely amazing to have that door opened so that I could continue my conversations with them when I ran into them on Stanford’s campus. I appreciated having those connections, first created by the Birthright Israel Excel retreat,” he added.
Greitzer worked at Check Point, a security software company. During his time there, he worked with the project manager team and helped with competitive analysis and basic product development work. Specifics of his work remain confidential, but he notes that he probably did more work for Check Point than he would have been doing as an intern for a similar company in the United States.
He said, “They treated me like a real member of the team. And I was held accountable for real work, which is something that you don’t often get after your sophomore year of college.”
The Birthright Israel Excel program does not end once the summer is over. Students are assigned mentors based on where they live and their personal interests. There are also webinars and on-going opportunities for students throughout the year.
“I think that we’re targeting a very specific sector of students who are interested in the field of business and technology, and that we’ve identified as growing into potential leaders in the Jewish community,” Price said. “We’re providing a unique opportunity.”
She also stated that the program hopes to bridge the United States and Israel together in the business and economic realms.
“I think the companies in Israel are passionate about building those connections and building leaders for the Jewish community,” she said.
Even though the program is only two-years-old, it is already achieving its goals.
“Something that I really, really want to get out of this is to remain in contact with everyone that I met – the Israelis from my internship, the Israelis buddies that I became close to, the Americans. Really get a network of people who have similar interests with me,” Jablansky said.
Both Jablansky and Greitzer recommend the program for anyone interested in it.
For more information, visit Birthright Israel Excel’s website.