After 10 weeks in Israel, 60 college students from around the world and 60 of their Israeli peers graduated from the Birthright Israel Excel 2022 Fellowship Program earlier this month. Among them were four participants from North Jersey — Aidan Kluger of Tenafly, Adam Schwartz of Westfield, Maya Simon of Norwood, and Brandon Weinberg of Scotch Plains.
The graduation ceremony for the prestigious 12-year-old fellowship in business and technology was held the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation in Tel Aviv. The main speaker was Ziv Aviram, the president, CEO, and co-founder of OrCam Technologies Ltd.
Since 2011, the Birthright Israel Excel Fellowship has cultivated the next generation of Jewish business leaders. Each year the fellowship carefully selects top students from hundreds of applicants for summer internships with leading business and tech companies in Tel Aviv.
This year’s cohort included an equal number of women and men and the most first-time visitors to Israel. The internships were in such areas as environmental sustainability, software development, consulting, finance, venture capital, engineering, marketing, cybertech, biotech, business development, and startup development.
The Birthright Israel Excel Fellowship begins with a summer internship across a wide spectrum of business and tech roles, featuring hands-on work experience during the Israeli workweek, Sunday through Thursday. To provide immersion into Israeli society, Excel has created an evening speaker series featuring changemakers across Israeli society; this year they ranged from business leaders, such as Yifat Oron, the senior managing director and head of the Tel Aviv office of Blackstone, to government leaders, including the deputy minister of foreign affairs, journalists, and many others.
“A fascinating aspect of the program is Israeli high-tech and business being so involved,” Idit Rubin, Birthright Israel Excel’s executive director, said. “They understand the importance of investing in the next generation of entrepreneurs. Most of the mentors, who have accompanied us from the beginning of the program, see the fellowship as a Zionist and strategic endeavor that connects future business leaders of the world to Israel’s economy. More than 100 senior officials in Israeli high-tech and innovation participated and spent time with Birthright Israel Excel participants to equip them with the right tools to lead successful start-up companies.”
One of the program’s core components is the one-on-one pairing between each Excel fellow and an Israeli fellow, enabling the international students to acclimate quickly to the local culture and see the country through a more authentic lens than they would as typical tourists. Many peer-to-peer relationships grow into long-term friendships. Some have invested in each other’s business ventures.
Birthright Israel Excel fellows enjoy free time to explore Israel with their peers, and they get three weekend trips as a group. After their return home, the Excel fellows join a network that provides resources for professional and personal development, Israel engagement, and encouragement as budding philanthropists.
Birthright Israel Excel fellows have landed positions at top-tier companies, such as J.P. Morgan Chase, Bain & Company, and Google. Others have developed strategic partnerships with Israeli companies and started their own companies, often hiring other fellows.
“Two-plus years after the pandemic started, we are experiencing a sense of renewal by opening a new chapter in what is considered the most prestigious program in the Jewish world today,” Gidi Mark, CEO of Birthright Israel, said at the graduation. “With success, talent, and luck comes responsibility. Our common North Star is Jewish values. I am sure that when you return home, you will not forget the inspiring time you spent here in Israel.”
Birthright Israel is a program that has brought more than 800,000 young Jewish adults on 10-day visits to Israel since 1999. It introduces them to the country’s ancient roots and modern wonders. If they are accepted to the Excel fellowship, students are encouraged to register for a Birthright Israel 10-day trip right before starting Excel.