Observations from the closing event of this year’s Birthright Israel Excel internship program:
by Karine E. Brown
25 years ago Lynn Schusterman and her late husband Charles had a dream to repair the world and make it a better place, “so we took our time and resources and invested them in the things closest to our hearts, the Jewish people, Israel and Tulsa, Oklahoma.”
Tuesday night witnessed another mark in the accomplishments of philanthropists Lynn Schusterman and Michael Steinhardt who three years ago helped bring to life the Birthright Israel Excel internship program. Excel is an extension to – and considered one of the most important projects of – Taglit-Birthright Israel.
This year’s cohort included 36 outstanding students from leading universities across the USA who interned with prominent Israeli companies for two months. The students received personal business and academic mentoring enabling them to better understand the business world in general and the Israeli economy in particular.
Addressing those in attendance at the closing program, CEO of Taglit-Birthright Israel, Gidi Mark said, “the Birthright Israel Excel program offers the students an extraordinary opportunity to recognize, specialize, understand and connect to leading companies in Israel prior to entering the business world. I believe that over the years, the program will contribute to strengthening the business and academic relationship between Israel and the United States and between the Jewish communities of the United States and Israel.”
The program continues for a year post Israel with the Excel business and leadership development program attaching the interns to philanthropists and business leaders in their home communities. The goal of this combination is to mentor the participants in their professional future, continue to connect them with their Jewish identity and strengthen their relationship to Israel through social responsibility and philanthropy.
An honored guest of the evening was Professor Eugene Kandel, head of Israel’s National Economic Council who spoke about the story of Israel’s entrepreneurial success. “There are two ways to view the progress of the world, one is innovation and the other is preservation. What unites us all is the need to be innovative because immigrants need to be innovative and entrepreneurial in order to survive.” He continued by stating that the Jewish people have 2000 years of practice and Israel had a need to be even more innovative in order to defend its right to exist as a Jewish homeland.
Professor Kandel’s remarks included the importance of tikkun olam and its lasting effects, stating that “a computer program is important for progression but tikkum olam and cleaner waters can affect 100,000 of millions of individuals around the world.”
The bright words of inspiration and important messages of all the speakers and guests are but a few to express the deep connections these young adults will carry with them throughout their lives. The Excel program is one whose influences will reach far into the future.