By Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman
What do Maimonides, Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein all have in common? They are examples of individuals whose historic Jewish creativity and innovation makes the modern world a better place.
Today, Jewish creativity is all around us – and especially in Israel, a country that has become known as the “Startup Nation.” This summer, students participating in Birthright Israel will have a chance to discover just what this widespread tagline really means at Birthright’s new entrepreneurship center, State of Mind.
The center, a partnership between Birthright and the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, launched on June 1, 2016. Since then, it has hosted an average of six Birthright groups daily. State of Mind represents Israel’s greatest achievements in various fields ranging from safety and security, agriculture and transportation to medtech, science and gaming through an interactive, hands-on exhibition.
“It’s got a science museum vibe, but it’s appropriate for this [Birthright] age group,” said Aaron Bock, director of Birthright Israel Fellows.
On a sweltering morning in Tel Aviv, a group of 22 to 26-year-olds – mainly from Chicago – had a similar reaction to Bock’s, as they tried on 3D glasses, tested new apps and discovered the underlying technologies behind ReWalk and the Iron Dome.
Logan Weintraub, a student at the University of Iowa, said he likes the way “this place is really clean and divided into distinct categories. It makes it pretty clear that Israel is a hotbed of innovation right when you walk in.”
Weintraub said he had heard that Israel is the Startup Nation, but he didn’t really know what the tagline meant.
“This place opens up that world,” he said.
State of Mind is part of an ongoing effort by Birthright to tell Israel’s modern innovation story, to attract young, talented minds to Israel to create and/or partner on new technologies. This summer, Birthright launched a new season of its Birthright Israel Excel Business Leadership Program, which carefully selects students to spend the summer in meetings with Israeli leaders in various innovation fields, to go on tours, attend workshops and professional seminars, and receive customized business mentoring from some of Israel’s leading business companies. Upon returning to North America, the student join the Birthright Israel Excel alumni community, where they continue developing their entrepreneurial networks.
Also this summer, Birthright added a new “Excel Ventures” track, in which 10 American entrepreneur students from leading U.S. universities and 10 Israelis, graduates of elite technology units of the IDF, take part in a technology start-up training boot camp.
These programs, together with the new State of Mind center, “introduce Israel as a startup superpower,” said Gidi Mark, Birthright Israel CEO. “It is important for us to show Israel’s advanced and outstanding achievements.”
At the start of the State of Mind tour, tour guide Lior Servas pushes a button on what looks like an average water cooler, converting the air’s humidity into water – an innovation of the Israeli army.
“Imagine the impact this machine could have in developing countries,” Servas said, pointing out that the machine simultaneously filters the water.
Joshua Leslie, a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago studying transportation design said he hopes to focus on public transportation development in the Middle East. State of Mind sparked his interest in Israel.
“I might start looking into existing projects in Israel and the opportunity to partner with Israeli companies,” Leslie said.
State of Mind is specifically open to participants on the general Birthright tracks, who focus mainly on touring the Jewish state, its history, archeology, architecture and culture. Servas said she hopes State of Mind gives these young adults a window into the Israel of today.
“I hope participants realize Israel is not only historical,” said Servas. “Israel is not just a place of war. There is a lot of stuff going on – a lot to learn here.”