A Zionist and junior at Cornell University, Rebecca Haft had a life-changing experience in Israel last summer — she learned to like cottage cheese.Ha'aretz followed some of the interns last year and recorded their experiences.
Haft, a policy analysis and management major, spent 10 weeks working as an intern in the business development department of Tnuva, Israel’s largest dairy company, under the auspices of Birthright Israel Excel. She was among 20 college students from the United States chosen, from more than 200 applicants, to take part in the pilot version of Birthright’s elite fellowship program.
Think Birthright, business class.
Earlier this month, most of the 20 met here for a four-day retreat, to review last year’s experiences and suggest changes.
Haft’s fellow Excel colleagues, college juniors and seniors who participated in internships at high-powered Israeli companies in such fields as technology, business, venture capital and social media, were mentored directly by each company’s CEO, receiving backstage passes to the world of high-tech, corporate Israeli culture.
This year, more than 600 students applied; 36 made the final cut.
“This program, more than anything, is an investment in Israel’s future,” said Sharon Prince, U.S. coordinator of Birthright Excel. “We are pulling students from the top echelon of American society. We have high hopes that these students will go on to become leaders in their various fields. Creating this formative connection to Israel early on in their careers is key.”
“Compared to previous internships I’ve had in the States, the internship I received as a Birthright Excel fellow was completely different,” said Ben Goldhaber, a senior at Georgetown University majoring in science, technology and international affairs. Goldhaber interned at Pitango Venture Capital, Israel’s leading Venture Capital fund, under the mentorship of Chemi J. Peres, managing general partner and co-founder of Pitango, and son of President Shimon Peres.
“In Israel, they are much quicker to trust young people,” Goldhaber said. “When I arrived at my internship, I was given real responsibilities, and fast. This is no American, feel-good resumé booster. This was a job — a real job — and a chance to experience, firsthand, how Israeli corporate culture functions and operates.” As an afterthought he added, “I mean, I barely operated the copy machine once!”
“This trip shouldn’t be called ‘Birthright’ — it should be called ‘Birth responsibility,’” said Brett Levine, gesticulating as he spoke, a senior at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business with a major in finance. “As Jews, we have a certain sense of entitlement when it comes to Israel, and when it comes to our heritage. But what this trip taught me is that feeling entitled is not enough — we have a responsibility to our Jewish identity. We have a responsibility to Israel.” His words were met by hearty nods and exclamations of assent around the table.
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