Ah, sweet summertime! Summer for college students usually means relaxation, adventures, trips to the beach and get togethers. It’s a time to forget the stress of exams and papers, pulling “all-nighters” and moving in and out of dorms/apartments. However, 27 Baltimore college students are experiencing quite a different summer. These students are living and working in Israel for 10 weeks as participants in Onward Israel. Instead of diving into a pool or ocean, these students are diving deep into both Israeli culture and their futures by leaving their comfort zones, in exchange for a more global and Jewish experience.
Onward Israel is a national program of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) established in 2012. The Baltimore Onward Israel program, in its sixth year, is subsidized by The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore. This year, there are 27 Baltimore participants, living in Jaffa and working in Tel Aviv for 8-week internships in diverse fields, ranging from sports marketing to environmental engineering and tech startups. The group also participates in special programming, including a sustainability program in the Negev. They choose from an extensive list of in-depth programs that enable them to learn more about Israel – such as a weekend in Jerusalem to learn about geopolitics of the region.
The program is tailored to each one of the students interests, and internship experiences are based on their area of study and career goals. Currently, over 3,000 young adults from North America and Europe are participating in several different places in Israel.
Baltimore typically sends 15-27 students annually, but this year Baltimore sent 27 participants and had a waiting list.
“Baltimore continues to grow the size of the program and looks forward to increasing the numbers as time goes on,” said P.J. Pearlstone, co-chair of Israel and Overseas for The Associated. “Past participants have gotten more involved in Jewish life on their college campuses when they return and in their communities. We have also seen that many people who participate in the program return to Israel on their own.”
Pearlstone explains that Onward Israel is a close partnership between leading philanthropists and foundations, Jewish communities and organizations from around the world, and continues its collaboration with JAFI.
“The goal of Onward Israel’s programs is to provide participants with an immersive resume-building experience in Israel, featuring opportunities such as internships, academic courses, and fellowships,” Pearlstone said. “The Associated supports programs like Onward Israel to engage the next generation of Jewish leaders by building connections to Israel and other Jewish young adults from around the world,” Pearlstone said. “Onward Israel provides meaningful people-to-people relationships, professional development and educational enrichment opportunities through various travel days, evening activities, and weekend seminars, including a weekend in Ashkelon, Baltimore’s sister city. Baltimore Onward Israel provides a unique opportunity for participants to gain real-world experience in one of the world’s leading cities for startups and innovation.”
Ori, 20, is a Pikesville native majoring in electrical engineering at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor). At Michigan, he is involved with Students for Clean Energy. This trip is not Ori’s first to Israel, as he has visited his family there in the past. Ori chose Onward Israel because he wanted to gain experience in his field and see what it would be like to live in Israel.
“Onward Israel is confirming much of my global view,” Rattner said. “I am the son of two Israeli immigrants, so I’ve had some experiences with Israeli culture in my life. However, I have never lived in Israel so this is the first time I am truly and independently experiencing the people and culture, especially in a workplace and urban environment. Jaffa, Tel Aviv, and Onward have all shown me the best sides of Israel and the diverse environment that I have lived and worked in.”
Ori is currently interning at Tethys Desalination which focuses on using solar energy, desalination techniques and technology to make clean water in areas that are lacking it. Over the past two and a half weeks, he has been doing research and testing on their current prototype that that they are working on. He has done some experiments on their prototype and product that they’re hoping to develop. The internship is a 10-minute walk from his apartment in Jaffa near the Jaffa Flea Market.
Chloe Buergenthal grew up in Owings Mills, but now lives in Pikesville. The 20-year-old currently attends Muhlenberg College, a small liberal arts school in Allentown, Pennsylvania. She is a double major in sociology and art studio with a sculpture concentration. Outside of her academics, Chloe is involved in her sorority, Phi Sigma Sigma, and the varsity field hockey team. Soon, Chloe will be an intern with STEP UP! Mules, which is a student-athlete bystander program.
Judaism was a key part of Chloe’s upbringing. “For as long as I can remember, my parents have instilled in my sister and I that the Jewish community is a vibrant one that we will always belong to and be able to rely on,” Chloe said. “And they have always encouraged us to give back and be active members within it.”
Chloe has “dozens and dozens” of memories from her synagogue and Hebrew school, Beth Israel, and the meetings of her high school’s Jewish Awareness Club. Chloe was also active in NCSY — the Orthodox Union’s youth movement — and was one of NCSY’s Ben Cardin Jewish Scholars.
This is Chloe’s second trip to Israel. Her first visit was a month-long trip with the Baltimore Zionist District in 2014. On this Onward Israel trip Chloe wanted to challenge herself, step outside her
comfort zone and take risks.
“I decided that the program would be able to provide enough structure to help guide me but also give me enough room to truly design my own summer,” Chloe said. “I was also fortunate enough to know several graduates of the Onward program who encouraged me to apply. Not only that but Evan Wilner, The Israel and Overseas Engagement associate at The Associated, helped to persuade me, as he and my sister actually knew each other prior to my enrollment.”
Chloe’s internship is at the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC) in south Tel Aviv. The ARDC helps African refugees and asylum seekers in Israel through advocacy, awareness and educational opportunities. She currently works as a higher education case worker and has 82 clients. As a case worker, Chloe is responsible for helping find and enroll African refugees in a wide variety of programs, from guitar lessons to Hebrew classes.
According to Chloe, Onward Israel has had a huge impact on her, and is helping to transform her world view. “Through my internship and the diverse area that I live in, I have learned as a global citizen that we as a global community of Jewish people have a responsibility to give other minorities and discriminated groups the respect and help that our people have been denied throughout history,” Chloe said. “The geopolitics often seems to cloud judgment concerning Israeli issues, but the reality is that we are all people despite our religions, location, and history… no people should be valued over another.”
Chloe is currently living in Yafo, a small area in Tel Aviv, about a 10-minute walk from the beach.
Pikesville native Chad Fisher, 20, attends Rice University in Houston, Texas and is majoring in bioengineering. He is actively involved in Rice’s marching band, the MOB, and is currently their public relations representative. Chad also volunteers with Camp Kesem, a nonprofit program put together by college students which allows a free week-long camp for children whose parents are battling cancer.
Being in Israel is somewhat familiar to Chad, as he was just in Israel last December on a Birthright trip through Rice’s Hillel.
“I was inspired to do Onward firstly from my Birthright trip,” Chad explained. “My brother had previously done Onward Baltimore and enjoyed it. My mom really pushed me to go so she could encourage my dad to come visit Israel for the first time.”
Chad described his internship as “very tough but rewarding,” working anywhere from one to four companies at a time. The main company Chad is working for is Betalin Therapeutics, a biotech startup that aids insulin-dependent diabetic patients through the use of an engineered micro pancreas. He also works for Sonovia, an Israeli company that developed an eco-friendly fabric coating technology that does not require any chemical binders.
He is currently staying in Jaffa in a two-story apartment with a balcony he sometimes does yoga on.
Matthew is a 20-year-old Pikesville native currently attending the University of Maryland. He is a finance major, who is active in a fraternity, Phi Psi, as well as a radio show. Growing up, he attended Krieger Schechter Day School. He arrived in Israel in May for a Birthright trip, and then stayed for Onward Israel.
Matthew was inspired to join the program after his mom was talking about it for the last four years. He thought the program was exciting because he got to spend time in Israel while doing an internship in his field. Matthew’s internship is at Otwoi, a sports tech consulting firm. Otwoi helps businesses navigate the industry and is currently working to start a venture capital fund.
Matthew is helping with the finances of the company, using Microsoft Excel to create new financial models. He is creating a model for the new venture capital project, calculating internal rate of return (IRR). Otwoi is looking to expand outside of Israel, so Eisenberg is helping the company to determine what financial path they should take. He is applying his practice from college to the real world.
“As a Jew, to be in Israel is a whole
different level of connection vs. learning about it. To be here you feel a real sense of pride, to be surrounded by all Jews all of the time. I grew up in Pikesville so I’m used to it, but this is a whole other level,” Eisenberg said. “Between the food, the nightlife, and events, it’s really cool experiencing a different culture and a different lifestyle then living in America.”
Matthew is finding that Israelis are more straightforward than Americans. He compares his experience talking to the chief executive officer of Otwoi to his experience working in Washington D.C. on Capitol Hill last year. Matthew was surprised that in the U.S., interns don’t typically speak with a CEO, but in Israel they do. He is currently living in Jaffa. In the future, Matthew hopes to be involved in venture capital, as well as work on Wall Street, then eventually become involved in politics. JT
For more information on Onward Israel go to onwardisrael.org/programs/baltimore/.