Onward Israel gives students work experience in Jewish state

Onward Israel gives students work experience in Jewish state

Onward Israel interns at Yuvalim in Misgav
Onward Israel interns at Yuvalim in Misgav

Last spring, when Josh Harvey was a junior at Carnegie Mellon University, he — like most of his peers — was searching for a summer internship that would provide him with solid job experience to build his resume. Flyers on campus posted by the Hillel Jewish University Center advertising internships in Israel caught his eye.

“The ability to work in Israel, and live on my own attracted me,” said Harvey, an economics and history major from Wayne, N.J.

After contacting David Katz, assistant director of Hillel JUC, and undergoing an interview process, Harvey was able to land an internship with a business intelligence software company in Israel. He has since parlayed that work experience into a full-time job with Liberty Mutual in Boston in its product management division.

“An internship like this definitely could make a difference in someone’s career,” Harvey said.

The internship was arranged through Onward Israel, a partnership between the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and the Jewish Agency for Israel, and funded by the David S. and Karen A. Shapira Foundation.

The program was launched last year in six cities including Pittsburgh, which combined its efforts with Cleveland. Ten students who were either from Pittsburgh or attended universities in Pittsburgh, and 15 students from Cleveland, were placed in subsidized six to 10- week internships designed to strengthen their work experience while strengthening their ties to the Jewish state.

Student participants from Pittsburgh interned in a variety of businesses, ranging from hospital administration, to journalism, to robotics, according to Katz.

Onward Israel is the brainchild of Cindy Shapira, who came up with the concept of facilitating college internships in Israel while serving on the strategic planning committee of the board of the Jewish Agency for Israel, under the leadership of Natan Sharansky.

While the committee was focusing on building and strengthening Jewish peoplehood through connections to Israel, Shapira realized that a piece was missing in terms of opportunities for youth.

While Taglit-Birthright provided free 10-day trips to Israel for college students on one end of the spectrum, and Masa offered five- to 10-month post-college internships in Israel on the other end, “there was nothing in the middle to allow young people to return to an engaging experience in Israel,” Shapira said.

“I had a daughter who was at Columbia University at the time, and her friends, I observed, were involved in getting internships during the year and the summer,” she continued. “I thought to myself, ‘wouldn’t it be great if we had a Birthright follow-up program for kids to have summer internships in Israel?’”

“The idea [of Onward Israel] is to be a Birthright follow-up program,” Shapira said. “It is geared to students who are less engaged with Israel or with their Jewish life. The idea is that their love for Israel will grow.”

In addition to providing work experience, Onward Israel programs also feature educational modules, with special attention dedicated to activism opportunities within local communities and institutions to help develop a deeper understanding of Israel, and enhanced Jewish identity and commitment.

Last summer’s pilot program was so successful that both the number of cities and the number of participants are set to double this year.

Interning in Israel not only provides college students with an opportunity to strengthen their ties to Israel, but also can open up doors for employment once they are back home.

“I am hearing from students that when employers see they have international work experience, it’s a major talking point in interviews,” Katz said.

As the Shapira Foundation is a strategic partner in the funding scheme for Onward Israel, the Shapiras are committed to taking a hands-on approach to ensuring its success.

“David and I are very, very serious about this from the point of being very hands-on,” Shapira said, adding that she and her husband have done everything from creating the business plan for the program, to meeting with the interns while they were in Israel.”

Applications for the program are being accepted though Feb. 4. To apply, contact Katz at davidk@hilleljuc.org.

(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at tobyt@thejewishchronicle.net.)

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