As a child, being Jewish was easy– mostly because it was gently forced upon me by my loving parents and grandparents. However, what really did not come easy to me was figuring out what my Jewish identity meant to me once I flew out of the nest and later on in my professional career.
Figuring out what my Jewish identity meant might surprise you since I went to Beth Am Jewish Day School in Pinecrest, FL. I even had my Bat Mitzvah in Israel. I was lucky to have this opportunity in Israel and even luckier to have my Bat Mitzvah with five other people, one of them including my brother (I was also lucky I only had to learn one aliyah).
In High School, I participated in the March of the Living. During this trip I spent a challenging week in Poland, visiting the concentration camps followed by a joyous week in Israel. It was this experience that first piqued my interest of our country.
Then I went to Emory University in Atlanta. Here, I had Jewish friends, but it was more of just a social scene and nothing more. We’d occasionally visit the Chabad house for Shabbat dinner.
It was during my time in college when a friend of mine who was working for Masa Israel Journey told me about a new Birthright Israel program. She said Birthright Israel was launching Birthright Israel Excel, a 10-week internship, and a lifelong fellowship. Those who were accepted would have the unique opportunity to intern at leading global consulting, cyber/tech, finance, marketing, or venture capital firms in Tel Aviv. To say the least, I was immediately intrigued. I spoke to as many people as I could who participated in the program in the inaugural year, and was consistently inspired by each person’s story and experience on the program. I applied – and was accepted. If I wasn’t I think the last eight years of my life would look very different.
Each person on Birthright Israel Excel works with a “counselor” and is matched with a leading firm in Israel where their summer internship will take place. I woke up each morning and took the bus to the Azrieli Towers where I interned at KCPS Partners, a wealth management firm. While I was learning about the financial services industries, my peers were spread across the Tel Aviv area at CitiBank’s Investment Bank, EY, CheckPoint Software, and small start-up incubator hubs, just to name a few!
However, the internship isn’t even the best part – the program goes above and beyond by enhancing the 10-week experience through networking events, speaker sessions, on-site company visits with Israeli business leaders, and trips around Israel.
Most of all, I remember feeling this sense of pride in my Jewish identity when I heard President Shimon Peres speak to us. I remember being in awe of “Better Place,” the electric car company, which demonstrated Israel’s ability to push boundaries and innovate.
While on Birthright Israel Excel, I was inspired by so many people and experiences and it hit me that being involved in the Jewish community, as a professional, is very important.
What I took away most from this program was a simple yet extremely powerful realization: There is a network of Jewish colleagues and Jewish experiences still available to me as a professional.
I know it may sound weird, but you don’t really think about how to develop your Jewish Identity as a professional. There’s a huge focus when we are young, but what is there when we are entering our careers? What can prepare us to make real decisions for ourselves?
This is exactly what Birthright Israel Excel helped me realize. The fellowship showed me that I am not just a Jewish adult, but that I am a Jewish professional.
Because of the internship, I did in wealth management, it led me to the career I have now. It led to the network of peers I have that I can call up at any moment and get support from. It‘s priceless.
I owe so much to this program and am grateful to now help with interviews for the next cohort of Fellows. It is a goal of mine to give back as a Jewish professional because Birthright Israel Excel gave so much to me.
Birthright Israel Excel showed me that my Jewish identity isn’t just this thing during childhood, but that it’s a lifelong thing.
More so, it is the generosity of supporters like you, who are reading this today that help young Jewish adults realize the importance of our Jewish identity. Thank you for investing not just in the present but in the future of our people. I am forever grateful.