At the beginning of 2022, Birthright Israel announced its merger with Onward Israel. Onward Israel is…
Birthright Israel is more than just a trip; it is a life-changing experience that has the power to connect young Jewish adults to their heritage, community, and identity in ways that few programs can match. As a participant of Birthright Israel, Birthright Israel Onward, and Birthright Excel, I can attest to the transformative nature of each of these programs.
A Sense of Belonging
Birthright Israel provided me with a sense of belonging to a community and country I can always turn to. It gave me a unique opportunity to immerse myself in the land of my ancestors while forming lifelong friendships with other Jewish adults from around the world. I can confidently say that Birthright Israel has helped shape who I am today, a proud Jew and a strong advocate for the state of Israel.
As the grandson of two Holocaust survivors, I have a deep appreciation for Israel and the importance it holds for the Jewish people. Growing up, I heard firsthand accounts of the atrocities committed against the Jews during the Holocaust. My Zaydie Z’’L lost his entire family during the war. He himself had countless brushes with death, being held at gunpoint several times simply because he was Jewish. His survival story, similar to almost all survivors, is a story of perseverance and luck.
Once the war was over, my Zaydie worked for Bricha, an underground organization helping Jewish survivors escape post-World War II Europe to go to Palestine, until Israel declared independence in 1948. Israel was not just another country. It was and continues to be a symbol of hope and a safe haven for Jews around the world. My grandparents, along with my father, instilled this sense of pride I have in being Jewish and emphasized the importance of supporting Israel.
My understanding of the importance of Israel for the Jewish people was further strengthened during my trips to Israel during Birthright Israel, Birthright Israel Onward, and Birthright Israel Excel. During my Birthright Israel trip in 2016, I had the opportunity to experience the country’s rich history and culture firsthand. From visiting the Kotel and Yad Vashem to hiking Masada and floating in the Dead Sea, every moment of this trip was filled with wonder and awe. One of the most memorable parts of the trip was spending Shabbat with a local host family. They welcomed my friends and me into their home and shared their traditions, and made us feel like we were part of their family. This was a powerful reminder of the warmth and hospitality of the Jewish people.
Birthright Israel Left Me Wanting More Israel
Birthright Israel also left me wanting more, which is why I couldn’t end my time in Israel just yet. I was able to extend my stay in 2016 and participate in Onward, an immersive 10-week internship program that offers Jewish young adults the opportunity to live and work in Israel. This was the perfect continuation of my journey in Israel. Onward provided me with an opportunity to develop my professional skills while also experiencing Israeli culture and exploring the country. For my internship, I worked as an Investment Analyst Summer Intern at Arba Finance Ltd., a boutique investment bank located in the heart of Tel Aviv. This was an incredibly rewarding experience that gave me a unique insight into the Israeli business world. Being able to live and work in Tel Aviv for the summer gave me a deep appreciation for the energy, creativity, and innovation that is part of the fabric of Israeli society.
Birthright Israel Excel
A few years later, in 2020, I was set to graduate from the University of Florida and secured a job at Ernst & Young in Miami. Since I had a few months between graduation and my start date at EY, I decided to apply to Birthright Israel Excel, a 10-week business leadership program in Israel. While similar to Onward, Birthright Israel Excel has more of a focus on business and entrepreneurship. Excel also brings together participants from Israel, the U.S., and beyond within one diverse and unique cohort.
Although I couldn’t go to Israel during the program as the COVID-19 pandemic forced Excel to go virtual in 2020, I still had an incredible experience. The program organizers did an amazing job of adapting the program to the online format, and I was able to participate in virtual meetings with Israeli business leaders, attend webinars on a variety of business topics, and connect with other fellows from around the world. Despite the physical distance, I felt a strong sense of community with the rest of the cohort.
As part of Excel, I participated in the Ventures track, a 10-week intense entrepreneurship training track, which included 10 Israeli fellows and 10 global fellows. During the program, we participated in a 2-week start-up boot camp and underwent an accelerated process of venture creation within teams of four. My team created a travel technology start-up, where we got to build out our idea as much as we could, as well as pitch our idea to accredited investors. This was an invaluable experience for me, not just in going through the venture creation process, but in working closely with my Israeli peers and learning so much from them.
The Value of Birthright Israel’s Programs
Through each of these programs, Birthright Israel, Onward, and Excel, I have formed lifelong friendships, gained valuable professional experience, and developed a deep appreciation for Israel and its people. Each program provided me with a unique opportunity to connect with my heritage, community, and identity as a Jew, while also offering me experiences that have helped shape me into the person I am today. I cannot thank the donors of the Birthright Israel Foundation enough for their contributions in making these programs a reality.
Joshua Greenspan currently works as a Digital Strategy Associate at JPMorgan Chase on their Global Markets Innovation team. Based out of New York City, Josh is responsible for catalyzing innovation across the Markets organization within the Corporate and Investment Bank. Previously, he worked at Ernst & Young as a Business Consultant. Josh is a board member of Gabriel Project Mumbai, a non-profit organization based in India. He also sits on the Fintech Committee board for UJA in New York. Josh received both his Master’s degree in Information Systems and his Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Florida.