July 24, 2024
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Birthright Israel Excel Fellowship Selects Cohort for Summer Program

(l-r) Jonathan Raport, Alex Schlessinger, Sophia Yunaev, Ben Sherman. (Credit: Or Doga, courtesy of Birthright Israel Excel.)

(Courtesy of Birthright Israel) The 2024 cohort of the Birthright Israel lifelong Excel Fellowship, focused on developing leaders in business and technology, kicked off last week by welcoming 64 extraordinary college students from around the world to spend 10 weeks in Israel.

This year’s cohort includes participants from 11 countries, including host Israel. Forty-four participants are from the United States, while 20 come from Australia, Canada, England, France, Germany, Mexico, Panama, Spain and Switzerland. A few of the participants are visiting Israel for the first time.

In addition to a life-changing experience and a tremendous opportunity for participants to forge business connections with investors and entrepreneurs, this year’s summer program will also present a once in a lifetime, empowering experience in light of the ongoing war in Israel that followed the Oct. 7 terror attack. Excel will collaborate with Kibbutz Re’im to allow Excel participants to volunteer throughout the summer by helping the kibbutz community restore its houses and gardens and prepare for their return home.

In addition, a particularly unique and highly valued aspect of the summer program will be the one-on-one pairing between each Excel Fellow and one of the 64 Israeli peer Excel Fellows, which will enable a quick acclimation to the local culture and the opportunity to see the country through a more authentic lens than as typical tourists. Many peer-to-peer relationships grow into long-term friendships. Some have invested in each other’s business ventures.

Since 2011, the Excel Fellowship has cultivated the next generation of Jewish business leaders. Each year the fellowship carefully selects top students from hundreds of applicants for summer internships with leading business and tech companies in Tel Aviv. The internships will be in such areas as environmental sustainability, software development, consulting, engineering, finance, venture capital, cyber technology, biotech business development, and start-ups.

The Excel Fellowship involves an internship that occurs based on the Israeli workweek, Sunday through Thursday. In addition to this hands-on work experience, there will be an evening series of fascinating speakers from across Israeli society, including Adi Soffer Teeni, vice president and general manager of Meta Israel; Adi Ofek, CEO of the Mercedes-Benz Tech Hub in Israel; Alex Crissis, managing director, General Atlantic, Israel; Dina Ben Tal Ganancia, CEO, El Al; Jonathan Penkin, CEO, Goldman Sachs Israel; and Yifat Oron, head of the Blackstone office in Tel Aviv. The fellowship will also include a micro-communities meet-up focused on discussing diversity within Israeli society.

Excel fellows will also enjoy free time to explore Israel with their peers and three weekend trips as a group throughout the country as they visit the lower Galilee area and enjoy a winery tour and hike with a visit to a natural waterfall, and spend time Jerusalem, with stops at the Kotel and the Machane Yehuda outdoor market. Following the Oct. 7 terror attack, this year’s southern trip itinerary will focus mainly on witnessing the atrocities that occurred at the kibbutzim near Gaza.

“One of the pillars of the program this year is preparing community members for the hostile environment they might face on campuses by giving them tools to better deal with the challenges they encounter there, along with a supportive network,” said Idit Rubin, executive director of Birthright Israel Excel.

“We genuinely believe that by strengthening ties in the business world and through professional connections, we’re also strengthening Israel and the Jewish communities around the world. We look forward to continuing these relationships and developing them.”

After their return home, the Excel fellows will enter a global network that provides resources for professional and personal development, Israel engagement, Jewish leadership, and encouraging them as philanthropists.

“We see firsthand how important it is for Israel’s young generation to maintain a strong connection to the Jewish world, especially now. It is not just about sharing the same fate; it is the strategic lifeline for all of world Jewry,” said Gidi Mark, CEO of Birthright Israel.

“The Jewish people around the world boast an abundance of talent and leadership in all sectors, and by fostering cooperation between business leaders in Israel and the diaspora as we do at Birthright Excel, we will be able to develop innovation and growth, which will benefit Israel and the diaspora and contribute to the feeling of resilience and pride,” he added.

Birthright Israel Excel fellows have gone on to positions at top-tier companies such as J.P. Morgan Chase, Bain & Company and Google. Others have developed strategic partnerships with Israeli companies and started their own companies, often hiring other fellows.

This year’s list of participants includes the following from New Jersey:

  • Alex Schlessinger from River Vale is studying at Duke University, majoring in economics and minoring in biology with a certificate in innovation and entrepreneurship. Currently, he is interning at Fiverr, working as a partnership manager.
  • Ben Sherman from Short Hills is studying at the University of Texas, Austin. He is majoring in Chinese language and culture and minoring in entrepreneurship. He is interning at Evercore and working as an investment banking analyst.
  • Jonathan Raport from Randolph is studying at Northwestern University and majoring in computer engineering. He is currently interning at General Motors and working in automation development.
  • Sophia Yunaev from Woodcliff Lake is studying at Florida State University. She is majoring in English and minoring in law and philosophy with a concentration in editing, writing and media.
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