AJA Students Explore Yokneam Illit Tech Boom

AJA Students Explore Yokneam Illit Tech Boom

While on a trip to Israel, five students from the Atlanta Jewish Academy visited Yokneam Illit, sister city to Atlanta’s Jewish community.

Patrice Worthy is a contributor at the Atlanta Jewish Times.

The students learn the history of the kibbutz.
The students learn the history of the kibbutz.

While on a trip to Israel, five students from the Atlanta Jewish Academy visited Yokneam Illit, sister city to Atlanta’s Jewish community. Through the Partnership2gether Yokneam Megiddo of The Jewish Agency for Israel program, the students learned about the booming tech industry that is luring high-tech workers from Tel Aviv to the small Israeli town.

The high school students toured Openvalley Academy for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, a collaborative tech co-working facility that “specializes in helping startups get through the valley of death,” said Shaul Avidov, head of Openvalley.

Avidov told the group what makes Israel the No. 5 country for innovation in the world, according to the Bloomberg Innovation Index, and the country with the most startups per capita. Avidov said the secret to the successful startup culture is the Israeli personality.

“We think we know better,” Avidav said. “Everyone is Israel wants to be a CEO; they want to lead something. It’s known in the world as chutzpah. … That’s the kind of people that have great ideas.”

Israel doesn’t build cars, but is leading in car technology. There is no water, but the country is leading in agriculture technology Avidov said, following up with, “We never accept things as they are.”

Students get acquainted with the cows at Kibbutz Ein HaShofet.

The Yokneam Hi-Tech Park is home to more than 140 tech firms and Mellanox, a chip design firm acquired by NVIDIA in April for $6.9 billion. The acquisition was the largest in NVIDIA’s history. During his presentation, Avidav explained the key to success at Openvalley is collaboration. Avidov said that at Openvalley every startup can feel free to talk to other startups or seek advice.

Oron Porat, a 17-year-old junior at AJA, said he believes the culture of sharing there is very different than in the United States, where companies aren’t as open and collaborative. He believes it’s best to build idea incubators with other people.

“It’s important to trust other people and realize you don’t know everything,” Porat said. “Sometimes other people can help you refine your ideas. You can have the simplest idea and develop it into something bigger. Sometimes the biggest problem is missing a key component that only someone else can see.”

It is the type of open-mindedness found among young people that is driving Openvalley to recruit youth. Up until now, the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta worked with Yokneam to fund projects through the Partnership2gether, most of which contributed to the Ethiopian Jewish community, said Yaron Yavelberg, the Federation representative in Yokneam. But now Yokneam has something to give back.

“The modern Israel changes the relationship,” Yavelberg said. “Yokneam is not just on the receiving end anymore. It serves the will of all sides and reflects the move from the old philanthropy to the new philanthropy.”

Oron Porat and Zoe Sokol at breakfast.

The new model will be more balanced, Yavelberg said. The Federation is now allocating a small amount to make technology a part of the partnership. Yavelberg said that means the Federation will have to tighten its funding to the Ethiopian community in Yokneam.

“Now we can say you’re not just giving. Your kids are getting exposure to technology that they wouldn’t have without the partnership.” Yavelberg said. “We are developing relationships with high-tech firms that will allow groups of students to come and learn. We will also be including the Ethiopian children and creating a high-level, high-tech entrepreneurship program.”

Creating a model for the Jewish children across the pond is at the top of Dani Ben Ishai’s list. Ben Ishai is a former software engineer from Silicon Valley who developed consumer electronic products and then changed his career to teach computer science in high schools. Now, he is the STEM teacher at ORT Alon High School and head of the STEM Twinning Initiative. He said that after touring the United States, he only came across one school where the students were as technologically advanced as his students in Yokneam. Some of Ben Ishai’s students are already working four to 10 hours a week in tech companies. He said he wants to give students from Atlanta the same opportunities by designing a summer program in which they can come to Yokneam and intern at a tech firm.

An old bomb shelter at Kibbutz Ein HaShofet in Yokneam.

“Yokneam got a lot of funds from the Jewish community in Atlanta and I think we have a lot to share,” Ben Ishai said. “The transfer of funds from U.S. to Israel should be balanced. We don’t want students to learn about high-tech from TV, we want them to see it with their own eyes.”

Ben Ishai is developing a knowledge sharing program with Yokneam’s American counterparts. So far he’s shared new teaching techniques with faculty from The Weber School in Atlanta and taken kids from Atlanta to visit Biosense Webster, a Johnson & Johnson company, located in the Hi-Tech Park.

Ben Ishai said recruiting teens is a great solution for firms looking for someone who thinks differently. Avidov agrees that tech firms are always searching for creatives and industry disruptors and that Openvalley is perfect because it is teaching children as young as elementary school the art of entrepreneurship.

“What’s exciting is the children because we teach sixth-graders,” Avidov said. “What we do know is that everyone should have the skill of entrepreneurship because we don’t know what the world will look like in 10 years. Openvalley is for anyone who wants to learn new methods of thinking.”

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