Birthright Israel Excel, which each summer brings 50 to 60 bright, young Jewish leaders to Israel for an intensive 10-week program, is celebrating its 13th anniversary. The program is supported by the Birthright Foundation and the state of Israel, which provides all administrative and program costs. Participants are only required to provide the cost of air transportation.
Each year, graduates of the program gather in New York for a World Summit to celebrate their achievements and to advance the cause of Israel and world Jewry. At the end of this year’s conference last month, the AJT spoke with Idit Rubin, who has been the executive director of the program for the past five years. Her son, Yoav, will be a counselor at Camp Ramah Darom in Clayton, Ga., this summer.
The conversation covered where the program stands in its 13th year…
Bahr: What do you see as the accomplishments of this year’s Birthright Israel Excel Summit?
Rubin: More than 300 fellows came, especially from the U.S. But we are now a global community. So, fellows from Argentina, South Africa, the U.K., Spain, France, Brazil and, of course, from Israel, came to the conference. And I think the accomplishment, if I can summarize it, is that it gave our attendees a good chance to network and discuss how they can help Israel and the Jewish world. Most of the speakers were fellows themselves. After 13 years, we have fellows that are now 30-something and leaders in their company, so they came and spoke to the community. We had Marc Rowan, the co-founder and CEO of Apollo Global Management, the large investment firm, who spoke about business and his journey. And I think the combination gave each one of the community who attended (the) feel(ing) that he belongs, that he can find himself into the community that we created in the past 13 years.
Bahr: What is the mission of Birthright Excel?
Rubin: Our mission is to create future business leaders that give back to the Jewish world and to Israel. After 13 years, we’re seeing some important results from our earliest fellows in 2010. Many of them are married with families and they are so involved with their community, it’s phenomenal. Most organizations don’t see such success so early.
Bahr: How does Birthright Israel Excel work?
Rubin: Each one is like a tailor-made placement and each one of them has a mentor in Israel’s business company to take care of and teach them and educate them and then, give them mentorship and being their supervisor while they’re in the program. They all come together three times a week to hear the best speakers in Israel like the CEO of Facebook, the CEO of Checkpoint, the governor of the Bank of Israel, Stanley Fischer, and other ministers and government officials. They hear from the different communities in Israel, the Iranian, Russian, Ethiopian and Muslims communities. Our goal is that after the 10 weeks, they will have a sense of the complexity of being an Israeli and living in Israel.
Bahr: How does Birthright Israel Excel, which is a 10-week program, differ from Birthright, which lasts for just 10 days?
Rubin: In 2010, the founders of Birthright said [since] we have hundreds of kids, that they come to Israel every year to get to know Israel and their Jewish roots. This is great, but what about the future? Will they be great businesspeople when they grow up, like, in 20 years, when they’ll be in their 40s? There is no doubt about it. But will they be the next philanthropists of the Jewish world? Will they be like us? To be connected to Israel, and are they going to invest in Israel causes and Jewish causes?
So, they decided to create Excel to find the future business leaders of the Jewish world. It goes without saying that Birthright Excel fellows tend to be smart, but they need to have leadership skills. Our primary goal is not to get them to move to Israel, although we don’t close the gate. The goal is for them to be leaders in their countries and lead their communities in Jewish and Israeli causes.