Birthright Fellowship Brings 40 Students to Israel

Birthright Fellowship Brings 40 Students to Israel

Selected students are matched with internships at Israeli companies in Tel Aviv, spending 10 weeks there working, while also participating in various seminars and events hosted by the fellowship.

The Excell Fellows visit the Kotel. // Photo courtesy of Dana Bar Siman Tov
The Excell Fellows visit the Kotel. // Photo courtesy of Dana Bar Siman Tov

Earlier this year, two local Atlanta students were selected for the Birthright Israel Excel Fellowship, a highly competitive program that accepts only 40 U.S. students from hundreds of applicants.

Selected students are matched with internships at Israeli companies in Tel Aviv, spending 10 weeks there working, while also participating in various seminars and events hosted by the fellowship.

“We have programming three times a week,” said Isaac Goldman, a Dunwoody native and rising junior at Vanderbilt, “and that entails mostly speakers from a bunch of different companies. We’ve had the CEO of Meta Israel speak to us, and the CEO of Iron Source, which is a big-time company worth billions here. We had the founder of a company called Innovation Africa, which is a nonprofit that provides water to kids in Africa, which is incredible. We’ve had a bunch of different speakers in a bunch of different fields that are all Jewish who have exemplified the true ideals of Jewish leadership and business.”

Excell Fellows attend the fellowship’s opening event at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. // Photo courtesy of Yoni Kelberman

Goldman has been interning with Greenfield Partners, which specializes in growth-stage investing.

“The thing with Israel, it’s all about ‘the startup nation,’ it’s all about venture capitalism. In the U.S., companies tend to be more mature. Here it’s just engulfed with startups,” he said, excitedly. “I get to shadow every stage of the investment process. I really gained pretty decent insight into the minds of these investors, some of the most brilliant 28-, 29-, 30-year-old finance guys that I’ve ever been around. It’s been an incredible experience to gain that exposure and support as an intern for only 10 weeks.”

Isaac Goldman (bottom left) with fellow Excell Fellows Ben Kraemer (top), Tess Clorfene (middle) and Max Katz (right). // Photo courtesy of Dana Bar Siman Tov

Eva Luna Reiling, who is finishing up her dual-degree program at Emory and Georgia Tech next year, has been interning in the analytics department at Check Point, an American-Israeli security software company. “It’s really cool, because my boss, my boss’s boss and my boss’s boss’s boss are all women, so it’s a really unique situation that I’ve really enjoyed so far,” she said.

Reiling, who was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in Washington, D.C., also commented on the diversity and intelligence of the other fellowship recipients.

“There are 40 Americans and 20 internationals. The people I’ve been hanging out with are mostly internationals, which has been really cool,” she explained, speaking from the courtyard of the hostel where all 60 global students were staying. “My roommate is from France and she goes to London School of Economics. My best friend here is from Spain but she goes to Brown University. One of my other best friends is Ecuadorian but she goes to Penn. So, it’s just really amazing kids from all over the world who are extremely smart.”

Eva Luna Reiling moderates an event with guest speaker Gil Shwed, cofounder and CEO of Check Point.

Goldman echoed the sentiment. “These kids are some of the most brilliant kids I’ve ever been around. It gives me some imposter syndrome, that’s for sure,” he said.

“It’s funny,” said Reiling, laughing, “it’s as if everyone is a social planner at their own universities. So one person has an idea, they’ll completely set it up. We went to these caves today, and it was just because one girl had the idea of going and then set the whole thing up, got a chartered bus for us, got a tour for us. We’ve had multiple kids do that. We’re going to the biggest crater in the world and it’s just because one boy wanted to set it up.”

The preplanned trips, especially to Jerusalem, also had a significant impact on Reiling. “Going to Mt. Herzl and having the Israeli soldiers talk about their friends who died in combat was really, really amazing,” she said. Among the IDF soldiers they spoke to were several former Israeli Excel Fellows. “It kind of puts a face to a name. And just seeing how, for there to be a state of Israel, there is a cost and it’s a cost every Israeli has to pay.”

Saturday lunch in Jaffa. (From left to right): Isaac Goldman, Paulina Baum, Sasha Gerber, Aidan Kluger, Jorge Becker.

Goldman, meanwhile, found an unexpected connection at the Western Wall, which he visited with some friends on Shabbat. There, he met a Haredi Jew, originally from New York, who had gone to the University of Buffalo before taking a trip to Israel and deciding to make aliyah.

“You often think these Haredi Jews were born into it and adapt to that lifestyle because that’s how they’re born, but it’s cool to see someone who grew up in the same shoes as me and adopted that lifestyle,” Goldman said. “I thought it was pretty cool that a Reform Jew like me from Atlanta was interacting with a Haredi Jew at the Western Wall in Israel and we were coming to common ground.”

Reiling also made use of the wider Jewish network in Israel. “There are about 50 Emory students here, so I asked [our] Hillel to sponsor a dinner for us and they did,” she said, “so we ended up getting about 25 Emory students together on Sunday, which was amazing.”

Sami Rothstein, Isaac Goldman, Tess Clorfene, Sasha Gerber, Sam Goldman and Anna Gilgur pose at the happy hour rooftop event.

Turning 22 on July 12, she also got a chance to celebrate her birthday in Tel Aviv. “I joined a climbing gym here, which is really fun — so I went climbing. And then I also had dinner on the beach, which was just beautiful, with a bunch of my Emory friends and my closest Excel friends and then we all went to a Spanish club together, which was great.”

While they still have a few weeks left of the program, both Reiling and Goldman had nothing but compliments for the program so far. “It’s just an amazing experience,” said Reiling, “It feels like summer camp for 20- to 28-year-olds … who are all probably going to change the world one day.”

“They tell us all the time that we’re the next generation of Jewish business leaders, because that’s kind of what this program is about,” said Goldman. “I do really take away from this experience that we all do hold that chip on our shoulder, that responsibility to not just bring people to Israel, but support Israel in any way that we can, support our Judaism, support our Jewish heritage and really embrace it and be proud to be Jewish, because I’m surrounded by incredibly brilliant Jewish kids my age.”

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