Birthright Brings American Interns to Israel

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When Victor Varon arrived at the headquarters of Carmel Ventures in Herzliya on Sunday, he was given a tour of the facility, met the executives and was immediately assigned to work on a high-level research project.

“I expected to be involved in venture capital work, but I didn’t realize that I would be working so closely with the partners,” said the 21-year-old Miami native and rising senior at Washington University in St. Louis. “I feel extremely comfortable going up to my boss and asking him questions and giving input.”

Not content to file paperwork or fetch coffee like so many interns will be doing this summer, Varon is one of 36 top university students from the United States who arrived in Israel last week to begin an intensive 10-week business internship as part of the Birthright Israel Excel fellowship program.

The fellows were selected from a pool of over 2,500 applicants and placed at major Israeli companies, including Ness Technologies, Check Point Software Technologies and Tnuva. They are scheduled to meet with business leaders and government officials, including Finance Minister Yair Lapid, as well as explore the country by bus Birthright-style.

“We’re trying to build Excel into the most prestigious internship program in Israel,” Gidi Mark, international CEO of Taglit-Birthright Israel, said in an interview before the program’s opening ceremony in Tel Aviv last week. “The idea is to connect future leaders to Jewish values, values of giving and love of Israel.”

Now in its third year, Birthright Israel Excel was the brainchild of Birthright co-founder Michael Steinhardt, who felt that Israeli businesses could do more to attract interns from abroad, according to Tova Dorfman, executive director of the Michael Steinhardt Foundation, which is funding the program, along with the Schusterman foundation.

Dorfman added that companies are now “clamoring for interns” and that there is talk of opening up the program to talented students from other countries.

During the last two years, Yoram Tietz, managing partner at Ernst & Young Israel, has mentored six interns and says he even helped one land a job with the accounting firm in the United States.

“Our experience with the students has been very positive,” he said. “They are high quality individuals who are totally involved and willing to help the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”

Elizabeth Schoenberg, 21, a pre-med student at Vanderbilt University who is interning at the drug discovery company Compugen Ltd., said she applied for the fellowship after visiting Israel for the first time with her family last year.

“I wanted to come back, but I wanted to do something for my future and career as opposed to just coming to visit,” she said. “I potentially want to work with medical devices, and Israel is one of the top places that produces medical devices. I’m really excited about this opportunity.”

Birthright Israel Excel fellows at the program's opening ceremony in Tel Aviv on May 30, 2013.Credit: Avishai Finkelstein
Victor Varon, a Birthright Israel Excel fellow, speaking at the program’s opening ceremony in Tel Aviv on May 30, 2013. Credit: Avishai Finkelstein

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