I have been to Israel several times before, including spending an entire year here on a gap year program after high school, before beginning at UM. I would say that I have a strong relationship with Israel, but most of my identity surrounding Israel comes through religious experiences; as a Jew, I feel deeply connected to Israel as the Jewish state and homeland, and much of my passion for Israel derives from that space.
When I have come to Israel in the past, I have also exercised my cultural and political relationship with Israel, by visiting cultural sites, both present and historical, as well as analyzing the inescapable reality and one constant truth of Israel: the conflict with the Palestinians. This topic is unavoidable, at least in small doses, in any organized trip to Israel. There is something inherently political about the State of Israel, so even trips that deemphasize politics, like Birthright, still address the conflict at times.
I have nothing against discussing politics or religion in Israel; in fact, I actually enjoy it. There are always disagreements to hash out, or uneducated people who want a crash course in the many conflicts in this country. I have come to appreciate those moments, and even look forward to them.
That is why, when I was told the program I would be going on this summer, called the TAMID Israel Fellowship, would be an apolitical, areligious trip, I was a little disappointed, and skeptical. How are we going to spend two months in Israel and not talk about politics or religion? It seemed an impossible task, and one I wanted to dismiss anyway, because I enjoy those conversations.
Here I am, one month into my program, saying that experiencing Israel in an apolitical and areligious way is like seeing Israel in a new light, and I have come to really enjoy this experience. The program I am on is very business-oriented; we all work at start-ups, or VC’s, and consulting firms in Tel Aviv, and hear from CEO’s of some of Israel’s biggest innovations, like Waze and Wix.
Seeing Israel in this new light has been a tremendous experience for me. My internship is at a small start-up called myQuest, which creates user friendly platforms for life coaches to help them lead their clients to achieve their goals. Every day, I hear from my roommates about what they are doing, whether that is sitting in on a meeting between a VC and a potential investment, or developing code for Israel’s next new big social media breakthrough.
Tel Aviv, I have learned, has the second highest concentration of start-up companies in the world, trailing only Silicon Valley. Israel, and Tel Aviv specifically, is booming with technology that will be on the forefront of future worldwide innovations and tech trends. Just this past year, an Israeli company, Mobileye, an Israeli tech company that develops vision based advance driver assistance, was purchased by IBM for $15 billion. IBM plans to use Mobileye’s technology to help them develop autonomous cars.
The world news only ever focuses on the bad news that occurs in Israel. Indeed, as I am typing this, Jerusalem is very tense following the installation of metal detectors on the Temple Mount. But there is also an endless amount of good news coming out of Israel, and much of it focuses on innovations being developed in Tel Aviv. I have about a year of my life in Israel, yet this summer has showed me more than ever that there are always more sides of Israel to learn about.
This summer, I have learned a great deal about the innovative ecosystem of Tel Aviv, and I think the rest of the world would be well-suited to learn about it as well.