This past January, while on a Fulbright Fellowship in Business Management in India, I took my only break and went to Israel. For 10 days, I embarked on the adventure of a lifetime. I participated in a new Israel program called Bizrael – a trip to Israel for business students and young professionals to show the incredible innovation and economic success of the Jewish state.
Having studied Economics at the University of Chicago and having worked at places such as Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, and Google, I was delighted at the thought of going to “The Start-Up Nation.” Up until now, I had learned very little about Israel and Judaism, and much of it was in a political context and anti-Israel. Besides my time studying abroad in South Africa, where I studied Nelson Mandela and learned the large role Jews played in the civil rights movement there, I realized that my understanding of the Jewish people and the Jewish state was minimal and incomplete.
I chose to come to Israel after becoming inspired by the book, Start-Up Nation; as an aspiring entrepreneur I yearned to learn more about a country that ranked top in creating some of the most innovative countries in the world. I was curious and wanted to know as much as I could about a country that, despite their history of experiencing oppression, had now become one of the most successful countries for entrepreneurship, innovation, and philanthropy and human rights advocacy. As an aspiring entrepreneur, I also wanted to learn first hand how to build a successful company from scratch and learning about Bizrael, a program dedicated to helping young professionals learn about Israel’s innovative country, I knew Israel was the best place to go to learn about entrepreneurship. Israel is known as the start up nation because although it is a tiny country with only 7 million people, it boasts the largest amount of start-ups per person out of any country in the world. Quite an impressive feat! During my two weeks in Israel I was introduced to the innovation that has the world in awe. We travelled across the small country, touring major Israeli and international companies that have set up R&D centers in Israel, to small startups. Every visit was exciting, but one of my most memorable experiences was meeting the CEO of an Israeli startup called Waze, Uri Levin. Waze, I’m embarrassed to say is a start-up that before traveling to Israel I had never heard of! However, Waze has attracted the attention of the world and is one of the most popular mobile apps. During this session, Mr. Levine not only explained to the Bizrael group how Waze works, but he also shared trips for starting our own businesses. He stressed the importance of resilience, passion, and perseverance in our lives and careers.
Overall, what struck me most about my time in Israel was the deep commitment to problem solving that seemed to run through the veins of all the entrepreneurs and people I met. There was a sincere appreciation for finding and solving the world’s greatest problems – from technology, to water, energy, health, and much more. To witness this was a very humbling experience, and something I have taken with me in my life.
In addition to the company visits, I had the chance to learn more about Israel’s history and culture. Specifically, I got to see the real Israel and not the one that is often portrayed on campus. I saw a vibrant, flourishing country with diversity and tolerance. I saw secular and religious, Jews and Arabs, people of all ethnicities and backgrounds (including Ethiopian Jews – Israel has over 100,000!), living together. On my program, I met fellow students and young professionals and learned about Judaism. I learned just as much from my peers and the Israelis I met as I did the entrepreneurs and business people.
When I joined the other students and young professionals on the trip, from business schools across the country, I assumed I would just learn about Israel’s business and the economy. Not only did I do that, but I also ended up learning much more. I gained an appreciation for all that Israeli’s have accomplished and my respect has grown for the complexity of Israel’s situation. Most importantly, I now realize that Israel is about so much more than just politics and religion. I left the Bizrael trip with a sense for the role I could play apart in for the wonderful future ahead for Israel; a country that has beautifully showcased what it means to lead in innovation. A role where I can make the world a better place by taking Israel’s vision of innovation, leadership, resilience, and problem solving along with me in all my future endeavors as I pursue graduate studies at Columbia and Harvard. It is my hope that I can too become an entrepreneur, much like the ones I met in Israel, and establish an international corporation dedicated to helping women achieve their personal and professional dreams.