Working a 9-5 job every day might not sound like a recipe for the best summer of your life, but Israel has a way of making everything special. Since 2012, a program called Onward Israel has given college students a generously subsidized opportunity to intern and gain an intimate understanding of everyday life in the homeland.
“You grow in a different way than if you’re with a group all the time, and I think Onward gave me a lot more chances to be truly independent, because you’re in your own internship, you’re doing your own thing, and yeah, you have your group, but your whole days are led by you,” said Jacob Maselek, a Marblehead native who interned at a Jerusalem startup in 2015 when he was a student at Clark University in Worcester.
Helping young people achieve personal and professional independence and confidence is one of the program’s main objectives, according to Onward’s President Ilan Wagner.
“The initial emphasis was résumé building, which we understood to be something that young people were looking to find ways to accomplish,” he said. “They said the number one way to do that was through internships, but there could be a variety of other types of interpretations of how you build your résumé.
“The second theme is having an immersive living experience. So a lot of the way the program is set up, in terms of giving people a stipend, they buy their own food, they cook their own food, they live in apartments, they travel on their own to work. It’s an adult living experience rather than a teen program or a structured group program.”
Still, participants are not left to fend for themselves for the six- to 10-week internships. Most arrive either with their university Hillel or their home city group and choose to be based in either Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, or Haifa. Each group has a trip and internship supervisor to make sure everything is b’seder (“in order”). As a preeminent college hub, Boston sends the largest cohort of any city each year, and Combined Jewish Philanthropies pays for about 30 percent of the cost. Most of the rest is sponsored by Masa Israel Journey, the Jewish Agency of Israel, the Israeli government, and private donations, so participants only pay about $400, depending on their particular program. Most participants have previously been on Birthright, so Onward organizes three group trips to places not covered on the standard Israeli sightseeing tour.
When they’re not working, participants relish the opportunity to travel throughout the country. “I saw some of the coolest stuff I had seen through traveling on my own,” said Maselek. “We did a trip down to Eilat … I stayed in Tiberias, where the hostel owner took us to these abandoned hot springs behind an IDF base, and we got to see the Syrian border, so we did some non-touristy stuff.”
“I made lifelong friends, and we basically traveled the country in these big groups,” said Pauleen Faynberg of Stoughton, who stayed in Jerusalem in the summer of 2016 before her sophomore year at Clark University. “We would have these overnight stays called Shabbatons at random places in the desert, and that really brought us together. The struggles of living in a different country brought us together.”
But as Wagner said, the program is by and large an internship program, and participants attain full-time internships based on their interests. Many months before the program, students interview with a program representative for an initial screening. An internship coordinator then helps applicants find a suitable English-speaking internship, and sets up an interview with potential supervisors. Over the years, participants have interned at a diverse range of companies and organizations, from Greenpeace to Sodastream to Yad Vashem to the municipality of Tel Aviv.
Maselek, who knew he wanted to work in technology marketing, interned for Curiyo, a Jerusalem company that builds web applications for publishers. For six hours each day, he helped with the app store, social media, and launching products. Soon after, he was offered a full-time job, and spent another year living in Jerusalem.
Maselek, who now works as a product manager for Wayfair in Boston, said his internship with Curiyo helped him learn more about his professional interests. “Working for a technology company was awesome, seeing what it’s like to work with engineers was really interesting,” he said. “I was doing marketing, but I feel like it pushed me more towards the technical side – I was really interested in how they were building things.”
Faynberg interned with the youth outreach center of the Ethiopian National Project, a nonprofit helping immigrant Jews – many suffering from poverty and discrimination – integrate into Israeli society. Faynberg helped coordinate fundraising, after-school activities, and English lessons for children.
“I loved it, because I wouldn’t normally get to interact with Ethiopian Jews, because they tend to cluster in their own neighborhoods and there’s not many in Jerusalem,” she said. “We couldn’t really have sophisticated conversations, because they didn’t speak English and I speak broken Hebrew … but they were optimistic and hopeful.”
Both Maselek and Faynberg found Israeli work culture to be more relaxed than it is in the States. “I think it’s more casual, and you’re expected to take initiative on the projects you’re working on, and they really gave us the freedom to do what we wanted, and if we had ideas, they’d let us run with it and see where they went,” said Faynberg.
“It’s really relaxed, and seemed really laid back – it felt more like a part of your life than people working to live. People would come in at different times, and it seemed like there was more freedom in the areas than I had experienced before, and I’ve worked at a lot of different companies,” said Maselek.
For more information about Onward Israel call 212-339-6941 or email email@example.com.