Thirty-six of North America’s brightest Jewish college students will begin two-month all-expenses-paid internships at Israeli finance and hi-tech firms through Birthright Excel next week, but program organizers say the biggest dividends will be reaped decades from now.

Birthright, Taglit’s flagship program, brings Jews between the ages of 18 and 26 from the Diaspora to Israel on a free, 10-day educational trip.

Birthright Excel, which debuted last year, is more selective and focuses on a broad range of topics including leadership, Jewish identity, the global economy and teamwork.

Program head Vered Fishbein told The Jerusalem Post Thursday that Birthright Excel trains its participants to become the Jewish business leaders of the future. She said it does this in the hope that these future leaders will safeguard the strong relationship between the American Jewish community and Israel, including support for initiatives such as Birthright.

Participants will be placed at leading Israeli firms, including Citibank, Tnuva, Pitango Venture Capital, Genesis Venture Capital, Checkpoint, NICE Systems, Compugen, KCPS Private Wealth Management, and Carmel Ventures and its subsidiaries.

They will be assigned mentors here in Israel and will meet with leading decision-makers such as Bank of Israel Gov. Stanley Fischer and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.

It was no easy task asking Israeli companies to take on board college-age non- Hebrew speakers for such a short period of time, Fishbein said. But she added that the firms understood the importance of training the Jewish leaders of tomorrow, and pointed out that this was the first time Israel’s business community had joined with the American business community in answering the challenge.

Harvard sophomore Samuel Doniger is one of the young Americans the project’s backers are hoping turns into a future leader. The economics and history student participated in a regular 10-day Birthright program earlier in May, and after a short vacation in Tel Aviv is ready to begin Excel and his internship at Giza Venture Capital.

Doniger told the Post that he had always intended to spend this summer abroad.

He added that being accepted to Birthright Excel was enough to convince him to knock back offers to teach English and participate in a business immersion program in China.

“I think going abroad is a fundamental part of growing up and maturing. How can I pretend to be an educated citizen if all I know is the northeastern part of the USA?” said Doniger, who was raised in New York. Now that he is in Israel, he has managed to convince his parents and three siblings – none of whom have been to the country – to visit him during his stay here.

“I’m Jewish, but what connected me to Israel I didn’t really understand,” said Doniger, “and being here has shown me why Israel should exist and what’s important about having a Jewish state.”

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