NEW YORK – New York University senior Jackie Retig organized an Innovation Israel convention for its undergraduates and business students at the NYU Stern School of Business along with Liz Beras, a junior at Stern undergrad and president of Stern Political Economy Exchange, sophomore Laura Adkins, and Meredith Shevitz, who helped plan and implement the program that was sponsored by NYU’s David Project.
Retig told The Jerusalem Post that she always tries to encourage other undergraduates to show up to events like this, not because of any inherent bias toward Israel, but because “this is their future. We need to come to events and meet people like this.”
Craig Dershowitz, the first of three speakers, told the audience: “Everything we do is run by artists... They come to us and say they have an idea. If it’s a blue moon and there’s money, we work with them. We don’t worry about messaging. We just hope we say the right thing when the camera’s on.”
Dershowitz grew up in a housing project in New York.
Nonetheless, he said that to him Hebron is the scariest place in the universe. He was once a money-laundering, terrorist-funding prevention officer at Morgan Stanley and had received an award from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for his advocacy work in “changing our perceptions of PR and having an impact on our policy and style.”
Dershowitz is the founder of Artists 4 Israel, a nonprofit organization dedicated to, as he put it, bringing graffiti artists to the region to help “make things pretty.”
Dershowitz described the recent trips he had arranged for graffiti artists – Israeli and non-Israeli, Jewish and non-Jewish – to go to Sderot, Hebron and the West Bank to graffiti the security fence, which he described as “the largest and most famous canvas in the world.” He also set up a trip to the Syrian border, to bring beauty and creativity back to war-torn and needy communities.
“In Sderot, when you see a hole in the ground from a missile, it’s a black hole that sucks away the energy and the life out of the town,” said Dershowitz, who said he is married to an Israeli and is in the process of making aliya. “We can’t stop war, we can’t talk about politics, but we can make things pretty.”
The second speaker of the evening, Eyal Bino, is the founder of Worldwide Investor Network, a startup incubator that helps Israeli startups get a foothold in the US, in part by training them how to be not-so-Israeli when dealing with Americans.
“Israelis will get on a plane, and two days before, they’ll email people they know in New York saying, ‘Can you introduce me to...’” Bino said.
“It’s random and it doesn’t work. We try to teach them not to do that.”
His network currently partners with big-name firms like Deloitte and HP in the US and Israel.
Most of the students attending the talk, including Connie Lee, Jimmy Ye and Dahan Chung – all third-year business undergraduate students – seemed most enamored by the interactive advertisements and music videos demonstrated by Alon Benari, the last speaker of the evening.
Benari is the vice president of creative innovation at Interlude. He also spoke at the Beyond The Conversation Makers Conference hosted by the Israeli Consulate in New York in February.
For Chung, his only connection to Judaism or Israel was an investment firm where he interned. Most of the partners there were Jewish and “interested in this kind of thing,” he said.
Now, Chung added, he would definitely be interested in looking outside the US after graduation.
“I’m definitely interested in seeing innovation from different parts of the world,” Ye said. “This is the type of technology and startups that you usually see connected to Silicon Valley.”
Lee wondered aloud why the politics of Israel hadn’t been discussed more, or really at all, during the presentations.
But for Atara Vogelstein, a Jewish NYU sophomore who is also the co-chairwoman of NYU’s on-campus pro-Israel student club TorchPA C, the break from politics was a nice change.
“It was refreshing in some ways to see a conversation about Israel beyond the conflict,” she said. “I think it’s important to showcase Israel’s cultural contributions. And it’s nice to see that attitude on a college campus, where often the students are apolitical or against Israel.”