(photo credit: Taglit-birthright)
A new venture being launched Thursday aims to perpetuate connections forged on Taglit-birthright trips and provide professional assistance for young Jews looking to begin their careers in business and entrepreneurship.
Almalinks, co-founded by American Max Bronstein and Israeli Tomer Sapir has partnered with Taglit-birthright, and will organize networking and mentoring opportunities these aspiring businesspeople.
More than 300 people are signed up for the Almalinks launch to be held Thursday night at IDC Herzliya. It will include a reception and speeches by the founders, Israeli government officials and businessmen and entrepreneurs.
The idea for Almalinks began to form after Bronstein, now pursuing a master's degree in the United States, and Sapir, a technology entrepreneur in Tel Aviv, met on a birthright trip in 2007. Bronstein was a participant and Sapir was one of the IDF soldiers traveling with Bronstein's group.
"Before that trip, I didn't know what birthright was about," Sapir said. "After five days, I started to understand this trip and how it makes people change and understand their Jewish identity."
After the trip, they decided there were not enough ways to maintain the connections forged on the trips in the years immediately following the experience. Of the 230,000 Jewish young adults birthright has brought to Israel over the past nine years, only 30 to 40 percent come back to Israel for another trip.
"We thought it was sort of unfortunate that once the birthright trip ended, there was no way to continue those ties [among participants] and continue to talk about Israel and think about Israel," Bronstein said Tuesday. "We decided that we would like to initiate something that would enable us to strengthen and maintain those connections."
The unique and important thing about Almalinks' effort is the common professional interests of participants, said Yossi Beilin, a former MK who played a central role in the creation of Taglit and is still involved in the organization.
Almalinks will help maintain birthright alumni's connections to other Jews and to Israel, which would otherwise fade with time, Beilin said.
"With the same profession, they will have a common language," he said. "This is very, very important because they are doing something which might prevent forgetting Taglit and keeping ongoing relations with Israel on a professional basis."
Almalinks will help young professionals gain the contacts, skills and experience necessary to be viable members of the business community in the current job market, Bronstein said. It will do this by creating a database of new and experienced Jewish professionals, arranging mentors and planning local, regional and international conferences where participants can meet.
The goal is to build up an extensive network of members who can collaborate, teach and learn from each other, said Shaun Waksman, a member of the Almalinks leadership committee.
Almalinks hopes to attract a wide spectrum of participants, to increase the opportunities that the community can offer - Jews in the Diaspora, native Israelis, new olim, secular Jews, Orthodox Jews, and everything in between, Sapir said.
Something that sets Almalinks apart is its wide scope, Bronstein said. From the beginning, it was a global venture because it was forged between an American and an Israeli.
"That's a pretty rare thing. Most initiatives have to start pretty locally," Bronstein said. "Our goal from the very beginning was to make this an international organization."
The database and conferences will provide a platform for an exchange of business and entrepreneurial ideas that will transcend national boundaries while locally, young adults will be paired with mentors with similar professional interests who live in their areas.
"Ideally, the point is to provide an informal educational experience that will make our members more competitive and more viable candidates for the working world," Bronstein said.
As new professionals themselves, Sapir and Bronstein received guidance from Dr. Ze'ev Ganor, an Israeli entrepreneur and professor at the Technion in Haifa, who is part of Almalinks' executive committee.
Even pioneer companies need someone with experience in the business world to help them navigate the process of launching and maintaining a business, Ganor said.
"I am always suggesting to [new professionals] that they hire people with gray hair or no hair on their heads," Ganor said. "It's very important to get the right mix of creativity, enthusiasm and experience. This is the goal of this experience."