The entrepreneurial trip of a lifetime

The Schusterman Foundation brings elite groups of young innovators for an inspiring Israel experience.

The group (photo credit: MAAYAN BEN ARTZI)
The group
(photo credit: MAAYAN BEN ARTZI)
It’s a typical Thursday night in Jerusalem: A vibrant, energetic group of young people gathers in the Mahaneh Yehuda market, chattering away and taking in the fresh cuisine, culture and history of the city. The group buzzes with energy, murmuring excitedly about topics ranging from the food in front of them to ethics and improving the future.
But this isn’t the ordinary crowd. This particular group of young tourists came to Israel on a trip titled “From Eden to Zion,” a project of the Schusterman Foundation.
The 10-day journey brought a diverse group of some of the brightest, most passionate and creative young entrepreneurs of this generation to Israel to expand on their talents, give them further tools for innovation, and further develop leadership skills.
Among the group members were musicians, start-up CEOs, real-estate developers, social activists, business owners and heads of foundations. Their itinerary included a wide spectrum of activities and experiences, such as visiting kibbutzim in the North to learn about leadership ideals, inclusiveness, work ethic and the importance of building strong relationships in a work environment; Tel Aviv to learn about start-up culture and innovative technology; and Jerusalem to learn about building a modern future while staying true to the past.
The Schusterman Foundation was established in 1987 with the goal of building a better future for both the Jewish people and the world through education, leadership training, and creating networks for innovation. As such, the foundation takes great interest in young people who have a vision to create positive world change through innovative initiatives.
According to Seth Cohen, the organization’s director of network initiatives, “[foundation cofounder] Lynn Schusterman believes in the power of young people to create change through strong positive connection, global community, and dedication to tikkun olam [repairing the world].... [Her late husband] Charles Schusterman has said if a young person has a good mind, we have a lot to work with. We have a generation of young people with talent and great minds. We can put this to work in order to create leaders that are Jewish, dedicated to bettering the world.”
With that in mind, the foundation chose the trip participants carefully, he notes. “All participants were members of ‘Summit,’ which is a magnet for people who think bold, take risks and make it happen. We had a selective application process which prioritized people who expressed interest in seeing Israel through entrepreneurial eyes.”
Ultimately, says Cohen, the goals for the trip were “to energize these incredibly talented individuals and empower leaders to take their place within the Jewish people or Israel, to make Israel a relevant piece to put in their toolbox for global change, and to help them understand that leadership requires understanding of opportunities and challenges – and Israel is rich with both.”
Participant Jessica Assaf – who as a teenager lobbied California state legislation to create a law against unsafe cosmetic products – was particularly inspired by the kibbutz lifestyle.
“Many companies focus on small details, financials, and maintain a desire for independence. In contrast, kibbutzim always focus on the human connection, which is what really matters. They try to create an environment which fosters communication, encourages learning from those around you, and enables people to grow together. I felt very connected to the kibbutz.”
The relaxed culture of kibbutzim struck a chord among many in the group. It was impressive to them that people could be hard-working and accomplished, yet operate in an atmosphere that was calm and tranquil. The balance between these two seemingly opposite work-styles was something they felt could be useful in US companies as well.
Meanwhile, Stephan Cesarini, co-founder of SAS Media and the visionary behind the “What’s Your Dream” initiative – a social movement encouraging individuals to pursue their life passions – was moved by his new-found connection with the personal side of the Middle East conflict.
“My biggest realization is how Americans are so desensitized to war and are unable to connect to the emotions of the people involved,” he says. “This was the first time I could connect [to the conflict] in heart and mind, which brings so much more awareness.”
Ami Aronson – managing director of the Bernstein Family Foundation, a DC based foundation created to sponsor and encourage social change, American democracy, culture, and Jewish causes – was inspired to create similar events for young leaders in the DC metropolitan area.
“I would like to take the community and create a DC Jewish Summit, to promote dialogue about issues that matter through alternative vehicles such as art,” he says.
And Paul Solomon, an influential Los Angeles-based developer, got positive vibes from the vibrant, resilient city life of both Tel Aviv and Mahaneh Yehuda.
He recounts hearing about Mahaneh Yehuda directly after the bombing there during the second intifada; the place was devastated, deserted and full of utter destruction. “You don’t see any evidence of that here today. It is rejuvenated and alive. I hope that we can do the same for downtown Los Angeles.”
While Israel has evidently made an impact on the participants in “From Eden to Zion,” it is the impact these individuals have on Israel, the Jewish people and the world that this trip aims to optimize. As Cohen puts it, “we hope these individuals will now be motivated to become a part of history and step into the amazing Jewish narrative. This narrative is far from finished, but it needs people. People are the oxygen of the Jewish narrative.”