An outstanding oleh

After landing in Israel, Leon Markovitz looked beyond his own interests to see what he could do for the greater good

Leon Markovitz521 (photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Leon Markovitz521
(photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
‘Venezuela is a beautiful country – great climate, gorgeous scenery – but I always wanted to make aliya,” says Leon Markovitz, 24, who has been in Israel since June 2012.
But it wasn’t just Zionism that impelled him to pack up and move to the other side of the world. For years Jews in his country have felt insecure, with anti-Semitism in the government controlled media, mini-bombs thrown into the synagogues and rampant crime and violence – the last directed at all its citizens, but leaving Jews feeling especially vulnerable.
“We have a wonderful community center in Caracas – the Hebraica – and we all got a Jewish and Zionist education,” he says. The place is the focus of Jewish life there, with sports facilities, a pool and restaurants, as well as a school that goes from kindergarten to high school. But that didn’t stop it being raided by the National Guard looking for illegal weapons on at least two occasions he remembers vividly.
Now that president Hugo Chavez has gone, those who stay are adopting a wait-and-see attitude, at least until the elections for the new president on April 14. The so-called “Jewish” candidate, Henrique Cabriles – a devout Catholic whose great-grandfather was a Jew – is not considered a serious contender for the presidency. And the favorite, Nicolas Maduro – a communist former bus driver and union activist, as well as the designated successor to Chavez – is conducting a campaign characterized by violent speeches and personal attacks on his rival.
In Caracas today, fewer than 10,000 Jews remain of the 25,000 who once lived there. Many relocated to Florida, but Israel also attracts the Jews of Venezuela, and according to Markovitz, 10 percent of his class at school made aliya. He estimates that there are 1,500 Venezuelan Jews in Israel, including those who came and established themselves years ago.
In 2010, he came on the Israel Government Fellowship Program, an initiative of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, and spent a year here.
The program offers outstanding and highly motivated young Jews from abroad the opportunity to intern in government offices and in policy and diplomacy organizations. They also take part in educational seminars, learn Hebrew and tour the country.
Markovitz worked at theJustice Ministry in Tel Aviv, working against money laundering and terror financing.
After the year was up, he returned to Venezuela, determined to come back to Israel permanently.
When he returned in 2012, he went straight to an ulpan in Tel Aviv, but his Hebrew was already good enough (from having studied at Hebraica) and he decided to start working straight away. With a degree from Brandeis University in economic and international relations, and experience in Internet marketing – which he had acquired during his studies in New York – he came to Israel with an idea he planned to pitch to people he met in the startup world.
“It’s an application for a phone, which was going to make it easier to donate to charity,” he explains. He began to make some progress with his plan, when he met a friend in a different start-up who suggested he join that company. So he put his idea for convenient philanthropy on hold and plunged instead into the world of growth-hacking – an up-to-date form of marketing that uses psychology and creative skills to create branding images.
While the work is based in Tel-Aviv, the company he works for – Wikibrains, the world’s largest online brainstorm – also partners with CET (The Center for Educational Technology), an NGO dedicated to the advancement of education in Israel, and once a week he travels to Yeroham under CET auspices to bring technology and education to the Negev.
“I consider technological innovation a new form of Zionism,” he says.
“When you combine the concepts of education, technology and the Negev, what more can you ask for?” But life is not all work and after a hard day at the office. Markovitz loves to practice yoga and manages to do this at least four times a week.
“Yoga calms me,” he says. “Everything is accelerated in the world of the Internet, and I need it to change pace and relax.”
He also loves to bike around Tel Aviv and seems to know the city well already, including the in places to sit and have a coffee or a meal. He has made many friends, both Israelis and other new immigrants from all over the world, and feels completely at home here after less than a year. He has not lost the idealism that impelled him to come here in the first place.
“Every time I hear one of my friends complain about something in Israel, whether it’s the manners of the people or something at work which bothers them, I say that it’s up to us to try and make it better,” he says.
“I have to remind them that we are a relatively new country and we are making history,” he adds. “That’s what is so exciting about living here.”