If you’ve noticed a surge in business, traffic, noise, and English speakers in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem this summer, your observations are far from imaginary. Each summer, university students from around the world flock to Israel for Taglit-Birthright trips and Onward Israel summer internship programs, creating a palpable energy in the city.
You may already be familiar with Taglit-Birthright, a not-for-profit organization that offers free 10-day educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults. Onward Israel, originally established in 2012 as a program of the Jewish Agency for Israel, now operates as a department of Taglit-Birthright Israel. Birthright Israel Onward connects college students from around the world with internships in Israel, working in partnership with Masa Israel Journey.
This summer, I had the privilege of participating in a unique internship program called the TAMID Fellowship, a partner of Birthright Israel Onward. Unlike other programs, TAMID welcomes non-Jews to live, work, and explore Israel, fostering a diverse and inclusive experience, both in Israel during the summer and on campus throughout the year.
I am working at an insure-tech company called VOOM Insurance, and I have peers working at an impressive array of established companies and start-ups, including Lynx.MD, Brew, Kompas VC, Catalyst Investments, PwC, Vegan Friendly, Helios, Deloitte, and many others.
The effects of TAMID's non-political, non-religious nature
The TAMID Group, founded by students in 2008, is a business club that seeks to forge a strong connection between the next generation of business leaders and Israel. Student members can choose to consult for Israeli start-ups, research Israeli stocks, or work with Israeli tech companies. Since its inception at the University of Michigan, TAMID has expanded to include thousands of student members across 61 campuses worldwide.
What is striking about TAMID’s mission is its apolitical and nonreligious nature; it focuses on Israel through a business lens, which also gives students the opportunity to engage with the country and its citizens in a new way.
The TAMID Fellowship has deepened my relationship with the country, but not in the way that one might expect. This summer, I have strengthened my connection and support of Israel, especially through conversations with my non-Jewish friends in the program. While my TAMID chapter at Emory University is predominantly Jewish, our fellowship includes participants from FLAME University in India and New York University Shanghai in China.
These chapters were initiated by non-Jews and have never had any Jewish members. Non-Jewish participants from those universities, as well as others from different universities, applied, interviewed, and came to Israel because it is a hub of innovation and provides incredible opportunities for personal and professional growth.
Fostering a non-Jewish association and connection to Israel
ONE FRIEND, whom I met through the fellowship, is Shaamil Karim, a rising sophomore at Dartmouth University. He grew up in a Muslim family and lived has lived in Bahrain, Dubai, and India. He shared with me that he “never thought that he would experience his best summer yet, in Israel.”
Although he was “intimidated before getting here by media coverage, people’s misconceptions, and the immigration process,” he shared that “Tel Aviv has welcomed [him] with open arms” and that “everyone should visit at least once to experience the rich cultural, religious, and professional elements of this Start-Up Nation.”
My peers continually inspire me with their insights and consideration for the place and the people around them. Since I grew up with an Israeli parent, visited Israel often as a child, and have always been part of a close-knit Jewish community, I am imbued with an inherent obligation to support Israel.
However, witnessing how my peers – now friends, without any familial or religious ties to the country – dedicate their summers to working for Israeli companies in one of the most misunderstood regions of the world, has profoundly impacted me.
The realization that non-Jews actively seek an association with Israel has been a revelation. Despite the abundance of misinformation in the news and the potential backlash they might face from friends and peers upon returning to campus, these individuals still made the choice to participate in this fellowship, driven by the desire to access top-notch internships in the best possible setting.
Combatting BDS with programs that support Israel's strength
As publications like The Jerusalem Post often emphasize, the issue of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement on university campuses is both real and significant. While I consider myself fortunate to attend a university with strong pro-Israel organizations and a deep Zionist student base, schools like Berkeley, Columbia, Michigan, and numerous others harbor robust BDS scenes that stifle pro-Israel students from expressing their beliefs.
We need more programs like the TAMID Fellowship. These programs highlight the objective and logical strengths of Israel, such as its thriving hi-tech sector. They present Israel as an attractive nation worthy of international support, and they present a more truthful reality of Israel that college students can engage with.
The TAMID Fellowship provides students who lack a prior connection to Israel with a compelling reason to counter the detrimental effects of BDS on their campuses. Armed with their firsthand experiences, TAMID Fellows can challenge and reshape misconceptions about Israel, even through seemingly trivial anecdotes about the nightclubs they visited, the new foods they tried, the protests they attended, and the people they met.
Programs like TAMID help us rewrite the common narrative that surrounds Israel in the media, allowing Israel to shine. And, when it comes from non-Jews, it holds even greater weight and credibility. Non-Jewish participants engaging with Israel from a business perspective offer a fresh and objective lens that transcends religious and political affiliations.
Changing the notion that support for Israel is solely tied to religious or ethnic identity
We must continue to support and encourage initiatives like the TAMID Fellowship. Such programs provide a platform for individuals to experience Israel beyond preconceived notions and stereotypes, promoting a nuanced understanding of the country’s strengths and contributions to the global community. Through this new understanding, we can build bridges between diverse communities, dispelling any misinformation.
Moreover, by empowering non-Jewish individuals to advocate for Israel based on their personal experiences, we challenge the notion that support for Israel is solely rooted in religious or ethnic identity. These individuals are ambassadors who can effectively counter the harmful narratives propagated by the BDS movement and contribute to a more accurate and nuanced perception of Israel on their respective campuses.
I am very grateful to TAMID at Emory, TAMID Group, Birthright Israel Onward, Masa, and all of the other organizations that have made this summer fellowship possible. As I look to the future, I feel more optimistic about Israel’s international reception. Now, Israel has almost 200 new ambassadors, Jewish and non-Jewish.
The writer is a rising second-year student at Emory University in Atlanta, studying business and Middle Eastern and South Asian studies. She is interning for VOOM Insurance in Tel Aviv as part of the TAMID Fellowship this summer.