Invest in students, invest in Israel

Invest in students, inve

university of michigan 88 (photo credit: )
university of michigan 88
(photo credit: )
Just a few years ago, pro-Israel students at the University of Michigan faced a multitude of challenges. In 2006, the student government at Michigan's satellite campus in Dearborn unanimously passed a resolution calling on the administration to divest from companies that do business with the IDF. At the flagship campus in Ann Arbor, where we are students, anti-Israel groups lobbied for a similar resolution. In the midst of the anti-Israel turmoil, two visionary students sat in their residence hall brainstorming. Sasha Gribov and Eitan Ingall were both leaders of pro-Israel political student organizations, but they sought a new way to transcend the polarizing discourse on campus and involve students with Israel in a way that is both constructive and sustainable. They realized that there were already groups that provided outlets for students to connect to Israel socially, politically and religiously. But there was no way to connect to the dynamic and innovative Israeli economic landscape. In that context, Gribov and Ingall recruited an executive board and founded the TAMID Israel Investment Group - a student-run organization that connects business-minded students with the Israeli economy. Anti-Israel activists wanted divestment, but TAMID turned the University of Michigan into a pioneer of student investment in Israel. There are approximately 6,500 Jewish students at the university, and we estimate that only 15 percent are active in Jewish or pro-Israel groups. The average Jew on campus feels very little connection. In 2007, researchers Steven M. Cohen and Ari Y. Kelman found data to suggest that apathy toward Israel is most prominent among young adults. "That each age group is less Israel attached than its elders," they write, "suggests that we are in the midst of a long-term and ongoing decline in Israel attachment." Even more frightening, they report that fewer than half of Jews under 35 feel that "Israel's destruction would be a personal tragedy." And why would they? Jewish communities lack the same investment in engaging young adults that we see with youth or senior citizens. TAMID HAD a delegation at the UJC General Assembly, and there was a palpable sentiment that Jewish philanthropists are looking to captivate a new generation of Jewish leaders. In the opening plenary speech at the General Assembly of the Federations of North America, Joe Kanfer, chairman of the Board of Trustees, implored, "We have to open up our systems, engage new voices, bring them in, and more importantly, give them room to operate." The TAMID Israel Investment Group is one of those new voices. TAMID is much more than an investment fund. Through educational seminars about business from top executives in Israel and the US, direct investment in the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, consulting for Israeli start-up companies and the opportunity to intern for a summer at Israeli companies, the TAMID program is offering students a hands-on, deeply rooted relationship with Israel. This kind of experience aligns the personal and professional aspirations of students with the ultimate goals of Israel advocacy. TAMID is no ordinary extracurricular activity; it is a real-world connection. We are offering high level exposure to successful business people, CV-building activities and hands-on experiences that offer immediate benefits to students. This, we believe, is the new wave of successful Israel advocacy and the type of advocacy that foundations and individuals should begin to support more significantly. In just our second semester since we began our program, we have 65 students actively engaged for a minimum of three hours a week. Most had never been involved in other campus Israel organizations and about 25-30 of these students had never even stepped into Michigan's Hillel building. We are attracting a new kind of student. We are stimulating a new kind of relationship. It is the new model for sustainable, impactful engagement. We are seeking funding to launch our inaugural fellowship program this summer with hopes of sending five to 10 students at a very subsidized rate (hopefully free) to intern in Israel. Our ultimate goal is to have TAMID organizations at major universities across North America, sending hundreds of top business-minded students to Israel each year. We are enjoying great success engaging students with Israel in the business niche. There is opportunity for organizations like TAMID to sprout for each profession. We need to recognize the importance of supporting such new ways of connecting young people to Israel now. The only way that is possible is by making such support relevant and value-added to students now.With a deeply rooted understanding of and experience with the Israeli economy, the alumni of TAMID will have a substantial professional network in Israel to leverage throughout their professional careers. Alumni of Tamid who relocate to Israel will have an intimate familiarity with the Israeli job market. Those alumni who are looking to expand their businesses will be comfortable opening a branch in Israel. And those who are professional investors will be more likely to diversify in Israeli securities. Further, and equally important, Israeli companies will be able to leverage business relationships with TAMID alumni who will be top professionals around the world. This powerful network will develop as TAMID grows, and will pioneer a new type of American relationship with Israel that will last forever. The writers are students at the University of Michigan. Siegal is TAMID's vice president for fund-raising and can be reached at Gilson is a member of TAMID and can be reached at