“Suddenly, when you arrive in Israel, you’re part of the majority. That’s the first of many eye-openers you’ll experience over the next five months”, says Rabbi Adi Isaacs, founder of Thrive Study Abroad. Thrive gives Jewish university students a semester abroad at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University or Tel Aviv University. The program is generously subsidized by the 7 Schwartz Brothers Leadership Trust.
Why a semester in Israel versus anywhere else? Spending a semester or more allows students to experience Israel like a native, giving them a unique opportunity they may not have on vacation, an internship, or through a program like Birthright. Students immerse in unique experiences to learn about the conflicts, challenges, and accomplishments of daily life in the Startup Nation.
Thrive provides a full-time staff couple on each campus, offering students weekly homemade dinners and lively discussions in addition to organizing memorable after-class activities.
Rabbi Isaacs notes, “We tailor our programs outside the classroom to appeal to students’ personal interests while living here. They’ll meet industry influencers, experience IDF training, visit various ethnic groups in Israel, enjoy Shabbat hosting in Israeli homes, celebrate the Jewish holidays as a national experience, explore topics of Jewish identity and values, sample amazing food, and make new friends for life”. The professional connections they make through Thrive significantly influence their career paths after graduation.
“Israel is the perfect home base for students to explore other destinations.” Mo Knecht, Thrive’s assistant director adds. “Flights are cheaper from Israel and our program provides time for getaways to popular cities like Barcelona, Prague, Rome, Paris, Cyprus, and Dubai.” Of course, students spend a significant amount of time exploring locally, considering the ancient history of Jerusalem and the vibrant urban culture of Tel Aviv, the “vegan capital of the world”.
Tufts University graduate Katie De Brabanter fell in love with Israel during a summer Birthright trip after sophomore year. “I was so taken with Israel. I had to come back for a longer stay. I wanted a semester abroad to be about figuring out my connection to Judaism and the land of Israel. My Thrive experiences helped me do that”.
Reflecting on her semester at Tel Aviv University, she notes, “We became immersed in Israeli life, and it helped me realize what my life could be like if I moved here for real. Thrive provided me with a genuine and supportive community; it’s an amazing program for self-development”. Ms. De Brabanter made connections that led to her employment after graduation by an Israeli cybersecurity company.
Looking back on ten years of Thrive programming, Rabbi Isaacs observes, “So many of our alumni come back to Israel after a year or two. An impressive number have moved here, having experienced a shift in Jewish identity and perspective that can only result from living here for an extended period.” Following their semester in Israel, Rabbi Isaacs says that “Thrive alumni are natural ambassadors for Israel. They gain skills to stand up for Israel on campus, often assuming leadership roles in the Jewish organizations represented there”.
Rena Zoldan, Thrive’s Director of Marketing and Business Development, comments that “we have been able to give many Jewish students a level of unity, confidence, and commitment to Jewish ideals that is hard to duplicate outside of Israel. Considering the criticism of Jews and Israel on campuses today, we’re proud that Thrive alumni become capable advocates to separate fact from fiction”.
The Thrive connection isn’t broken after the semester abroad. Rabbi Isaacs and his staff stay in touch. Dani Zeller, a 2021 Cornell graduate, said, “Rabbi Isaacs and Mo reach out to check on me. My Thrive family is always there, continuing the conversations we started. My main takeaway from Thrive was a new appreciation for Israel and its people. I can’t put a price on the value of experiencing life as a Jew in the land of the Jews. In short, life changing”.
Thrive is currently accepting applicants for Spring 2024 at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information: Thrive Study Abroad
This article was written in cooperation with Thrive Study Abroad