Innovation Israel participants conduct a science experiment during their month-long trip to Israel.Every summer, hundreds of American Jewish teens visit Israel on organized trips. Regardless of the sponsoring organization, itineraries tend to be the same – Shabbat in Jerusalem, hiking …
The only interaction tourists get with native Israelis may be the exposure to their assigned guard and while these programs are educational, participants only experience an Israel of the past. But one new program is focusing on the future by showcasing the innovative and creative Israel that’s taking off right before their eyes.
Innovation Israel was developed to engage American high school students in the multifaceted Israel of today and this year’s summer pilot trip ushered in twenty-three young participants for a month-long country overview.
Following morning classes in English from top Tel Aviv University professors covering the gamut from space and astrophysics to neuroscience, philosophy, psychology, and political science, the group spent afternoons visiting everything from high tech companies to artist colonies.
At Ra’anana startup Mobixell, the group was enthralled with the company’s latest mobile telephone technology allowing for the synchronization of online streaming video with a user’s cellular phone. They spent an hour searching for videos on YouTube to watch on some of the company’s mobile phones.
“We’ve seen really great sights that aren’t touristy but are actual companies that people hear about in the news but we’re seeing it in advance,” said Gracie Cohen who will be entering her senior year of high school in Gaithersburg, Maryland. “We’re going into these rooms and they’re giving us lectures about what they are coming out with.”
Amazed at the access and availability granted them, participants toured Intel’s research labs in Israel – responsible for developing most of Intel’s computer chips worldwide – and visited Kodak’s new offices in Petah Tikva. While there, participants were able to see a Magnus 800 platesetter for professional printers, one of the latest Kodak innovations completely designed and produced in Israel.
“We’ve seen some pretty big name companies. That’s what really surprised me,” said David Sandler, a junior from Framingham, Massachusetts. “One of them is even sharing a building with Microsoft R&D. All the technology we’ve seen has been very impressive; at the same time I get to see Israel.”
Sandler said the program’s high standards and focus on non-traditional elements is what attracted him to Innovation Israel.
“I didn’t want to just tour around Israel, I wanted to have some science and art classes,” he told ISRAEL21c.
Of course, intellectual pursuits weren’t the only highlights. “I like this program because it has diversity,” said Robby Richler, who will be entering his senior year of high school in Newton, Massachusetts.
That diversity was reflected in memorable visits to some of the country’s most powerful religious and historical sites – like the Western Wall and Yad Vashem National Holocaust Museum which elicited strong emotional reactions from participants.
“One of the things that will always be with me is the Western Wall. Touching and getting to see it and the view from it will always be on my mind,” said Cohen. “And Yad Vashem will always be with me. It impacted my life; it just impacted me so much.”
The concept for Innovation Israel was derived from a team of educators led by program director Monica Cooper, Ph.D., a neurobiologist and cognitive scientist with extensive teaching and research experience from Yale University and Boston College., and by Israel co-director Yael Feder. While strolling through the TAU campus, Cooper told ISRAEL21c that participants weren’t chosen based solely upon grades but also on intellectual curiosity.
“Israel is a modern, exciting country, whose major product is its brain power, so why not to expose that aspect of Israel to young people, so that they find pride in their connection to Israel, and can better talk about Israel once they get to college?” she said.
“We feel that the Israel of the kibbutz, and many of the other Israels that are offered to youngsters on trips to Israel, are not the only ones. The Israel of innovation, creativity, cutting edge research, arts, life, play, nature, challenge, is perhaps the Israel most in touch with the Israeli character, and that’s the one we want to show young, motivated, students.”
For some group members, unexpected experiences were often the most meaningful. Sandler, who came to the program because he likes science, had an impacting experience at an artists’ village near Haifa. “Sitting at Ein Hod and painting the Mediterranean Sea was very peaceful. I wasn’t expecting to do that or to even like it very much since I’m not a very good painter.”
According to Cooper, the first year of Innovation Israel was “successful sbeyond our wildest dreams. We did so much, saw so much, challenged them constantly, in every sphere of activity, that they grew into integrated, ambitious young people in the short period of a month.”
Above all, the participants report having fun. Said Sandler, “I really like it. It’s very unique. I’m having a great time!”
“I wanted to come to Israel to expand my horizons and see this culture for the first time,” added Cohen. With Innovation Israel she got her wish.