The Yeshivah of Flatbush group with Associate Principal Sari Bacon, far right.
Asher Lifshutz, 16, is in a new electronic, mechanical and computer engineering program at the Yeshivah of Flatbush Joel Braverman High School in Brooklyn. He’s one of 14 Flatbush students who jumped at the chance to come to Israel during winter break to see how these professions power Israel’s high-tech industry and how he might one day take his own place in that industry.
“I figured [the trip] was an opportunity to do what I want to do, in the Holy Land,” Asher told ISRAEL21c during a lunchtime stop at Jerusalem’s Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall.
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The tour was planned by Keshet, the Center for Educational Tourism in Israel, in cooperation with the school’s associate principal, Sari Bacon. Though it included just-for-fun activities such as jeeping in the Galilee and the Olympic Experience interactive museum, the itinerary focused on technology and business.
“Our objective was to expand on our programs in engineering,” Bacon said. “Going on a trip to Israel, we thought, would help our students see what they could do [professionally], especially in the context of Israel since one of the core values of our school is that Medinat Yisrael [the State of Israel] is a divine gift. Our hearts and minds are fully committed to the state of Israel.”
Learning about failures and successes
Dubbed “Entrepreneurs, Engineers, Soldiers, and Venture Capitalists,” the February tour included meetings with two of the primary drivers of Israel’s growth from an industrial nation to one of the world’s leading startup centers: “Grandfather of the Silicon Wadi” Yossi Vardi, and venture capitalist Ed Mlavsky.
Accompanied by Keshet guide Muki Zohar, the group visited Mobileye, maker of vision-based driver assistance systems; toured PrimeSense, the developers of Kinekt for Xbox; took part in entrepreneurship workshops with Israeli industrialists and university students; and talked with serial entrepreneur Bob Rosenschein of Answers.com.
For Asher, one of the highlights of the trip was hearing how Rosenschein and other startup legends picked themselves up from previous ventures that crashed and died.
“The CEOs talked to us not just about how they succeeded but how they failed,” he said. “That’s more important, because everyone succeeds in their own way, but when you put together how everyone failed, you learn from their mistakes how to succeed as well.”
Albert Benjamin, 17, told ISRAEL21c that Rosenschein’s presentation “was well planned out and had a big impact on me because he explained not only how to be a better businessman but also how to be a better person. He is very calm and positive, and the way he does things affects everyone around him positively.”
‘It’s definitely going to shape our future’
The 14 students – 13 boys and one young woman from the Flatbush class of 2012 – also had a behind-the-scenes look at G-Nius, one of Israel’s leading robotics companies; the Trendlines Incubator for life-science startups; Microsoft’s Israel R&D center; electric car network developer Better Place and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.
“I love engineering and the whole field of science in general, and I feel like it’s definitely going to shape our future,” said Sammy Tbeile, 16, “so I felt that right now Israel is the biggest innovator in technology and if I want to go into this, and really leave my mark on the world, the best place to do this is the biggest center.
“Just like Socrates went to the Acropolis when he wanted to get knowledge, I’m going to the Acropolis of technology,” Sammy concluded.
The associate principal is hopeful that the tour will become an annual option at Flatbush, based on its impact on the inaugural group of participants.
“We have a new director of technology at the school who is very interested in working with the students on app building and other inventions, and I think we’ve got ourselves 14 students who may want to be a part of that now,” she predicted.
Keshet has designed educational Israel tours for more than 20 Jewish day schools in the United States and England, ranging from 10 days to three months in length and customized to each school’s preferences.
“Rather than learning about Israel through pictures and words, students can live the experience that they have been studying,” the tour company’s website explains. “The students who have participated in these trips return home with a strengthened Jewish identity and a sense of belonging to Israel.”