• by Ilan Wagner
    Onward Israel President/CEO

    While Israel has enjoyed one of its rainiest seasons on record (accompanied by worries about climate change as well), at Onward Israel we are enjoying the variety and scope of our winter programs. Although programs continue into mid-March and one of them has not yet begun, we are anticipating preserving our 2019 winter size of just over 400 participants, including impressive growth in the Wintership program and the Latin America Hillel program.

    One of the Winternship participants, Shiran Chai from USC, active in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, interned at the Malenki Theater Company in Tel Aviv. Shiran was the focus of an interview on Radio 103 in Israel, part of our efforts to expand awareness about the value of interns from abroad for Israeli companies. This value is readily apparent through the efforts of the 106 participants from Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina who comprise the Latin America Hillel program.

    In addition to internships, these participants benefit from a unique program that includes company visits, an academic course, and participation in the Our Crowd conference at the end of February. We have also completed another successful round of the Tav Tech program, a coding course for North American students, in conjunction with the Bronfman Center at NYU. Our commitment to the winter season, and our aspirations of reaching 500 participants in 2021, remain steadfast.

    Check out this amazing opportunity for qualifying students getting ready to go on Onward Israel.

    Mission
    JELF (Jewish Educational Loan Fund) provides interest-free loans for Jewish students in need to meet their post-high school, educational goals. Undergrad, graduate, vocational and/or technical school students are eligible to apply.

    Applicants must
    • Have filled out the FAFSA form
    • Be a resident of FL, GA, SC, NC or VA (excluding metro DC)
    • Be enrolled full-time in a degree or certificate program
    • Be a U.S. citizen or have lawful immigration status
    • Have a co-signer for their loan

    Application Periods
    Applicants should visit JELF.org/loans/app to start the process. The application is open on March 1 – April 30 for the full academic year and September 1 – 30 for spring and/or summer semester only. You can sign up anytime to receive pertinent reminders and application dates.

    How JELF Works
    JELF’s interest-free loans serve as “last dollar” loans, meaning that JELF requires students to assemble a financial aid package before applying for funding from JELF. JELF loans most often assist with necessary living expenses, including housing, meals, books and/or transportation. In addition to the online application, all applicants and their co-signers must meet with a Local JELF Administrator for a personal interview. JELF conducts a semi-annual Loan Review process, during which each JELF applicant is screened anonymously in order to make tough funding decisions.

    Loan Repayment
    JELF loans are always deferred while a student is in school. Six months after a student’s final graduation is when the JELF repayment period begins. All students then have a total of eight years to repay their loan at a graduated repayment rate, which means that monthly payments increase gradually (every two years) in order to ensure that a student can best manage. JELF’s repayment rate has been at a consistent 99% for over 10 years. This helps us understand that not only are our students becoming capable, independent professionals, but that they value the need to recycle JELF’s funds within the Jewish community.

    by Ilan Wagner
    Onward Israel President & CEO

    All of us who have the privilege of meeting Onward Israel participants at the beginning and end of their experience are usually struck by their growth and maturation over the course of those two short months. We know from our longitudinal studies that this growth (Jewish, Israel related and professional) continues apace after the programs and that the impact of the program sticks after 3 years. Next month we will learn more about alumni when our external evaluators (Rosov Consulting LLC) finish our first ever 5-year after study and an additional 3-year after report as well.  Tracing the program’s impact on alumni is important for future funding and support, but we clearly can gain a lot more from our alumni now. To this end, we have worked with our partners over the past few months to identify outstanding alumni in order to form the first cohort of the Onward Israel Alumni Council. Consisting of 11 outstanding program alumni, this first cohort is impressive and representative of the full breadth of Onward Israel: six women and five men; eight students and three young professionals; from Tulane (2), University of Pennsylvania (2), University of Delaware, Harvard, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba (Argentina), University of Central Florida, Indiana University, University of Florida and Syracuse.  One member of the council is from Latin America, one currently lives in Israel and one is studying in the UK. Truly a global group! The purpose of the council is to provide guidance and wisdom to help with the future development of Onward Israel on aspects as diverse as internships, education, recruitment, social media, fundraising and partnerships. The group will conduct several webinars with Onward Israel staff and then come together once a year for an alumni council retreat in New York. You can learn more about the council here.

    by Ilan Wagner
    Onward Israel President & CEO

    The Year That Was, The Year That Will Be

    From a programmatic point of view we can sum up 2019 as our biggest and best year to date: 2806 participants (12% growth) and quality improvements in six of the seven indicators we use to measure ourselves. When we originally planned 2019 we asked whether Onward Israel could truly grow with quality- the answer is a resounding yes. This of course doesn’t mean that we aren’t asking the same question as we launch our 9th year of operations in 2020. Growth is contingent on securing the needed financial resources, launching new partnerships, expanding recruitment, securing additional placement opportunities, finding sufficient housing solutions and making sure that our organizers grow in their capacity to implement additional programs for additional participants. Until now, the Onward Israel network of local partners, organizers, funders, and staff have succeeded in this task 8 years in a row. We are hopeful, and confident, that 2020 will continue this positive trend. As we grow, we plan to continue expanding our strategic partnership with Masa Israel Journey, now including some 75% of our participants. Increased synergy in our CRM systems, clearer branding and exploration of further collaboration on marketing, internships and education are all part of this stronger cooperation.

    Winter Wonderland

    Onward Israel’s winter program mix is always a fascinating one: Latin Americans, South Africans, Australians, Europeans and North Americans arrive on different dates, live and work in different cities and participate in a variety of programmatic models. Some programs started in early November, while others won’t begin until mid-January. Many programs are internships, while others offer professional training, opportunities to learn coding, and even preparation for those wishing to volunteer in the IDF. We expect Winter 2020 registration numbers to be similar to those of Winter 2019: approximately 400 participants. Although the diversity of programs is impressive, it is a challenge to find points of interaction and encounter between programs – one of the strong points of the summer season. We believe that the sense of Jewish Peoplehood, which is one of the outcomes of Onward Israel, is fostered by such inter-program interaction and hence we will continue to think of creative solutions. Speaking of creativity, one of the interesting program ideas that we are exploring this winter is the idea of a remote work retreat in partnership with an organization called Gather. Their unique idea is to provide a co-work space in Israel for young people from abroad who already work remotely, and to combine such a space with educational, enrichment and experiential aspects. The pilot cohort is scheduled for a kibbutz in the North of Israel in the month of January.

    Launch Time

    One of our busiest times of year is actually not when the participants are on the ground (though that is busy too, of course) but in the period between September 1 and November 18. In these 10 weeks, we review all of the previous year’s programs, secure new partners, work with organizers to update continuing programs, and coordinate program approvals with our partners at Masa. Once program details (price, dates and number of participants) are agreed upon, account managers work with each local partner to coordinate the program launch, open the application and begin registration. Three programs – Camp Counselors, Toronto, and Montreal – were actually launched in October because they begin in May, but the vast majority of North American programs were launched on November 18. In the first few days of registration, 609 applicants registered for programs, an increase of 30% over the same time period last year. We don’t expect such registration pace to continue, but we are encouraged by this platform for continued growth in 2020. The 2020 menu includes some exciting new programs: In the campus initiative, we are welcoming new cohorts with Vanderbilt Hillel, University of Michigan Hillel, and University of Texas Hillel, as well as a new partnership with Olami and jInternship at Rutgers. We are very excited that the Detroit Federation has joined us with its own cohort and we are also initiating a new theme based program partnership with JNF around the Aleh Negev rehabilitation village. On the community side, we hope to grow the size of community cohorts in South Palm Beach, Chicago and New York. The final size of each cohort is a function of recruitment and funding, and even after program launch we carefully monitoring both of those vectors to assess final program size.

    Onward Israel CEO Ilan Wagner visits the ILTV Israel News office to talk about the benefit of Onward Israel for participants and for employers in Israel.

    Beware of Spoilers

    In the previous issue of Looking Onward, I was proud to update regarding the growth in applicants and participants in 2019- the seventh consecutive year of such expansion. Certainly making the Onward Israel opportunity available to growing numbers of eligible young people is one of our chief strategic objectives. It is not alone however: we also strive to improve the program each year, to use participant feedback to make needed changes and to maintain or even improve our overall quality scores.  During the summer we ask all participants to fill out a mid and end program survey, and use those numbers to score the programs in four key areas: logistics, internships, education and staff.  Some initial  patterns are clear. 1) The overall quality of the experience has improved since last year; 2) Participants continue to recommend the program to their peers at a very high level; and 3) programs improved from the mid-program assessment and intervention to the end of program evaluation. All three of these quality improvements have been achieved while adding more than two hundred additional participants this summer and more than three hundred all together in 2019.

    The Importance of Choice

    Onward Israel’s educational approach stems from the field of adult education- emphasizing the autonomy of the learner and their ability to choose their subjects of inquiry. This is not always easy to implement for 2400 participants over the course of a summer. Our participants of course vary in their maturity, motivation to learn and prior knowledge of Israel- all factors which influence their interaction with educational opportunities. As we think about how best to build out this menu of opportunities we consider also the optimal mixture of choice and pre-determined programming. The Israel Now days- the three days of organized group travel- are pre-determined: local partners and organizers shape the content but participants receive a pre-built three day menu. On the other hand, three other educational components- The Breakout Shabbatonim, the Chugim and the Shishi Tours (weekend retreats, mid-week workshops and Friday touring opportunities)- are all built on participants’ choosing what they want to learn from a menu of options.  With participant choice also comes participant responsibility for that choice: more than 90% of participants successfully completed immersion in the breakout Shabbaton or chug content they chose. The Shishi tours, a new element this year, was heavily subscribed as well, and we look forward to expanding that option next year to additional participants. It is also interesting to note that participants on the whole give higher evaluation scores to choice elements. For 2020, we are beginning to think about how we can use participant preferences to influence the Israel Now days as well. Not an easy one to pull off, but worth thinking of.

    And then your Onward Israel program ends

    Every year near the end of the summer, our Israel based staff spends much of its time visiting Onward Israel groups to help them begin to summarize and process their experience. We try first to get a sense, in the participants’ own words, about the pros and cons of their program. Then we focus on two key questions: what do you feel like you are taking away from the experience and what changes would you suggest we make in next year’s program? The first question, while challenging at first, quickly leads to profound insights about personal growth, professional gains, new connections with Israel, the importance of friends, social capital and networks, and commitment to continuing Jewish journeys. There is nothing more rewarding than hearing an Onward participant talk openly and honestly about the impact of the experience on their emerging sense of self. The second question, especially when similar ideas are mentioned by participants across programs, often leads to changes in our guidelines and to the birth of new program components, like this year’s shishi tours, inspired by comments from 2017 and 2018. The final piece of these sessions is to let participants (soon to be alumni) about opportunities after their Onward Israel program: trips, conferences, fellowships and jobs. We continue to make these resources available through bi-weekly emails and on our web site, and will begin to do so through a regional lenses starting in 2019-20. We also promote our Share Some Friends app to promote the program to peers and friends and also plant the seeds for a new idea for 2019: an alumni council. The idea of the alumni council is to gather a select and recommended group of Onward Israel alumni, across all cohorts and globally, to serve as advisors to our professional staff as we continue to develop and grow in areas such as fundraising, program design, recruitment and alumni engagement. We are very excited about the initial alumni council group- which will have periodic web conferences and gather once a year in person as well. 

    Value for Interns, Value for Supervisors

    The majority of Onward Israel participants are motivated chiefly by the perceived value of a global internship in Israel. Onward Israel has been successful over the years in fulfilling this expectation. This year, when asked to rank from 1-10 the resume building value of their internship, participants scored this element at a high level: 8.19 (the same item was scored at 7.95 in 2018).  Impressive levels of participant evaluation of the internship is half the story; the other half is the perceived value that the intern supervisors (employers) derive from hosting interns. Our employer survey sheds light on this issue. 87% of supervisors reported they derived a high degree of benefit from their intern (compared to 83% last year) and 93% (similar to last year) expressed their willingness to host interns next year as well. The retention of current companies is critical for the continued growth of Onward Israel’s ability to absorb more participants. The inclusion of new companies (this year more than 400 new supervisors joined the network of participating companies) is also of great importance. More details about our employer survey will be presented at the Fall Network meeting. In the meantime, we are working with one of our most important partners, the Tamid Group, to raise the profile of the summer internship within Israel society through expanded media coverage and additional advocacy efforts.  We have been granted, along with Tamid, a generous grant by the Israel Business Pipeline through the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and the Paul E. Singer Foundation to launch a P.R. strategy to expand summer internships. I believe that this effort can also benefit from related efforts, after last year’s job fair, to build the FutureIL platform to ease the connection between young people from around the world and Israeli businesses, in Israel and around the world. 

    Finally, I would also like to share that our efforts to raise more funds to fuel the future growth of Onward Israel are accelerating. We recently held a parlor meeting for interested parties in New York and will hold another parlor meeting in San Francisco on September 19. We are also putting the final touches on the platform which will allow participants at the end of their programs to donate their security deposit to Onward Israel- paying forward to allow others to enjoy the experience in the future. This is a great example of Onward Israel truly leading Onward J.

    Looking Onward,

    Ilan  Wagner

    President/CEO

    by Julia Cordover, Onward Israel University of Florida, Summer 2019

    Let life take you on a (camel) ride and don’t let the humps stop you from   having an enjoyable experience.

    Hello & Shalom!   

    It was an opportunity for me to better myself. To genuinely learn about  the basic things of life we (students) don’t learn from a textbook. I booked  my flights and packed up a suitcase. The moment I parted from my  parents, I knew the steering wheel was mine. It was the beginning of  many firsts. The first time I would build my professional career. The first  time I would be 6,600 miles away from my family, my comfort zone, my  English language, and my car. It was the first time something fulfilling and  different was on its way as I immersed myself in a new country.    Mama, I made it! When I landed at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, I  had felt an emotional sensation strike through me. I would spend the next  80 days appreciating the diversity, love, and acceptance this special  country has to offer through traveling, working and eating!   

    1. DISCONNECT  Get off your phone!!! Let your eyes and mind take in the beauty of new  experiences. Give yourself some sort of limit on the amount of time you  spend on social media or texting because, chances are, rather than being  on your phone, you can have a face-to-face conversation with someone  who might largely impact your life.   

    2. ENGAGE  The streets are full of wisdom. Interact with strangers, listen to their  perspective on life, and ask questions. Curiosity is an essential part of  growing as an individual. With new insight, you will have a greater  appreciation for other peoples’ point of view. Remember to stay  open-minded and things may surprise you!   

    3. GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE  Do something fun, do something different. Whether it is spending an hour  reading a book, cooking or hiking. Being away from home will give you  the opportunity to find a new hobby or interest that can make you happy:)   

    4. WAKE UP EARLY  Are you sleeping in until noon? Set an alarm, grab some coffee, and go  off to explore! If you don’t have an itinerary for that day, walk around  and see what comes your way. You will never know what is waiting for  you if you don’t try. Plus, before you know it, the sun will have set on your  entire trip, and you will regret the time you spent sleeping rather than  exploring.    

    5. MAKE A SUMMER BUCKET LIST  Are you ready to jump off an airplane? Or see extraordinary fish while  scuba diving? Make a list of a few realistic or far-fetched goals. No  worries if you don’t accomplish them this trip because now you have  things to look forward to the next!    

    6. REFLECT  Collect moments, not things!!! Cut out a few minutes each day to reflect  on what you did. Are you happy with what today brought you? Can you do  something differently tomorrow? Set personal goals in order to live your  best life.  

    The entire summer I had a smile on my face.

    I smile for the knowledge Birthright taught me in just a short 10 days. I  learned that my “Jewishness” is not defined by how much I pray or go to  temple. I learned that Israel is full of diversity. 

    I smile for the lessons I learned on by Onward Israel program interning at GK. Having no prior  experience in the workforce, I was warmly embraced by an office full of  rockstars. I was relieved to learn everyone in my office spoke English. The  first week or two, I was listening as my co-workers threw around concepts,  words, and lesson plans I have never heard before. I quickly caught on to  the office vibes. My internship taught me the beauty of women  empowerment. Working at a public relations firm surrounded by mostly women created a workspace full of women supporting one another. These  women embody the the magic of networking, the importance of receiving  constructive criticism, the perks of taking time to be independent, and the  rewards of communicating professionally with clients. For me, interning at  GK was a rewarding experience that gave me a taste of the Israeli  culture which added so much to my time in Israel. 

    Although the sun has set on my Israel experience, I learned something very  quick: my love for Israel is overwhelming. From the minute I arrived, I was  immediately welcomed by all the natives. Truly everyone I have met on  this life journey will leave an impact in my heart. Being able to live and  immerse myself in a new country has been a postive, optimistic  experience I wish more students had the chance to experience. I can  confidently say the best experiences of Israel must be free… or purchasing  falafel and hummus, of course! With the lessons I learned, I am a better  person than I was yesterday.    

    by Elliot Karp

    Bay Area Reception

    Thanks to the generosity of the Jim Joseph and Koret Foundations, Onward Israel will host a reception on September 19th for San Francisco Bay Area friends interested in learning more about Onward Israel and how they can philanthropically support our growing program.  For more information please contact Elliot Karp, Vice President of Development, at (513) 608-4174 or ebkarp@gmail.com.

    “Pay It Forward” Parlor Meeting Initiative

    Are you interested in becoming an Onward Israel AMBASSADOR?  Would you be willing to host a parlor meeting reception at your home or office; and help to introduce friends and family to our highly successful and tremendous program providing young adults with immersive and transformative Israel experiences while building their resumes and future careers? It’s simple to do…just by contacting Elliot Karp, Vice President of Development, at (513) 608-4174 or ebkarp@gmail.com.

    Mark Your Simcha With Onward Israel

    Did you know that you can celebrate a graduation, birthday, anniversary, engagement, wedding, birth of a baby or any other joyous occasion with a generous donation to Onward Israel?  It’s simple and easy to do by hitting our Donate button on the Onward Israel website at www.onwardisrael.org.  Your generous gift, of any amount, will help support the growth of Onward Israel next year!  Thank you for thinking of Onward Israel when searching for the perfect celebratory gift!

    Thank you for supporting Onward Israel which is a registered nonprofit organization.  All donations are tax deductible to full extent allowed by law.

    by Ilan Wanger

    After months of planning, outreach and preparation, the first ever FutureIL Job and Opportunity Fair took place in Tel Aviv on June 24 with the attendance of 2750 young people- participants from Onward Israel, Masa programs, new immigrant programs and internationals living, working and studying in Tel Aviv. The event featured job and opportunity booths, workshops, a series of Ted Talks and a closing concert. It was kicked off by a VIP reception with 100 guests including the lead funders of the initiative from North America, Israeli business leaders and representatives both of companies which have absorbed internationals into the Israeli work force as well as internationals who have successfully integrated into the Israeli economy. The impact of the fair itself has been augmented and expanded by use of the Jobolix platform which allows individuals and companies to upload profiles, view resumes and jobs, and then make real connections to realize that potential. More than 500 people have created profiles on the platform (including 148 from Onward Israel) and 31 companies have posted 110 positions.

    As we evaluate the first iteration of FutureIL we applaud the significant achievement of staging such a large event, the partnerships which have been put into place to achieve this result (in particularly with Masa) and sense and appreciate the clear potential of FutureIL to grow and expand. We also learned a lot from the event itself, in particular around the challenges of being relevant for all participants, not just those who are thinking about  future employment, the length and internal division of the event, and attracting companies to participate. I believe that providing a framework for assistance for those Onward Israel alumni who are interested in working in Israel or working at Israeli companies should be an important part of our larger alumni engagement strategy. For this reason, even though FutureIL reaches significantly beyond Onward Israel, and is increasingly relevant for older populations and new immigrants, I hope that we find the way for Onward Israel to remain involved and central to its development. Over the next couple of months we hope to articulate a vision for the future of this intiative and make key decisions about its development.

    by Ilan Wagner

    Certainly, the internship is at the heart of the Onward Israel Experience for most participants. But to say that Onward Israel is only an internship program is a bit reductionist. Last weekend for example nearly 700 participants took place in a wide variety of educational activities within the framework of Onward Israel’s unique participant centered and choice focused educational menu. 72 participants took part in our first ever Onward Israel Hackathon, in partnership with Impact Labs, working all night and into the wee hours of the morning in teams guided by mentors of Israeli start-ups whose products are geared to better the world. Onward participants developed code, used 3D printers to develop prototypes of products and built diagrams and flowcharts to solve business problems. Each group presented its work on Friday morning and received feedback from their mentors as well as sometimes tough questions from the audience (mostly from me actually J). Although all of the groups were impressive, I was most wowed by the group that had worked on an organic skin based bandage and had addressed the thorny issue of how to develop the product without its patent technology being reverse engineered and its market position being undercut. A fascinating combination of business, medicine and technology- aided by the unique combination of skill sets brought together by the Onward Israel

    participants. Another 60 participants took part in the third installment of a new program we initiated this year – Shishi Tours- optional tours of key sites in Israel on Fridays based on advance sign-up. Tours have taken place so far to Masada and the Dead Sea, the Old City of Jerusalem and last week to Haifa and Acco. The Shishi Tour idea came out of suggestions from previous Onward cohorts and has proven to be very popular and well-attended. This week’s tour is a hike in the Judaean Hills. Last but not least, some 600 participants (1/4 of the overall summer participant base) attended a Shabbaton based on their choice this past weekend- including options as varied as Geo-Politics, Ecology, Pioneering, Spirituality and Mindfulness. And I would be remiss of course not to mention the mid-week Chug activities- a chance to have dinner with, mingle with, and then learn together with other Onward Israel participants from your city. Within the impressive lineup of chug options, we have heard especially good feedback about the Meet the Israelis session (a chance to talk to (speed dating set up) with a full spectrum of Israeli society in one room), film night and Hebrew learning opportunities. I want to thank all of the Onward Israel staff and all of our content partners who have made this wealth of activity possible and so rewarding for participants.