By Andrew Oestreicher
By the time I graduated high school, I had spent thirteen summers at Jewish camps, eight summers at Jewish overnight camps, and attended 21 NFTY events. Despite all of these years of Jewish programming, I was missing a connection to Israel. I had learned about and admired Israel for my entire life, but hadn’t traveled to the country, and subsequently lacked a deep connection to the land.
It was frequently suggested to me that the summer after my freshman year of college would be the ideal time to travel to Israel for the first time. I knew that Birthright was an excitingway to get to Israel, but I craved more time in the country than the standard, ten day trip. I wanted to build a genuine connection with the place that I had only seen in pictures for the first 19 years of my life. I wanted to understand Israel in a way that one cannot experience in just ten days.
As a Jewish business student, I started noticing news stories about Israel’s economy. I repeatedly heard Israel referred to as the “Start-Up Capital of the World”, and I wanted to learn more. Luckily, my sister (also a NFTY Alum) told me about a program called ISBA, which allowed me to do exactly that.
The Israel Summer Business Academy (ISBA) is an immersive, six-week, six college credit, study abroad program where students live in Tel Aviv and spend the summer learning about Israel’s entrepreneurial spirit and economic miracles.
A “normal” day with ISBA consisted of waking up early, catching a bus to IDC Herzliya (one of Israel’s top universities), and spending the morning learning about entrepreneurship and innovation. Classes were taught by top faculty from Washington University in St. Louis, and provided a fascinating and individualized educational experience. When we were not at IDC Herzliya, we spent time visiting top companies like PayPal, Google, and Microsoft to learn about their business relationships with Israel.
After class each day, we were free to explore Israel. My apartment was a five minute walk from the Tel Aviv beaches, so that became a frequent hang-out spot of mine. My good friends from the ISBA program and I also spent a good amount of time in the heart of Tel Aviv, the shuk, Jaffa, and (of course) a few Tel Aviv clubs. On Friday nights, I celebrated Shabbat on the Old Port with 500 of my closest Israeli friends, watching the sunset while singing NFTY-style songs.
We also embarked on weekend trips, so while based in Tel Aviv, I was also exposed to the rest of the country. One weekend was spent in Tel Aviv, the next in Haifa, and another in the North. Our weekend excursions ended up being one of my favorite aspects of the program because while we were learning about the cultural and religious significance of each of the places, we also learned how it related to the material we were learning the classroom.
My experience on ISBA was exactly what I had hoped it would be (and more). I was able to build a personal connection with Israel alongside a diverse group of peers, while also furthering my business education. I built a spiritual connection with the country though spending Shabbat evenings with people from half a world away that sang the same tunes on Friday evenings that I did. And, most importantly (just like in NFTY), I built friendships that will last a lifetime.
Andrew Oestreicher, is a member of Temple Beth Zion, in Buffalo NY and an alumn of NFTY-NEL and the URJ Kutz Camp. After his time in NEL he served as the North American Membership Vice President for NFTY. He is now a sophomore at Bentley University in Waltham, MA.