Our second day on this (already fantastic!) journey began with a presentation from Ron Waldman, a leading consultant in Israel, who was an integral contributor to the book Startup Nation. Having just recently attended (and blogged about!) a discussion of the book at American University in DC, I was really honored to hear the opinions and facts straight from someone who works with these high-tech startup companies on a daily basis. We discussed how Israel’s unique culture is a major contributing factor to the large number of startups, and about the blend of risk-taking, competitive spirit, improvisation, and out-of-the-box thinking that drives Israelis to continue on this path today. What made the morning session even more engaging was hearing all the detailed and thought-provoking questions asked by members of the group!
We quickly switched gears and headed to Mivaseret, where we had the opportunity to visit an Ethiopian Absorption Center run by The Jewish Agency and see some of the amazing programs it supports. The day was filled with so much emotion--too many eye-opening moments to count--that it’s hard to describe everything we experienced in one blog post! But don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll be talking about it for a long time to come. Some of the highlights included:
1. Hearing from Esther, the inspirational Israeli-born Ethiopian, who shared with us her family’s story of their treacherous journey to Sudan to be a part of the first Israeli rescue mission, and the difficulties (and successes) they faced since settling in Israel. She reminded us that the Ethiopian Jewish community she grew up with always believed Israel to be their “true home,” and were willing to risk all they had, and more, to see that dream become a reality.
2. We had nearly complete group agreement that the Ethiopian coffee and bread we were offered was the best we ever had! Though it may have been slightly influenced by the severe need for caffeine at that point…
3. The Macarena transcends all language barriers. And the Kindergarden class we visited, at this point only comprised of children from the Absorption Center, definitely showed us up with their dance moves! It gave us all a view of the opportunity and hope for the future, seeing how quickly these young children were able to absorb and embrace Israeli culture.
4. An after-school program for elementary and middle school children showed us that playing games to practice English (Note, these children speak fluent Amharic, Hebrew, and are also learning English at this age, wow!) can also teach us a thing or two. Like how it seems much easier to pick up Hebrew around children than on LiveMocha. And how that shoulder popping dance they can all do is way harder than it looks…
Finally, upon working our way to Beit Shemesh, we spent time at the Youth Outreach Center that was opened by our own Jewish Federation of Greater Washington in collaboration with the United Jewish Endowment Fund and the Ethiopian National Project (ENP). The Center caters to teenagers who need extra help with homework/language/etc., want to learn a new hobby (photography or swimming) or just plain need a place to go at the end of the day. At this point, we were finally able to paint the life-cycle picture of what it’s like for an Ethiopian immigrant family, from immigration through assimilation at almost every age point, and how Federation, ourselves, volunteers, and Israel itself factors in. At our debrief session, there was a lot of discussion about each of our reactions to the day. I have to say that what impressed me the most about the discussion was how passionately each member of the group felt about this issue, and all of the great feedback provided about what worked well, how to improve these programs or what we would have done differently. It reminded me of why each of these young leaders were chosen for this trip, and reinforced my excitement that we’ll be able to leverage each other’s backgrounds and experience to really make an impact in the DC community once we return!
We capped off our night with a great dinner alongside a few up-and-coming young entrepreneurs in Tel Aviv. After hearing so many heart-warming and inspiring (that’s my theme word for the day) stories, it’s great to see that these Israelis were able to take their businesses from idea to inception.Last but not least: off the official itinerary, there were also some major things to celebrate today.
1. First and foremost, HAPPY BIRTHDAY SETH!!! Our group celebrations included a crucial teamwork component, in blowing up an entire large bag of balloons and filling the bus with them during lunch break, singing in multiple languages, cookies, and a cake (because when it comes to food in Israel, we’re quickly learning it’s go big or go home…)
2. Which brings me to point #2, which is, how great the food has been thus far (and as I write this, we’re on the bus to our cooking challenge…results TBA). I mean, did you see the breakfast buffet at the hotel, and that ridiculous view over the water? If you didn’t, I have plenty of pics of Belgian waffles/hummus/desserts/Aroma coffee etc…and I’ll stop there, before we all get hungry again.
3. Word on the street is that Emily’s Mom is reading the blog and thinks Nate’s post yesterday (and LeaderSheep joke, which was not totally baaad…ok sorry, I couldn‘t help myself!) was really clever! Shout out to Emily’s Mom, and thanks for your feedback!! Now, I’m going to go send a copy of the link to my own Mom and Dad asap.
Thanks to all for another incredibly successful day! Can’t wait for everything that’s still to come!
Sara Glickman, Silver Spring, MD