“Silicon Wadi” came alive for Frisch School 10th graders Daniel Koenig of New City, N.Y., and David Lifschitz of Englewood during the first CIJE-Tech Journey to the Start-Up Nation.
The two sophomores joined Jewish high-school students from New York and California for the January 13-23 trip. The students’ interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) won them a close encounter with Israeli innovation and technology pioneers, under the auspices of the New York-based Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education.
Speaking with this reporter by phone from their bus on the way to the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, David and Daniel shared some impressions.
David said he had already been aware of Israel’s high-tech advances but was struck by the ease with which teenagers from America could gain access to industry leaders in the Jewish state. “I find it very impressive that you can make two phone calls and meet anyone – very important people in the tech industry, and we’re just kids in high school – and that we are able talk to these power giants,” he said.
The students worked together in teams to develop product and technology ideas and then pitch those ideas for feedback from entrepreneurs at major startup and established companies. They also pitched them to venture-capital executives from Jerusalem Venture Partners, and they met with “Start-Up Nation” author Saul Singer.
“Israel is far ahead of much of the world in leveraging STEM capabilities in new business startups,” explained Judy Lebovits, vice president and director of CIJE, who accompanied the students. “We’re providing unique access and activities that will significantly enhance our CIJE-Tech students’ education.”
CIJE-Tech is a discovery-focused interactive curriculum for Jewish high schools, developed in collaboration with the Israel Sci-Tech network of schools. It offers a year each of scientific and biomedical engineering geared to introducing a diverse range of science and technical knowledge while encouraging multidisciplinary and abstract thinking, leadership, and teamwork skills. CIJE also provides intensive teacher training and mentoring as well as laboratory equipment.
David is involved in CIJE-Tech at Frisch, and he hopes to pursue a career in some area of engineering. He reported that his experiences in Israel pointed toward starting his own business. “Entrepreneurship is the way to go,” he said. “We learned a lot about how it actually works. We’ve got the basics of how to start.”
The journey provided him with a new circle of likeminded friends who may help one another one day. In addition to Frisch, participants came from Davis Renov Stahler Yeshiva High School for Boys in Woodmere, N.Y., Hebrew Academy of Five Towns and Rockaway in Lawrence, N.Y., Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls in Hewlett Bay Park, N.Y., New Community Jewish High School in Los Angeles, and Yeshiva University of Los Angeles High Schools for Boys and Girls.
“I became very close with a lot of the kids here,” David said. “All of them are planning to do something in the tech sphere, and it’s good to have connections.”
Daniel especially enjoyed the group’s visit to the Google campus in Tel Aviv, where they talked with Jerry Sanders, Skytran’s CEO, a company that is building an elevated mag-lev personal rapid transportation system in Israel as a demonstration model for cities across the world.
“He explained the technology to us, and how he thought of the idea and the engineering behind it,” Daniel said. “We also took a tour of Google and heard from the creator of a startup working there. During one of our days at the Technion, a professor taught us about robots and what they can be used for. We learned how to use coding to make robots move a certain way, virtually and in real life.”
Daniel, who has been to Israel twice before, was pleased to find that the itinerary arranged by the Jewish Journey included some fun. “Today we’re going jeeping, and when arrived we did an archaeological dig in Jerusalem,” he said. “We also went to the blind museum,” an experiential exhibition called “Dialogue in the Dark” on the campus of the Israel Children’s Museum in Holon.
Many of the tourist stops they made took on an engineering twist. Among those activities were a tour of the City of David called “The Wonders of Engineering in Ancient Times” and a visit to Pantry Packers, a social startup where volunteers package food for the needy using innovative machinery to maximize production capacity.
They heard about “Ethics in the Field” from IDF Col. Benzti Gruber, spent time in the outdoor marketplaces of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and had a session on combating Israel hatred on campus given by StandWithUs leaders. And they interacted with university students in the Zell Entrepreneurship Program at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, which has spawned many Israeli high-tech standouts.
“We hope that with additional support, we can organize more of these unique, engineering-focused trips,” CIJE’s president, Jason Cury, said.
|David Lifschitz, left, and Daniel Koenig.|