Most high-school graduates on gap-year programs in Israel visit iconic historical and religious sites, such as the Western Wall and Masada. They rarely visit Rothschild Boulevard, the heart of Tel Aviv’s startup ecosystem.
An upcoming gap-year program called Torah Tech, developed by two North Jersey native sons, will offer the unique opportunity to be immersed in both worlds — the ancient and modern, the spiritual and the practical.
As the name suggests, Torah Tech is structured to allow students to blend traditional Torah study, including an emphasis on Jewish business ethics, with internships at Tel Aviv businesses — all while earning college credit.
The students will live in apartments in central Tel Aviv. They are near the program’s study hall, in a synagogue led by Rabbi Menachem Auerbach, who is the son of the late Orthodox rabbinic authority Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. The facility has outdoor basketball courts, an outdoor gym, and a park next door.
Torah Tech will accept 25 male applicants for the 2017-2018 school year.
“Our program is designed on the principle that many pre-college students are eager to begin building a serious professional resume, and want to have a gap year in Israel that balances Torah and a professional lifestyle,” Torah Tech founder Yehuda Goldberg, 33, said.
Mr. Goldberg was born and raised in Passaic and now lives in Tel Aviv with his wife and three children. He is on the executive board of the Am Yisrael Foundation, a nonprofit founded by Fair Lawn native Jay Shultz to support “modern pioneering” initiatives among observant young Zionists, with a particular focus on Tel Aviv.
Though this beachside city is best known for its entrepreneurial vibe and its nightlife scene, it has a growing community of modern Orthodox Israelis and immigrants.
Mr. Goldberg contends that Torah Tech students, most of whom will go on to careers in the diaspora, will be well served by experiencing how it is possible to thrive both religiously and professionally in a contemporary setting.
“There are successful religious Jews in high-tech in Israel, and our students will meet them and understand that all success comes from Torah,” he said. “We will prepare them to succeed as passionate, committed Jews and as capable professionals.”
Rabbi Ari Yablok, a 32-year-old Teaneck native, is handling recruitment and marketing for Torah Tech. He works for Tel Aviv high-tech firm Soluto and serves as the rabbinic leader for English-speaking students at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv.
“Since I have my hand in both worlds, I have a strong feeling that much of what makes modern Israel so special are things most gap-year students aren’t exposed to, and the ‘startup nation’ phenomenon is part of that,” Rabbi Yablok said. “It’s important to connect not just to the past of Israel but to the present of Israel, and to appreciate what’s going on here.”
Torah Tech also plans guided trips to areas of biblical and historical significance to provide a well-rounded look at ancient and present-day Israel.
There are approximately 100 post-high school programs in Israel, and they have a wide range of styles and emphases, but until now none has tapped into Israel’s business culture.
“The Jewish Agency reported that there are 3,000 internship openings a year in Israel, and not even a third of them are being filled,” Mr. Goldberg said, estimating that two-thirds of these positions are in Tel Aviv.
“We have been contacting HR companies that manage good internships in Tel Aviv — not only in high-tech but also in areas such as real estate or finance — and a lot of companies have already agreed to take on interns.”
With Tel Aviv as their campus, students will have options for gym membership, krav maga training, biking, surfing, volleyball, basketball, baseball, and sunning on the sand at a beach organized for religious visitors that maintains separate hours for each gender.
The Torah study portion of the program, which will include instruction in conversational Hebrew, will be overseen by the program’s educational director, Rabbi Shlomo Chayen. He is the American-born leader of Tel Aviv’s North Central Synagogue, the city’s most active Orthodox congregation, which attracts some 300 young professionals to weekly services. The program also has a rabbinical advisory board in the United States.
Rabbi Yablok said that his enthusiasm for Torah Tech’s approach was honed by the five years he spent working in the Israel Experience One Year Program at Bar-Ilan.
“Over the years many students, parents, and school administrators have told me that they have capable, responsible students who are highly motivated and passionate about religious and spiritual growth, but they have other things they want to focus on during their gap year in addition to high-level Torah study,” he said.
“They are looking for an alternative to the traditional yeshiva structure that appeals to their broader interests. Torah Tech is meant to meet those needs by combining high-level learning and hands-on pursuits in the world of high-tech and business.”
Like Rabbi Yablok, who was educated in Yeshiva University schools, Mr. Goldberg comes from a strong Judaic and business background. A graduate of the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge, he founded his first startup when he was 16.
“We created an email platform that managed and maintained millions of emails per day,” he said. “I consider that my business school. I ran it for two years, and it was very successful.”
While still in his teens, he interned at NBC and later worked there full time, helping to digitize the process of booking tickets online. After working in telecom, he met his future wife on a trip to Panama and made aliyah when he was 22, joining the army immediately.
“I found Tel Aviv afterward — the high-tech epicenter of the world — and I began working in media purchasing,” he said.
Eventually Mr. Goldberg entered a management position at an online advertising firm before founding his own company, PPI Media, whose clients include Porsche, Toyota, and Microsoft.
“I started working with different startups in Tel Aviv, mentoring them and building ad campaigns and different technologies for them,” Mr. Goldberg said. “I love it, but I always want to bring more spirituality and bring more great people to Tel Aviv.
“At the Am Yisrael Foundation we sat down and came up with this idea for gap-year kids who are scholastically capable, emotionally intelligent, and have technical proficiency or business acumen,” he continued. “Our idea is to guide them in taking all the knowledge from their 12 years of yeshiva education and all the wherewithal that they’re taking into a business career, and learn how to combine the two to live a proper Torah life.”
For more information, email Mr. Goldberg at Yehuda@TorahTech.co. An application and further information is available at www.TorahTech.co.