Leadership, skills, and identity-building program pioneers new approach to close gaps between world Jewry, as 170 Jewish-American, Israeli-American and Israeli teenagers come together for an intensive week in Los Angeles
As leaders lament the growing gaps between American Jewry and Israel, a rapidly growing Israeli-American Council program is pioneering a new approach to building bridges. This week, it gathered 170 Israeli, Israeli-American and Jewish-American teens in Los Angeles for the IAC Eitanim Summer Hackathon, an intensive program in which students work in teams to propose solutions to real- world challenges, with input from volunteer, high-profile mentors. This year’s challenge was to create an original product to introduce Israel and Jewish heritage to passengers traveling to Israel, during their inflight experience.
“We believe that pioneering programs like IAC Eitanim can close the gaps between Israel and American Jewry by using “Israeliness” and the inspiration of Israeli entrepreneurship as a secret sauce that engages and inspires the next generation,” IAC Co-Founder and CEO Shoham Nicolet said. “Students complete our IAC Eitanim program with vital leadership skills, a new imagination for innovation – and a deepened connection to their Jewish roots, the State of Israel, and to each other. The students continue to blow me away with the solutions that they create.”
This year, a delegation of Israeli students joined the Hackathon, adding a new dimension to the program and building an organic bridge between diverse participants. The teens are part of a special program in Israel called P’sagot, which supports and nurtures academically gifted students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“The P’sagot program is building a future generation of leaders in Israel – and now with IAC Eitanim, it is providing us with a network of connections to our family in America,” said Michal, a member of the delegation, referring to her takeaway from meeting American teens. “Getting to know each other better in a setting like this is critical. Over the past week, we have gained an appreciation for how our two Jewish communities can work together, which is the only way to succeed.”
The program culminated in a Demo Day, Thursday evening, June 28th, on the American Jewish University campus, in which finalist teams presented their groundbreaking products and showcased the new skills, knowledge, and friendships that they have built through the program.
A panel of expert judges featuring Danna Balas, Co-Founder of Menchies Frozen Yogurt; David Gonen, early adopter and investor with expansive knowledge of technology trends; Yonatan Winetraub, Co- Founder of SpaceIL; and Shoham Nicolet, IAC Co-founder and CEO, determined the winning product: An app, dubbed “180 degrees,” for inflight video seat-back programming, to connect passengers to Tikkun Olam opportunities across Israel while still in the air.
All Demo Day attendees—judges, mentors, guests, families and Hackathon participants—felt the energy and vibrancy that IAC Eitanim creates throughout the year across the country, in its 32 groups with more than 1,000 participants. Giving students the driver’s seat through project-based learning, mentoring them with soft skills that will prepare them for life, and providing them with the opportunity to connect with one other is solving the challenge of connecting the next generation to Jewish engagement, to Jewish identity, and to Israel.
IAC Eitanim is named for Nicolet’s commander Major Eitan Belachsan, an Israeli war hero who was killed during an operation in Southern Lebanon in 1999, and draws inspiration from his life and values.
The continued expansion of the program mirrors the continued growth of the IAC, which now encompasses 18 regional offices across the United States and engages an active constituency of more than 250,000.
About the IAC: Headquartered in Los Angeles, the IAC is committed to building an engaged and united Israeli-American community that strengthens our next generations, the American Jewish community, and the State of Israel. The IAC strives to achieve these goals through programs and events for all ages— and by empowering and supporting a wide array of non-profit organizations within the Israeli-American community. For more information about the Israeli-American Council, please visit www.israeliamerican.org