Can Israel’s reputation as the “Start-up Nation” actually start up conversations about the Jewish state that go beyond its conflict with the Palestinians?

Can Israel’s high-flying economy — over the last decade the country’s GDP has grown by 4 percent a year, according to The Economist — provide a talking point for students, one that takes politics off the table and connects them to the Jewish state?

Those questions are being tested at Northwestern University and at colleges across the country through an organization called TAMID.

Northwestern is filled with politically passionate students, but the campus often serves as an echo chamber for people who agree with each other. Unless galvanized by current national or campus events, people stay political and passionate within their own silos. This is a major problem for the pro-Israel community, which faces apathy from those who are not directly involved with campus activity. If the conversation on Israel only comes up significantly once or twice a year, during major events or through bringing thoughtful speakers to campus, it’s hard for a traditional pro-Israel club to feel like it’s making progress.

“TAMID utilizes the Israeli economy as an extended case study.”

But TAMID, an areligious and apolitical organization, is connecting students to Israel every day, while inspiring undergraduates to be innovators. The group (which means “eternal” or “permanent” in Hebrew) helps foster relationships between American students and Israel by getting them involved with the country’s economy. To keep the conversation active throughout the year, “TAMID utilizes the Israeli economy as an extended case study,” explained Rachael Ferm, president of TAMID’s Northwestern chapter and a senior economics major. Since “Israeli tech affects so many people, our students are able to engage with this incredible ecosystem in meaningful ways,” she said. TAMID consults for Israeli startups, and even offers summer fellowship programs for those students interested in going to Tel Aviv.

The group’s success hinges on the Israeli culture of innovation, encouraging students to learn about the finance, tech or consulting fields. “TAMID allows me to take what I’m learning inside the classroom and apply it to real-life applications, a unique opportunity for a college student,” said Ali Goldberg, a sophomore studying economics.

By focusing on Israeli innovation, the organization is able to remain removed from the politics of the conflict. To Ferm, students can “criticize the political actions of a country while simultaneously engaging positively with many of that government’s citizens and non-government leaders.” 

Founded 10 years ago by University of Michigan students who recognized the lack of interest in Israel-focused campuses, TAMID now has over 2,200 active members and has chapters at 45 campuses nationwide.

This year, TAMID at Northwestern — which has 90 members — decided to do away with the application process so that anyone interested can join. After a semester’s worth of education and training about the Israeli economy, the new class will become full members. According to Jacob Gutstein, vice president of education and development of Northwestern’s chapter, the open-door policy has worked. “This decision has shown promise of the organization’s reach on campus by helping recruit the largest new member class,” he said.

“What the fellowship has provided me transcends the workplace.”

Not only is TAMID here growing, but its diverse population offers students a unique experience. “What the fellowship has provided me transcends the workplace,” said Sharadh Sivamani, a non-Jewish sophomore who worked in Israel at VLX Ventures, a tech incubator in the life sciences field. “Whether it be meeting people from various different schools, learning to live in a foreign country alone or exploring the unique country that is Israel, the fellowship does it all.” Hailing from Nebraska, Sivamani, who is a now the director of consulting for TAMID, chose to join the group for its growing national network and rich opportunities that begin as soon as you become a member.

Those opportunities are helping to widen the dialogue on Israel, and students aren’t simply waiting for the conversation to be brought to campus by speakers. At school, where a lack of interest is a major problem, Israeli cultural fairs often do not lead to progress. But providing students with the platform to engage with Israel does make a difference. Through TAMID, students are making new and deep connections with the State of Israel. And while conversation might not happen instantly, Northwestern’s dialogue on Israel is sure to grow. Perhaps in step with Israel’s economy.

Joshua Klein is a sophomore at Northwestern University. He was a 2016 Write On For Israel graduate.

 

 

This piece is part of “The View From Campus” column written by students on campus. To learn more about the column click here, and if you would like to contribute to it, email lily@jewishweek.org for more info.