Two Atlantans took part in an elite fellowship program in Israel this summer focused on empowering the next generation of Jewish business leaders.
University of Georgia student Zack Leitz and recent Duke University graduate Daniel Abravanel were among 54 North American students who participated in the 10-week Excel business experience organized by Birthright Israel from June 1 through Aug. 5.
The program offered such fields as biotech, venture capital, business development and finance. The companies included Microsoft, Deloitte and Facebook among others.
Both Atlanta participants are graduates of the Epstein School.
“This was one of the most incredible opportunities for professional development that I could have asked for,” Leitz said. “I’m planning to go into consulting for my career, and so this was my first foray into the field, but I also got to discover specifically what types of consulting I may be interested in. There was also so much knowledge and so many perspectives on issues that we took away from the speakers and the programming we had.”
As part of the business experience, Leitz was matched with a mentor at Ernst & Young. He also took part in programming and lectures with Israeli business leaders.
The program featured discussions on leadership, innovation, Jewish identity, the global economy and teamwork.
The Americans were matched up with Israeli peers who participated alongside them in the fellowship. The Israeli peers regularly hosted the Americans for family Shabbat dinners and helped them acclimate to the culture of Israel.
“It’s a really special opportunity to create a close bond with somebody who is around your age and that grew up in Israel,” Leitz said of his Israeli peer, Leeron Paz. “Of course, they can show you around Tel Aviv, but they can also answer any questions you have about the country and Israeli culture. Developing that friendship was one of the most special things for me this summer.”
It was Leitz’s fourth time in Israel but his longest trip.
The 2014 Dunwoody High School graduate already has an impressive résumé. At UGA he started a nonprofit organization that helps the homeless in Athens by providing them with backpacks full of clothes, toiletries and food.
Abravanel graduated from the Weber School in 2014 and finished his undergraduate degree from Duke in only three years. He is searching for career opportunities in the finance and private equity sectors.
“My experience was really amazing and unique even for the program,” Abravanel said. “Since I was born in Israel and moved to Atlanta when I was young, to see Israel again alongside my American peers and experience it as an American this time was really special to me. Sometimes I felt like I was the ambassador between the Israelis and Americans.”
Abravanel was matched with an Israeli peer who founded a cyber security startup that recently received funding from American investors.
He said the Excel program is a terrific solution for college students who want to have a fun summer while gaining valuable professional experience.
“I would highly recommend this program for anyone that is looking to do a summer internship in Israel,” Abravanel said. “Not only can you feel like you’re not wasting a summer, but you get to do it on an Israel trip. It’s a phenomenal experience.”
The highly selective Excel Fellowship program is open to college sophomores, juniors and select seniors. All expenses associated with flights, housing and programming for North American fellows are paid for by Birthright Israel Excel, the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, and the Paul E. Singer Foundation.