Hacking for the Jewish Future

Tech Challenge participants from the US embark on a 12-day journey through Israel's high-tech sector.

Tech Challenge participants from the US embark on a 12-day journey through Israel’s high-tech sector.

Mitch Adler probably knows more about IBM’s lab in Haifa than the average North American Jew. But when you tour Israel with high-tech specialists, you get an up-close and personal view of Israel’s famed technology community.

Adler was one of the first participants in the Tech Challenge Experience, a 12-day trip that introduces young technology leaders from around the world to Israel, to each other, and to leading figures in the Israeli tech community. The trip is backed by The Jewish Agency for Israel, a Federation partner; other programs under the Israel Tech Challenge umbrella include internship options through the Jewish Agency’s Onward Israel initiative, and fellowships through a partnership between Masa: Israel Journey and the Government of Israel.

Israel is hailed by many as the “start-up nation,” and Adler attributes this technological success to the Jewish principle of bringing light to the world. “[For Israel] to say ‘we’re going to be a leader, to push the envelope and find new frontiers in these challenging fields’ is something that all Jews should be proud of,” Adler said. “We’re meeting with high-level government and military officials and learning about diplomatic advances and technological exchanges with countries that wouldn’t interact with Israel before. I think that’s amazing.”

Trip-goers also participated in a 36-hour Hackathon at PayPal Israel, where small teams worked with Israeli high-tech leaders to create technological solutions to existing social challenges. After the Hackathon, Naomi Saphra, a doctoral student at Johns Hopkins University, noted that the unique circumstances of life in Israel lead to interesting innovations.

“Because of the engineers’ military backgrounds and Israel’s geography, the start-ups in Israel are solving big problems,” Saphra said. “We visited a company called Windward, which is developing a technology to prevent smuggling of weapons through seaports. That is not something I’d expect to see come out of Silicon Valley.”

For Saphra, the intersection of Jewishness and science added a layer of intensity and meaning to the trip.

“On one level, Jews are ‘my people,’” she said. “On another level, scientists are ‘my people.’ The fact that there is such overlap between these two communities reinforces my Jewish connection.”

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