Shalom from a coffee shop in Tel Aviv! I am sipping on a delicious Israeli iced coffee and reflecting on my first three weeks of my summer adventure in Israel. My name is Rachel Kamenir, I graduated this past December with an Accountancy degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and I successfully completed my final section of the Uniform Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam the day before flying to Israel. I am honored and grateful to be one of the 40 North Americans selected for the Birthright Israel Excel Fellowship Class of 2014. When I think about this summer, one word comes to mind above all others: Bashert. This Yiddish word describes a serendipitous occurrence that seems so perfect that it is “meant to be”. Have you ever felt like you were exactly where you were destined to be, surrounded by people you just met but feel as if you have known your whole life, experiencing a way of life that is brand new yet seems so familiar? That sentiment precisely articulates how I feel each day of Excel. The multifaceted, dynamic nature of this program truly makes it one of a kind, and I could not think of a better way to spend the summer. Some of the main components of our fellowship include professional internships, scheduled Excel events, summer-long group projects that address Israeli societal issues, and plenty of good times spent with our Israeli Peers.
Our internships provide us with invaluable opportunities to become fully immersed in professional settings in Israel, affording us the ability to see the nation through more than the eyes of tourists. My internship placement is at Ernst & Young, and I am working in the Assurance branch with a focus on technology sector firms. It is fascinating to apply my accounting background to a high-growth industry in a global environment. My team is so friendly and welcoming- they even planned a surprise party in my partner’s office the day of my arrival! One of my core beliefs is that we learn something new from every person we meet. My team and I are consistently sharing business practices and cultural tidbits with each other throughout the day. In particular, being frequently asked to share my fresh, academic perspective on accounting maters demonstrates to me that every team member adds value in their own unique way.
After work, the Excel cohort reconvenes and our learning continues as we engage in captivating discussions and interactive presentations with Israeli business leaders, technological gurus, renowned academics, and many other prominent figures in Israeli society. Many of our lectures are future-oriented, challenging us to think critically about how technology and societal trends will interact with one another in the coming years. We also partake in many eye-opening and informative sessions on various topics unique to Israel, helping us gain a more meaningful understanding of this one-of-a-kind nation. The diverse perspectives and opinions of the group make for stimulating, thought-provoking conversations that we frequently continue long after the lectures.
Spending time getting to know all of the program participants has been one of my favorite parts of this trip. The Excel Fellows and the 40 Israeli Peers matched with us are without a doubt some of the most charismatic, inspiring, and all-around awesome people I have ever met. I am consistently amazed by how much we have in common, even though many of us grew up on opposite sides of the world. A few highlights from our frequent and spontaneous hangouts include relaxing at the beach, joining our Peers' families for Shabbat dinners, strolling through HaYarkon park, going ice skating, shopping at outdoor markets, enjoying local museums, bonding at an "Exceladies" slumber party, exploring Tel Aviv's night life, and so much more. I am looking forward to seven more weeks of unforgettable memories together in Israel and continuing to grow our friendships for years to come.
In parting, I encourage you to challenge the norms, embrace your quirks, and relentlessly pursue your dreams. You just might find yourself blogging in a café halfway across the globe, sipping some Israeli iced coffee, and thinking that this moment is so incredibly Bashert.
This is some of us cooling down from the summer sun at the Ice Peaks rink!