Photo: TAMID Fellow Nathan Gilson, executive director Brett Siegal, and Fellow Kevin Zussman in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda shuk (open market).
This article appeared in the June 4, 1010 Jewish Advocate.
Student-led group at the intersection of commerce, justice and Israeli advocacy
By Susie Davidson
Special to the Advocate
In 2007, University of Michigan freshmen Eitan Ingall and Sasha Gribov first envisioned connecting US college students with businesses in Israel. Within a year, an organization had taken shape, and backed by impressive young leaders (including two from Boston), community advisors, speakers, and cutting-edge Israeli companies, the nonprofit TAMID Israel Investment Group has achieved early, encouraging success.
The student-run effort is year-round, according to Brookline native Nathan Gilson. “During the school year, our members work on consulting projects for Israeli start-ups, invest in a fund of Israeli securities, and bring in speakers with experience in the Israeli business landscape,” he said.
It’s a practical, yet results-oriented effort that strives to educate participants, as well as the greater student body, about the Israeli economy. The group also hopes to influence future leaders to identify with, invest in, and possibly even relocate to Israel. A national expansion to other campuses is also in the works, as is a possible branch at Harvard. “We are looking to set up "pre-TAMID" chapters at three to five Universities around the country over the summer and early fall semester,” said Executive Director Brett Siegal, who noted that college Deans have approached them.
Gilson, a Maimonides graduate and international studies major, explained that TAMID isn’t an acronym. “Our founders chose the name because TAMID means ‘eternal’ or ‘always,’ and our mission is ultimately to ensure that the relationship between young adults in America and Israel is everlasting,” he said.
The three-part program, which secured 501c3 nonprofit status this year, hosts seminars with Israeli businesspeople, arranges fellowships for interns at Israeli companies, and as of this year, manages a fundraising effort which began investing in a portfolio of Israel stocks. To raise the funds, each TAMID member had a quota. “So we all tapped into our networks, worked the phones, sent off a ton of emails, and we found a lot of generous contributors,” said Gilson, who said that the organization raised tens of thousands of dollars this past year. Investment decisions are a team effort, with weekly meetings where stocks are pitched and voted on. This gives the students real experience both in finances and supporting the Israeli economy. “We now have a solidified, engaging, expandable program,” says Siegal, a junior pursuing a double major in finance and economics.
TAMID members also partnered with private Jewish community philanthropists in order to secure stipends for the Fellows. In both years of its existence, the group had more applicants than positions, and last month, the first summer internship program commenced, with five Fellows working at Israeli companies Thompson-Reueters, BioLineRX, MobileEye, and REAL Housing (where Gilson himself is interning in the operations department). Like the other Fellows, Gilson tweets and blogs about his experiences in Israel, which began with a few weeks at a Jerusalem Yeshiva.
“I'm honored to be in this first class of Fellows,” he blogged attamidnate.wordpress.com. “Jerusalem-based REAL Housing combines the latest in sustainable technologies with advanced construction techniques, to bring affordable and solar-powered housing to the global community.”
Adam Hollenberg, a Newton native and member of Temple Emanuel, as well as a Prozdor ’08 and Newton North ’09 graduate and Camp Yavneh alum, is a part of the Consulting team at TAMID. He found out about TAMID during this freshman year. Hollenberg is in Alpha Epsilon Pi, which is a Jewish Fraternity. “I saw TAMID flyers around campus and decided to join with some friends,” he said. His group performed market research in Southeastern Michigan for IceCure, an company founded in 2006 and located in Caesarea Industrial Park in Israel, that has developed a specialized cryotherapy cancer treatment. “Their technology is designed to reduce the need for previously invasive procedures related to breast health,” said Hollenberg. “The project will provide an interesting and challenging opportunity to learn more about the medical industry and its markets,” he noted.
Gilson, who co-authored a recent op-ed about TAMID for the Jerusalem Post, cited two recent divestment bills at Berkeley and the UCSD, disproportionately critical of Israel, that were too-narrowly defeated. Clearly, there is an antidotal benefit in raising awareness about positive aspects of Israeli businesses, but Gilson stresses that TAMID is nonconfrontational and nonpolitical. “Our movement is not reactionary, [and] is not involved in partisan politics, and thus, the ball is in our court,” he says. “At the campuses in California, the ‘divestment crew’ is on the offensive, and the pro-Israel community is forced to react. TAMID flips that dynamic.” Siegal agrees: “We are superseding the divisiveness of political conflict, and making a connection to Israel relevant, tangible, and immediately beneficial to the students involved, while at the same time developing the next leaders of the Jewish community, laying the foundation for strong, actionable connections between the US and Israel, and providing a sense of Jewish identity in a generation where it is severely lacking,” he said. Gilson explained that with students proactively investing in Israel, divisive Arab-Israeli politics are transcended. “We spread the message that Israel is a thriving, innovative nation.”
Who inspires Gilson? He cites Timberland CEO and ethical visionary Jeff Swartz, and especially, Swartz’ response at a 2009 Boston University interview to the question “How does your faith influence and motivate you, and kind of keep you going?” Swartz responded by politely citing Tractate Shabbat 31A in the Babylonian Talmud, which explains the sage Rabba’s first question to one who is no longer alive: “Did you conduct your business affairs with emunah?’ Emunah means faith…did you conduct your affairs with faith?” Swartz said. While deferring to his personal inadequacy, Swartz continued, “...there will be no consumer to defend me when it’s time to answer that question. There will be no shareholder who will protect me from the track record of my choices. I will be, and I am, accountable for those choices now.”
“Mr. Swartz, as much as he feels the crunch of quarterly earnings reports and share prices, lives and breathes a different kind of motivation,” said Gilson. “It’s why Timberland gives every employee 40 hours of paid community service time. It’s why Timberland is fast approaching carbon-neutrality. And it’s why there’s an ‘our footprint’ environmental information label on every Timberland shoe-box.” Compare this, he says, to other less admirable business “leaders”: “If only the obfuscators at Enron had such a motivation! If only the risk-junkies at Lehman had such a motivation! If only the poison-mongers at Philip Morris had such a motivation!”
Gilson quotes his brother David, a stand-up comic in Israel: “Don’t think of yourself as a salesman, think of yourself as a consultant.” TAMID is not selling itself, he says. “We’re all about consulting (i.e. pointing people in the right direction), for folks who already have that burning desire to be a significant part of the Jewish future.”
It isn’t all business; as with many student-run ventures, there are social aspects. ‘We’re a tight bunch of kids,” says Gilson, who cites their recent community Shabbat dinner, and their well-attended educational seminars given by ten Jewish business leaders, either in person or by videoconference from Israel. They included CEO of the Detroit Jewish Federation Scott Kaufman, Weight Watchers COO Hannan Lis, Israeli venture capitalist Nir Elperin, UMich alum and businessman Joel Tauber, who set up a joint venture with Kibbutz Yakum and is active in Israeli hi-tech.
“It is such a natural fit for the Jewish world, you don’t need to tell someone that TAMID’s success will bring more self-aware Jewish young-adults, sustainable investment in Israel, new jobs in Israel, and aliyah,” said Gilson. “People cut me off and, with a smile, finish that sentence for me.”
To support the TAMID Israel Investment Group, visithttp://www.tamidgroup.org/