STILL buzzing, a group of 15 Australians from Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia have recently returned from a seven-day Young Business Professionals Mission to Israel.
Organised by the United Israel Appeal (UIA) in collaboration with the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce NSW, the program provided a bespoke and unique perspective into the commercial landscape of the start-up nation.
Participants met with groundbreaking start-ups and firms, and explored the cross-sections of med-tech, agritech, fintech and law, while networking with like-minded peers. They also visited elite army units and innovative UIA social projects, including Ayalim, where students volunteer in local communities on Israel’s periphery and Neta@, an after-school initiative providing technological training to over 1000 disadvantaged high school youth.
But for Melbourne participant Jonty Rzechta, one of the biggest highlights was visiting the UIA absorption centre for new olim in Tzfat.
“Listening to an Ethiopian lady talk about her journey to come to Israel was incredible,” Rzechta told The AJN.
She had walked for one month with her family from Ethiopia to Sudan, with no food and no shoes, before leaving on a boat. The lady explained that on the way she lost some of her siblings and prayed each day that she wouldn’t lose her mum.
Rzechta also reflected on the group’s meeting with an IDF commander who led a secret mission to house, protect and feed 4500 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war.
He relayed a story told by the commander, where he saw a young Syrian child fall over. The commander couldn’t understand why he didn’t cry, and asked the boy’s mother.
“She said, ‘because no one cares if he cries, so that’s why he doesn’t,'” recalled Rzechta.
“This was very confronting for me as I have small kids and know how much that child must have fallen over to realise that crying will go unheard.”
Speaking on the “once-in-a-lifetime experiences” offered in a mission, UIA Victoria president Hayley Southwick said, “We pride ourselves on being able to showcase Israel in a unique and exciting way and our young professionals mission was no exception.
“We hope they will be our ambassadors to help spread our message and good work to the next generation.”
For Rzechta, the experience had a profound impact on his Jewish identity.
“It was the first time I felt comfortable wearing a kippah. I come from a family who lost nearly everyone in the Shoah. My father and grandfather always told me to be proud, but hide my Jewish identity. I never felt safe displaying being Jewish in public before … [but] then getting to the Kotel and singing with many thousands of Jewish people all as one was absolutely thrilling.”