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The Initiative for Zionist Innovation (IZI)

I met with my mefaked shortly after my tzav rishon — my first call up to the IDF draft office. He asked me what I thought he could do to help Lone Soldiers. I gave him some ideas off the top of my head, and he said, “Sounds great. Do you want to implement your ideas for your job in the army?” I was stunned and replied with, “Umm, what do you mean? I just get to create my own job?” He said, “Exactly!”

When I finally enlisted in October 2010, a few months after my initial meeting, I was given a computer, a mirs (old-school army cell phone), a few phone numbers, and was told to run with it. I started speaking at ulpanim, kibbutzim, gap year programs, mechinot, and began building relationships with the NGOs that help Lone Soldiers, like Nefesh B’Nefesh. I became the protexia, the person on the inside advocating on behalf of people like me who were joining the army. I like to call this my Start-up Army experience.

I was 23-years old, a recent college graduate, and had just read the book Start-Up Nation; In my mind, the whole start-up thing was limited to hi-tech. In reality, individuals and small groups of people having a significant impact extends well past the hi-tech world and permeates into every facet of Israeli society. The opportunity I was offered and ended up taking in the army, and what I’m trying to do now in my professional and communal life, is continue this “start-up spirit” and pursue the tradition of Zionist Innovation.

We Anglo Olim mostly come to Israel because we are inspired by the Zionist story and want to take a part in the revolution that began a century ago. I’ve been here for eight years and I’m amazed at the idea that I’ve been an Israeli citizen for more than ten percent of the country’s existence. The modern State of Israel is an amazing thing – a society with deep traditional roots whose people are breaking ground on so many different fronts.

But it’s not only Sabras leading this wave of Zionist innovation that established our country and continues to transform this amazing experiment of Jewish renewal. For Olim, the Zionist narrative doesn’t end when we get off the plane. Living in Israel inspires so many of us to own our Israel story and drives us to contribute to bettering the community, country, and beyond.

I find myself surrounded with, and inspired by, engaged, idealistic Olim in both my personal and professional lives. Though their interests and skills vary widely, the common thread I’ve noticed is this intense, almost obligation that people feel to give back to the country they’ve only recently made home. So, I thought, let’s formalize the ideas I’ve heard at the NBN TLV Hub where I hear Olim say, “This is my idea and I think the impact could be endless.”

Sometimes they talk about hosting communal Shabbat dinners, or creating shared experiences for people that may not have an established support system, or they dream of building shuls to bring together a community. Beyond the social innovation that Olim are dreaming of and working together to establish, their business ideas are also there and ready to blossom. An app, a small business, teaching English through sports, food tech, you name it – Olim are just diving right in.

So, this is me, calling you to action. If you’ve made Aliyah with Nefesh B’Nefesh and have an idea you think can really make a difference, you are encouraged to apply for support through our new Initiative for Zionist Innovation (IZI). If you have a business or a community impact idea, if you have something that you’re already in the process of developing, apply now!

This is about every Olah that has made the Zionist spirit her own, who has been inspired, challenged, and renewed by life in Israel, and has determined that it’s now her time to take the lead. This is about every Oleh who came to Israel because he did not want to be a spectator watching the greatest moment in Jewish History, but wants to be the protagonist in that miraculous story.

So how are we Olim writing the Zionist story? By leading, by taking our dreams, by imagining greater, by going beyond and making them happen. For all those Olim with an idea and that infectious innovative spirit that is so “Israel” – now is the time for action. Do it. Apply for the IZI.

About the Author
Originally from Los Angeles, CA, Benji Davis is a Jerusalem based Jewish Educator and Professional. He holds a BA in Middle East Studies & History from the George Washington University and an MA in Jewish Education from the Hebrew University.
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