Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The competition’s challenge put teens in the driver’s seat to innovate solutions for engaging college students in pro-Israel advocacy.

BY JACOB KAMARAS

(February 27, 2019 / JNS) You’re a prospective college student. How do you navigate Jewish life and the pro-Israel community when you arrive on campus? With so many different organizations, how do you find the right group for you?

Eight teenagers from Miami have a winning answer. They comprised one of 10 teams that participated in the first Israeli-American Council (IAC) Eitanim National High School Video Competition.

The competition’s challenge put teens in the driver’s seat to innovate solutions for engaging college students in pro-Israel advocacy. Throughout the year, the IAC Eitanim program brings together Jewish-American and Israeli-American middle and high school students for project-based learning experiences that aim to strengthen their Jewish identity and build their connection to Israel. Volunteer mentors inspire, empower and instruct teens, preparing them to be innovators, entrepreneurs and leaders, according to the IAC.

In their video, the winning team presented a mobile app titled JEW.U.C (Jewish University Compass) that features a campus map marking areas of Jewish life and pro-Israel activity, a calendar that streamlines upcoming events and a networking feature through which students can connect with one another or with mentors.

“Our solution is meant to address the sense of isolation and confusion [that prospective and incoming Jewish college students might feel] by giving them a clear, user-friendly app meant to help students navigate colleges and learn about Jewish opportunities and pro-Israel activities,” said Yiftach, a JEW.U.C team member.

The IAC announced JEW.U.C as the winner on Feb. 20. The competition comes on the heels of a recent study conducted by Rosov Consulting on IAC Eitanim participation during the 2017-18 school year and the 2018 Summer Hackathon. The findings revealed that the majority of IAC Eitanim participants are minimally involved in other youth programs and organizations—about a third of participants don’t participate in any other formal Jewish- or Israeli-themed youth groups, and 64 percent attend other Jewish programs fewer than seven times a year.

“This competition has demonstrated that the next generation of Jewish-American and Israeli-American leaders is ready and willing to innovate solutions for the Jewish world,” said IAC co-founder and CEO Shoham Nicolet. “The incredible entries that we received from teens across the country will help college students find their pro-Israel niche on campus. This is just IAC Eitanim’s latest initiative to equip teens across the country with vital leadership skills, inspire an imagination for innovation, and deepen their connections to their Jewish roots and Israel.”

A judging committee comprised of IAC representatives, entrepreneurs and senior executives in creative industries evaluated the competition’s video clips. Judges’ input made up 70 percent of the final score for each video, while 30 percent came from public voting on the entries in communities around the country from Feb. 4-18.

“This experience will be hugely beneficial to the participants as they continue to develop as leaders and active members of their schools, communities and broader society. If these submissions are any indication of the impact that the next generation of leaders will have in our community, I am very encouraged,” said Kfir Gavrieli, co-founder and CEO of the direct-to consumer footwear company Tieks, and a judge for the competition.

In their six-minute video, the winning team from Miami outlined the vision behind JEW.U.C and took viewers on a step-by-step journey through the app’s interface. In order to maximize the benefits of the app’s customizable features, users can first select whether they are high school students, college students or college alumni; then, they can choose which college they’re seeking information about, as well as their class year and level of Jewish observance.

“We want to give college students the opportunity to feel the love, the culture and the family feel of their Jewish community, especially at a time when this is very rare for college students who leave their family for schooling,” said Eden, a member of the JEW.U.C team.

Following its first national video competition, the IAC is now looking ahead to its 2019 IAC Eitanim Summer Hackathon, which will take place in Los Angeles from June 30-July 5. Last July’s Hackathon gathered 170 Israeli, Israeli-American and Jewish-American teens for the challenge of creating an original product to introduce Israel and Jewish heritage to passengers traveling to Israel during their inflight experience. The winning team created an app for inflight video seat-back programming that connects passengers to tikkun olam (repairing the world) opportunities across Israel while they’re still in the air.