Teens score ideas and friends

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Some 170 Israeli and American middle and high schoolers — including nine from the Washington area — took the challenge last month to come up with a product to teach Israeli and Jewish culture to passengers as they fly to Israel.
Photo by Linda Kasian

Build a marketing product for Israel. Make sure it’s foolproof. You better know your consumer, growth trajectory and revenue streams. And work together with these nine people you just met. English is not everyone’s first language. You have five days to get it done.

Go!


Some 170 Israeli and American middle and high schoolers — including nine from the District of Columbia and Maryland — took up the challenge last month to come up with a product to teach Israeli and Jewish culture to passengers as they fly to Israel.

The Israel American Council’s Eitanim Summer Hackathon took place in Los Angeles. Hackathon is a bit of a misnomer: no computer programming was necessary. Itty-Bitty Shark Tank, or Think Tank, or Pitch-off, is a more accurate description.

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Itai Selzer, a sophomore at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, was one of nine students who brought home the win.

“Just going there and seeing other people like me interested in changing Israel, in the [worldview], that’s what really inspired me,” Itai said.


His team decided that because a Jew’s existence is so defined by tikkun olam, making the world a better place, why not create a tikkun olam-simulated map.

“Once you open up the application [on the screen in front of you], what you see is different cities all across Israel,” he said. “And you have all these ways of how you can help Israel and fix the world through tikkun olam.”

This year’s hackathon was round two for, Itai, an Israeli-born Rockville resident, who returned to L.A. mostly for the friendships.

“I can clearly say with 100 percent certainty that I’ve earned myself friends for the future, he said. “If I’m going to create a start-up I definitely know who I can come up with ideas with.”

Liann Keren, an eighth-grader at Tilden Middle School in Rockville, said her one regret was that the hackathon was too short.

“You get there and meet friends, and I would have loved more time to spend with these new friends,” she said. “The idea of getting into a team with people you don’t know and working together with them to build a solution and product was exciting to me.”

Teams received hands-on mentorship from Jewish entrepreneurs who served as celebrity panelists during presentations on demo day. They included Shoham Nicolet, IAC co-founder and CEO.

IAC Eitanim is named for Nicolet’s army commander, Maj. Eitan Belachsan, who was killed during an operation in southern Lebanon in 1999, and draws inspiration from his life and values.

“Students complete our IAC Eitanim program with vital leadership skills, a new imagination for innovation — and a deepened connection to their Jewish roots, the State of Israel, and to each other,” Nicolet said.

Itai and Liann agreed, especially having gotten the chance to work alongside Israeli teens, once strangers, who have now become beloved pen pals.

“I liked how it was national, that teens from all over the country could participate,” Liann said. “I enjoyed meeting teens from Israel, too.”

“A language isn’t a barrier to get your mind through and get your ideas through,” said Itai, who speaks English and Hebrew fluently. “Everyone could understand each other in such a great way.”

Eliana Block is a Washington-area writer.

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