By Adam Ross
Natalie Birnbaum, 22, of Great Neck is one of twenty-five Jewish graduates worldwide accepted to the elite Israel Government Fellows (IGF) Program, which screens suitable candidates aged 22–30 for professional work experience in key ministries and government authorities.
A member of Temple Judea in Manhasset, Natalie is midway through a year-long placement at the policy think tank Reut, a Tel-Aviv-based policy team providing long-term strategic support to the Israeli government as well as non-governmental groups, local authorities, corporations, and academia.
The Israel Government Fellows program, established in 2007, is run by Jerusalem’s Menachem Begin Heritage Centre, bringing to life the vision of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin to connect Diaspora communities with Israel at every level of society. Most fellows join the program after graduating from college or following a few years’ gaining experience in their field.
Natalie, a psychology and political-science graduate of the Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, joined after completing an internship at the New York State Office of the Attorney General. Natalie has applied to law school in New York City for next year.
At Reut, one of Natalie’s first assignments has seen her join a team headed by leading Jewish thinker Avraham Infeld to design a 21st-century “Tikun Olam” non-profit organization harnessing Israeli technology such as desalinization and irrigation to assist developing countries in Africa and Asia.
Natalie has been assigned to a series of projects aimed at increasing Israel’s impact within the developing world. “Such a project can have enormous benefits for developing countries and can help build goodwill and friendlier ties as well. Such an initiative could have a global reach of a quarter of a billion people,” Natalie says. “The staff are very open-minded and also fairly young. The tone at Reut is about questioning everything, looking ahead to reframe things for the better, and training young Jewish leaders. I placed Reut as my first choice, as I wanted to be based in Tel-Aviv, and wanted to make an impact. I felt I would get the most growth in my personality at Reut.”
“It is sometimes challenging working in a Hebrew-speaking office,” Natalie added, “but myco workers are very generous in translating! It’s taken some time to get used to that, but that barrier is being broken.”
The role sees Natalie coming into contact with senior Israeli leaders. “It has been challenging to step up and share my ideas, especially as a junior member of the team and as an American in an Israeli organization, but I have definitely grown in confidence,” she said.
Together with fellows from Europe, U.S., and Latin America, Natalie takes part in an intensive educational program that engages fellows with the myriad social and political challenges the country faces.
She said, “I’ve enjoyed the diversity of the program’s curriculum and the people we get to talk to and hear from, their backgrounds, beliefs, and the diversity of other students who are from all over the world—French, Argentinean, Brazilian. I’m very pleased to have joined the program and grateful to the federation for providing me with the means to have this experience and help me advance both intellectually and professionally in Israel.”
Paul Gross, Israel Government Fellows Director, commented, “Natalie is doing an excellent job in her role at Reut, and her contribution is valued by the team she works with. We are always on the lookout for more talented graduates looking for great professional experience in Israel.”
For more information about Israel Government Fellows, visit www.igf.org.il or contact firstname.lastname@example.org. v