An Immersive Experience in Israeli Politics and Culture: The Israel Government Fellowship

Sep 18, 2020
2017-2018 IGF fellows at their graduation

The Israel Government Fellows (IGF) is an elite program of The Menachem Begin Heritage Center. The 10-month program is for motivated recent college graduates from around the world. Fellows learn about the heart of the Israeli government, and the program combines internships in government ministries and related organizations with educational seminars, Hebrew language studies, and trips around Israel. The program is an opportunity for professional development, immersion in Israel’s political landscape and culture, and building a skillset as an emerging Jewish leader.

We talked to Jeremy Pesner, a 2017-2018 Israel Government Fellow and current doctoral student in Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, to learn more about the program and get some application tips.  

1. What inspired you to apply for the Israel Government Fellowship?

Israel Government Fellows represented a nexus of several opportunities and advancements I was looking for in my life. I had never studied or lived abroad, and wanted to have that experience, and Israel stood out as a good choice because it had a number of ready-made programs for non-Hebrew speaking young professionals like myself. I wanted to grow in my career as a science and technology policy analyst, and Israel’s reputation as the Start-Up Nation suggested that it would be an excellent place to do so. 

I also wanted to explore my Jewish background and learn more about the issues at play in the Middle East, and IGF allowed for this by complementing my work experience with lectures and trips about the history, politics and other issues facing Israel and the Jewish people. We were not fed a “party line” about why Israel is so great, but instead offered a multitude of perspectives and encouraged to debate different ways to solve many longstanding and seemingly intractable issues. 

Fellows during a lecture on the Israeli-Palestnian conflict

2. How has the fellowship experience influenced your current work?

I was in a bit of a professional rut before the fellowship: I wanted to work in science and technology policy, but had not been able to find jobs directly related to that. Immediately prior to IGF, I was in another fellowship – Baltimore Corps – where I was learning useful data analysis skills, but not in a relevant domain. IGF was an opportunity for me to switch up the trajectory I was on and take more direct control around the type of work I was doing. I ended up interning at Start-Up Nation Central, which had not been the original plan when I started the fellowship but ended up being an excellent fit. This taught me how to be patient and flexible in the face of changing expectations and circumstances, and showed me just how quickly I could be productive in the right kind of environment. Because of the data analysis skills I’d learned, I was able to produce useful results from the large amount of data that the organization had curated and even wrote an article explaining some of my findings. I also learned a lot about how Israel fosters new and innovative technology within its borders, and more about the particular technology verticals that the country is really promoting. This helped me increase my confidence in myself and my capabilities as a professional and allowed me to ensure that I actually did enjoy this kind of work and would be happy dedicating years of my life to earning a PhD in the subject.

IGF fellows on a day trip to Sderot, near the Gaza strip

3. What tips would you give others applying to the Israel Government Fellowship? 

IGF asks a lot of its applicants. In addition to the typical resume and cover letter explaining your interest in and fit for the program, it asks for three letters: one from a professor or academic advisor, one from a supervisor or professional reference, and one from the Jewish community. These represent the three pillars of how IGF aims to develop its fellows: through professional experience, intellectual lectures and discussions and deepening their connections with Judaism. In my case, they were somewhat flexible on this, as I provided two academic references. However, one of them had supervised my Master’s thesis, so it accomplished the same aim of ensuring professionalism and productivity. I had also made contact with the program several years before actually applying, which they noted during my interview, as they had seen I was clearly invested and was ensuring I knew everything there was to know about it. The fact that I had already been involved in several Israeli and Jewish activities helped to cement my fit even further. 

But applicants don’t necessarily need to take all the steps I did to ensure a spot. Ultimately, the program wants fellows who are ambitious, intellectually engaged, willing to push themselves and are passionate about developing themselves, Israel and the connection between the two. Once an applicant is accepted (and commits) to the program, IGF will send them a list of different internship opportunities, and after ranking their top choices, the fellows will interview with their potential mentors from each organization. The mentors will in turn rank the fellows, and IGF then makes the best matches possible. In the event that an internship doesn’t work out for organizational reasons – as happened to me and some other fellows – the staff will help fellows find new placements. The staff also actively recruits (although the program is currently on hiatus in the wake of coronavirus) and is very open to inquiries and discussions about the program and how it can meet the interests and expectations of potential applicants.

Fellows during their final trip to the Golan Heights

Jeremy Pesner is a technology, innovation and policy specialist, conducting research across IT, telecommunications, research policy and forecasting. He is a current PhD student in Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, with a BS in Computer Science from Dickinson College and an MA in Communication, Culture & Technology from Georgetown University. He has worked across startups, federal government, local government and international research organizations, and is passionate about using technology to help improve the world. He is active in the Internet Law & Policy Foundry, STGlobal and the Foretell forecasting project.

The fellowship is currently in hiatus, but if you’re interested in applying in the future, learn more about the Israel Government Fellowship and The Menachem Begin Heritage Center.

© Victoria Johnson 2020, all rights reserved.