Eric Wollberg, 24, New York City, NY, is living and working in Israel this year. He’s not taking a break from his career.
He’s building it, having been given a dream opportunity in a cutting edge industry.
A recent college graduate he is now an Energy Intern specializing in green energy at the Israel Innovation Authority, through Masa’s elite Israel Government Fellows program. IGF is a cooperation with the Begin Heritage Center in which participants intern at various government offices and non-profits over the course of an academic year.
We asked him some candid questions about his journey:
Q: Why Israel?
There is a book by Eric Weiner, The Geography of Genius, which talks about the different places throughout human history where "human flourishing" occurred. One of the interesting commonalities that all of these places shared was that they were places of struggle. For example, during the "Golden Age", Athens was more of a slum than a marble city. After reading that book, I decided that I wanted to go to a place where a struggle was paired with human flourishing. I looked at a map and realized that it was a place I knew very well, Israel.
Q: What was your life like before coming to Israel on Masa and how has it changed from this experience?
Before I came to Israel, I was living in NYC, working for an advertising technology company. I would say that my life was pretty great; my girlfriend had just graduated from university and most of my friends were working/living in NYC. Life in NYC is much easier than in Israel. There are certain comforts that we take for granted in the US, such as security or hot water on demand. Additionally, there is the Israeli temperament that can take even a New Yorker by surprise. However, there are many things about my life in Israel that I much prefer to NYC. In Israel, I feel that my contribution is valued. From Israelis, I have learned how to be a better self-advocate. Then there is the food. You have not eaten a tomato until you've eaten an Israeli tomato.
Q: What is your favorite moment this far in your journey?
I would say that the moments that have stuck out, are the ones where my assumptions have been proven wrong. For example? That happens a lot in Israel.
Q: What does IGF look and feel like from the inside?
The Israel Government Fellowship is incredible. For the first six weeks, we met with leaders from government, business and academia. From them, we learned about the enormous complexity of Israeli history and culture, which better allowed us to engage with the problems Israel faces today. Additionally, we spent the first six weeks taking Ulpan, which is important because otherwise you will ask for a small bus, instead of a bathroom. Since then, we have been interning at various government and non-profits, which is absolutely amazing. You realized very quickly that you will not be photo copying documents or fetching coffee, they expect you to contribute. There really is no "average day" for me. I could be in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv or Herzylia. I could be meeting with a venture capitalist or the CEO of a large corporation. I could be eating hummus or schnitzel (both are preferable to most NYC lunch options).
Q: How do you think your experience this year will help you on your journey to a meaningful career?
Without the Masa IGF program, I think it would have taken me 10 years to get to where I will be when I finish this experience. I realized very quickly that I would not be photo copying documents or fetching coffee, they expect you to contribute here.
Not only has the fellowship allowed me to network with some of the major players in technology and government, but it has allowed me to assume responsibilities no one in the United States would have given to someone my age. Importantly, I have learned that "chutzpah" is more than just a fun word to say, but a mentality that will gain you respect and advantage.
Q: Explain your experience in the Masa Leadership Accelerator/Global Summit?
I was fortunate to be selected to give one of the TED style talks. I discussed why I believe Israel (I called it "The Sequestration Nation") is the place that could most likely create the solutions to global climate change. Additionally, I was able to meet and engage with young Jewish leaders from around the world, which was fun and inspiring. The event really solidified the importance of MASA and how privileged we are that such an organization exists.
Q: Any advice for people coming to Jerusalem?
Jerusalem is a city that has endured the rise and fall of empires; one of the holiest sites in the world. Most importantly, it is a living and breathing place that is trying to grapple with the modern world. The mixing of the old and the new is sometimes challenging, but it has been completely worth it. If you wish to engage with the past and fight for the future, come to Jerusalem.