Welcome to the Threshold (www.Threshold.org.il), a Jewish educational entrepreneurship incubator in Israel, an incubator to help educators not only thrive financially in Israel, but do what they do best – educate.
It’s Thursday night and the presentation hall at the Hebrew University Givat Ram campus is full of energy and verve. As each presenter complete their 50 second “elevator pitch” about the venture they’re launching, the room explodes in supportive cheers and applause. “Come talk to me!” is the catchphrase nearly each speaker ends with, to a room full of fellow entrepreneurs, mentors, coaches and perhaps investors.
The idea is surprisingly simple, as explained to me by Threshold founder, Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz:
Too often, English-speaking Olim with a background in education find that job opportunities in Israel in their fields are limited because of language, demand and opportunity.
The goal of Threshold is to provide educators with the tools they need to step outside the box and create their own education-based opportunities and not rely on existing, more limited frameworks.
Fifteen Fellows were accepted to the first round of the program, and they spent the past six months developing technologies, business ideas, and, in some cases, actual businesses.
A few venture ideas stood out.
Tiyul B’Aretz (www.tiyulbaretz.org) is for college students who want to study in Israel, but don’t have the inclination (or ability) to sit in a classroom. All of Israel is the classroom for Tiyul B’Aretz and its experiential learning program. Participating students actually receive college credits in this MASA-sponsored program for touring and experiencing Israel in the field.
Super Slav Quail Farm (www.MoshavMesorah.com), brought the birds with them. I’m not sure what the connection to education was, but these guys are planning on building a kosher quail (and game) farm, and hope to introduce quail into the gourmet market.
Shabbat of a Lifetime (www.ShabbatofaLifetime.com) is already launched and profitable.
Anyone who’s been to the Kotel on Friday night knows who Jeff Seidel is. He’s the guy that finds and sends unaffiliated Jews to people’s homes for a Friday night meal, introducing them this way to their Jewish heritage.
Shabbat of a Lifetime (not affiliated with Seidel) has taken that concept and turned it into a business that targets tour groups and individuals visiting Israel, giving them the opportunity to have an authentic Shabbat experience with a Jewish family.
Shabbat of a Lifetime’s goal is to teach visitors about Israel, Judaism, and even do a little Hasbarah (promotion) along the way.
Schneider Learning: Al Pi Darko is a tool for schools and educators to help test and advance their students’ Torah learning based on those students’ individual needs.
It begins with a diagnostic test that maps each student’s strengths and weaknesses, and then automatically builds tailored programs to help advance them to the level at which they need to be.
The simplest example would be if a student had trouble reading Rashi script. The diagnostic test would recognize that, and the program would then concentrate on helping the student gain that missing skill.
The program has already passed a successful 200 student pilot and I can see this becoming a standardized tool in the Yeshiva system.
The last venture that stood out was the New Jerusalem Talmud Project (www.NewJerusalemTalmud.org). A fascinating idea, it was one of those things for which you simply can’t see any immediate and obvious commercial application for it, but you know someone eventually will.
It’s essentially a Wiki laid out like a Gemorah page. But unlike a wiki which is about knowledge, NJT is about taking actual arguments and displaying all the sides and disagreements in a graphically organized manner, so you can trace the argument components and structure, breaking it down until you can see what and where the real points of disagreement actually are.
I recommend that you frequent the Threshold website for news of upcoming ventures. It’s sure to revive your faith in Jewish ingenuity — and in faith.