Job-seeking U.S. college grads find opportunity in Israel

In her final months as a political science major at the University of Pittsburgh, Susanna Zlotnikov had a positive outlook about landing a job.

But as the months passed and her network of contacts led only to dead ends, Zlotnikov decided she needed a backup. Instead of spending the summer after her graduation sending out more résumés, Zlotnikov took a pair of internships and moved to Israel.

It worked out well: She was hired to work full time in Israel as grants coordinator with Save a Child’s Heart, an Israeli-based humanitarian organization that provides cardiac surgery for children from the developing world.

With the U.S. job market still uncertain, a growing number of college graduates are turning to Israel-based programs to bridge their educational and professional careers. In many cases, these young American Jews are drawn to the programs not out of Zionist sensibilities but because they’re looking for workplace experience or seeking a way to do something Jewish. Some are even finding jobs in Israel and staying.

After losing a job in Hollywood, Jessica Fass decided to go on a Birthright Israel trip and then stayed in the country for an extra month. Upon returning to the United States, Fass experienced culture shock and kept thinking about returning to Israel. She decided to do an internship through WUJS Israel Hadassah, which helps college graduates locate opportunities in Israel. “It seemed like the perfect time to go,” she said.

Within six months, Fass had found a full-time job in Israel working in marketing for a company in Tel Aviv. Fass said she was surprised to find how much more willing Israelis were to take a chance on a new hire.

“I don’t think that would have happened in the States because I had no experience in marketing,” she said.

Organizations that bring Jewish youth to Israel are trying to capitalize on the bleak job prospects for college graduates in the United States. Programs that offer internships in Israel say they have seen a spike in applicants since the recession hit in 2008.

“I remember in 2008 when our numbers skyrocketed,” said Amy Gross, program recruiter at WUJS Israel Hadassah. “It’s mostly recent college graduates because they have trouble finding a job, but they want to experience Israel as well.”

WUJS (World Union of Jewish Students) offers five-month internships in Israel. Participants also enjoy Hebrew classes twice a week, immersion in Israeli culture and weekly trips to explore the country.

Masa Israel, which helps place diaspora Jews in long-term Israel programs, created a program called A Better Stimulus Plan targeted at recent college graduates looking for internship opportunities in Israel while they wait out the economic troubles in the U.S. Avi Rubel, Masa’s North American director, says about 1,800 participants are having post-college internship experiences — double the rate of recent years.

Jesse Zryb, who graduated from Tulane University with a master’s degree in architecture, decided to sign up for Masa after a job he had been promised disappeared. Through Masa, he was hired as an intern at Stav Architects just outside Tel Aviv.

Zryb says he thinks the 4-month program made him more attractive to potential employers back home: After finishing it, he was hired as a designer at a fabric design firm in New York.