Fighting for Independence

Guest post>>Wed Jul 8, 2015

by Ziv Azmanov

An important part of my time is invested in a great program called A3i. This is the world’s first startup accelerator that is solely dedicated to improving the lives of people with disabilities.

The purpose of A3i is to encourage and assist entrepreneurs to realize their ideas that aim to solve problems, and address the important needs of people with disabilities. The goal is to create a more inclusive society where people with special needs can lead a normal life like each and every one of us.

I serve this program as a member of its steering committee, as well as a mentor to some of the entrepreneurs. It’s one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in my life.

It’s so refreshing and inspiring to meet entrepreneurs that really want to make a difference. That are not driven by hype or financial rewards. It also reminds me time and time again what really matters in life, and how we take so many things, like our health, and personal independence for granted.

I recently met with one of the startup teams for our weekly mentorship session. We discussed the unique value proposition of their idea (we use the “Lean Startup” concept and Business Model Generation as our framework). I asked them to try and put themselves in the shoes of their target “customers”, and imagine how their lives will be different after they start using their proposed product, and why. What significant impact would that product have on the lives of their customers?


The Year I Learned Yiddish

Sara Weinreb>>Sun Nov 2, 2014

by Sarah Knapp, NYC '14 Fellow

It was almost exactly one year ago that I signed up for the Weekend Intensive program at the Yiddish Farm (NYC Fellowship '12) in Goshen New York. Though I wouldn’t start the program until May, it was this decision that started me on a completely new path. Later when I spoke with other students, many mentioned wanting to communicate more deeply with grandparents as a reason for learning the language. When I called my grandmother up to tell her about my new summer linguistic adventure she simply laughed and gave her support with a “Well, okay.”

And that was not the last time a somewhat perplexed and not altogether hugely supportive response about my studying Yiddish came. I would actually say most people were pretty confused about it – especially because I don’t speak Hebrew. “I’m learning Yiddish” often came with suggestion that I should really learn Hebrew first.

And I definitely appreciate advice. So I took that to heart and started studying the Hebrew alphabet, which just happened to be excellent preparation for being able to read Yiddish.


5775: A Palindromic Effect

Naomi Korb Weiss>>Tue Sep 23, 2014

By the time Thanksgivvukah passed last year, most of us were sick to death of marveling over the coincidence. Yes, it had never happened before, and it will never happen again. Enough with the turkey latkes.

This year, we have a new shtick in place for the high holidays that won’t happen again for 100 years. The new year, 5775, is a palindrome – a sequence that reads the same backward and forward. To me, this number feels calming, symmetrical and – yes, a little shtick-y. And I can’t help but read into the deeper meaning.

Palindromes are often silly. The most commonly known are likely “A man, a plan, a canal, Panama” and “Madam, I’m Adam.” My personal favorite is “A Toyota's a Toyota” (How much did some advertising firm get paid for THAT?)

They’re clever and they’re memorable – and perhaps, they’re more.

The high holidays are a time to look backward and forward, to reflect and introspect.  They are a time to take an accounting of one’s year, one’s self and one’s life; to atone for mistakes, renew our commitment and have a hand in inscribing our fate.

How many times do we say the shemone esrei over the high holidays, taking three steps backward and three steps forward? Let’s use this as a tool to visualize the palindromic effect of our prayers – and SEE the steps we choose to take forward.

The high holidays are about holding up a mirror to our lives and seeing a reversed image, not an identical one – an image of a future that is more about giving than taking, and more about progress than status quo. If the eyes are the windows to one’s soul, than how can we draw that soulfulness from our reflection and share it with the world?  

What will you create this year from within your reflection?


Top Down, Bottom Up- Jerusalem Day

Guy Spigelman>>Wed May 28, 2014

Jerusalem Day 2014, 5774

Jerusalem has been in the news lately, and while this is not new, this Jerusalem day comes between a visit by Pope Francis and the election of a new President for the State of Israel. These are big stories that make world headlines and inspire many. We can call them the “top-down” stories.

Pope Francis’s visit drew attention to the multiple narratives that co-exist in this city. He simultaneously recognized the tragedy of the Shoah, paid tribute to Herzl the founder of modern Zionism, decried the separation fence, called for Palestinian freedom and of course highlighted the importance of Jerusalem to Christians around the world.

This seamless journey between narratives should not come as a surprise, as this indeed is the story of Jerusalem. A place claimed and shared by many.

The pictures of the new Pope with outgoing Israeli President Shimon Peres were touching and poignant, displaying genuine warmth and deep respect. One could argue that the Pope’s counterparts in Israel are the Chief Rabbis, but in my opinion it is really the President that represents the citizens of Israel and the Jewish people world wide – for Judaism is more than a religion – our identity is intertwined with the land of Israel.

But now in Israel, we are going to elect a new President, in a similar way to how a Pope is elected really. A small group of people – 120 to be exact, will cast their ballots, until “white smoke” emerges in Jerusalem. The next President will not have the instant gravitas that Shimon Peres brought with him, but let’s hope that the position will bring forth a leader that can truly represent us – and can charm the world like Pope Francis has since he first was elected.


How Starting a Startup is Like Starting A New Relationship

Sara Weinreb>>Mon May 19, 2014

Originally posted on

I like to be in control of things. I am the type of person who pursues what she wants and am reluctant to let other’s thoughts or expectations stop me. Oh yeah, did I mention that I am a trouble maker? I believe that if an employer or potential relationship does not appreciate that, then it probably isn’t the best fit for me. This attitude has enabled me to accomplish a lot in my life such as landing two of my dream jobs, a handful of meaningful relationships, and some life-changing trips across the glove. But sometimes it’s important to realize that not everything can be controlled not all dreams can be pursued and accomplished as easily, or with as much certainty, as others.

The lack of control is particularly true about entrepreneurial ventures and romantic relationships. In fact, there is a lot of overlap between starting a startup and starting a romantic relationship. Let’s examine.


You May Say I’m A Dreamer: A Message for Young Entrepreneurs

Sara Weinreb>>Tue Apr 1, 2014

Reposted from the NYC Fellowship blog

By Liz Traison, Tirtzah

Sometimes, when I think of myself as an entrepreneur, I picture Crazy Old Maurice from the Disney classic, Beauty and the Beast. If you remember, he has big hair and even bigger ideas – not too unlike myself. Though it’s been years since I’ve watched the movie, the things that stand out to me are that he was an inventor, a dreamer, and that he had to fight an uphill battle to get people to take him seriously.

As a young professional, it’s easy to feel the same way. Our ideas and dreams can get lost amid the bureaucracy and “the way things are done”. As a young entrepreneur, the stakes are almost higher; the dreams are bigger, loftier, and the willingness of our communities to necessarily take us seriously can be mountainous because we’re young, because we’re inexperienced, because we don’t know how. These are the shadowy clouds that loom over us, but, if we’re willing to ride out the dip, and not let anyone keep us from dreaming big, the reward can be so much greater.

I have always been a practical dreamer. When I was 11, I dreamed I could be a hippie, so I became a vegetarian and took my mom’s record player out of the basement (and subsequently ended up working in Jewish Outdoor, Food, and Environmental Education). When I was in high school, I dreamed I could save the world. And while I might not have saved the world - or even really come close, I did bring awareness to my community about the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. As a health coach, it’s currently one of my dreams to help people eat better, because I believe that when you eat well, you feel well; and when you feel well, you’ll be more empowered to make a change in our world in need of mending.


The change starts from within

Guy Spigelman>>Tue Feb 4, 2014

nazTech, the first tech accelerator for Arab Entrepreneurs in Israel launches in Nazareth last night

By Guy Spigelman, CEO of PresenTense Israel and Director of nazTech

“You look at a community and look at what is missing, and look inside to see what you can do.” These were the words of inspiration that Tareq Maayah, CEO of Exalt Technologies had for the entrepreneurs of nazTech, which launched last night in Nazareth.

Tareq is from Ramallah, and the software, web and mobile application business that he founded in 1993 after working in Silicon Valley, is one of the leading hi-tech firms in the Palestinian Territories, with over 90 engineers. Exalt’s customers are Israeli, US and European companies – including technology giants like Cisco, HP as well as smaller/medium size start-ups.

And while Tareq did mention some of the challenges he faced over the years that related to the conflict – his story of entrepreneurship is universal, as were his words of encouragement.

“Why am I doing this?”

This is the single most important question that an entrepreneur has to ask him/herself.

For with all the roller coaster ups and downs that define entrepreneurship – if you can’t answer this question – then you are going to find it hard to keep going.

In Tareq’s case, in 2000 he not only had to deal with the telco bubble bursting, but with the second intifada as well. This led to his partner – Siemens – who held 51% of the business to take a decision to exit the business.


Interview with PT Fellow Rabbi Yonatan Neril, The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development

Miriam Brander>>Thu Dec 26, 2013


1.      Give us your best elevator pitch and tell us about your venture!

The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development (ICSD) accesses the collective wisdom of the world’s religions and of science to promote co-existence, peace, and sustainability through education and action. Together with partner organizations, ICSD organizes an annual interfaith environmental conference in Jerusalem, interfaith eco gatherings for women and students, and a coalition of faith and science leaders speaking out on ecological issues. ICSD’s eco tourism branches, Eco Israel Tours and Jewish Eco Seminars, engage groups in Israel on the connection between Israel, ecology, and faith teachings. Based in Jerusalem, ICSD has a growing team of staff and volunteers.

2.      How did you come to establish it? What need does it fill?

I grew up in California and now live with my wife, Shana, and son, Shacharya, in Jerusalem. I completed a BA and MA at Stanford with a focus on global environmental issues. In 2003 I came to Israel and over seven years studied at several yeshivot and completed a rabbinic degree. I consulted with the Jewish environmental organization, Canfei Nesharim in producing two publications on Judaism and ecology.  I founded The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development and its branches Jewish Eco Seminars and Eco Israel Tours based on my background in experiencing the richness of Jewish and faith teachings on environmental sustainability, and realizing their relevance for the world we live in.

This is the need that it fills: We are facing a planetary crisis. Glaciers are melting, hurricanes are intensifying, droughts are increasing. We need to act soon and in large numbers in order to leave a liveable planet for our children.


Bring Another CEO to Work Day

Naomi Korb Weiss>>Tue Dec 24, 2013

At a November 2012 intimate breakfast for executives at UJA-Federation of New York, a facilitator suggested casually that participants in the room consider ‘reverse-shadowing’ one another to gain insights into other management styles and organizations. Two such executives took this suggestion to heart; below they each share the immense insights they gained from just two days.

Hers: Naomi Korb Weiss, CEO PresenTense Group

It was a typical Thursday in the life of a CEO – debriefing a board meeting, leading a staff meeting, checking a reference on a candidate, negotiating with a couple of partners and answering a bunch of emails. Or was it?

I wasn’t in my cozy PresenTense office or meeting with my own colleagues and partners. Rather, I was observing a day in the life of another CEO – Bob Sherman of the Jewish Education Project. I was simply his sidekick for the day.    

After an inspiring breakfast together at the UJA Federation of New York last November, Bob and I took a casual suggestion to heart to ‘reverse-shadow’ someone else in the room. After juggling some logistics I shadowed Bob one busy day in June and he joined our team one day at the end of August. It’s pretty amazing what we each learned in less than a full day.  


Accelerating Social Change

Guy Spigelman>>Tue Dec 17, 2013

Celebrating my first year as CEO of PresenTense Israel

I have the best job in the world. It’s true. Every day, I get to meet incredible people who are going to make their communities, countries and the world a better place. If optimism was a currency, and some say that it is, then I am surrounded by a treasure trove.

One year ago today, I had the good fortune to join a relatively young organization with very solid foundations, made up of a fantastic professional team, unique curriculum and methodologies, and a large and growing community of supporters. Co-founders Ariel Beery and Aharon Horwitz and team did a great job of launching and sustaining the organization.

Of course there were and are challenges, but as my friend Mike Prashker, the founder of Merchavim, says, “joy at work is about facing challenges that you know you can meet head-on.”

The main task at hand was to do more, to scale. To take PresenTense’s central fellowship program – the Community Enterprise Partnership, or as we now call it, our community-based Venture Accelerator, to more locations, to more populations and to more content areas.

And this is what we are doing. Together with our fellow travellers – the community partners we deliver programs with and the venture philanthropists who support us – we are impacting local economies, changing the narrative for disaffected populations, and transforming neighborhoods and communities.

In Ra’anana we have launched the first Venture Accelerator worldwide for new projects that will improve the lives of people with disabilities – in partnership with Beit Issie Shapiro and the Ruderman Family Foundation. We call it A3i –“Accelerating Inclusion In Israel.” Applications are still open here.

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