UMSL to launch Israel trip for business students

Michael Costello

By Eric Berger, Associate Editor

Airports and planes are often spaces for sharing details about travel plans, which is what Rabbi Hershey Novack and Michael Costello did when they met en route to Toronto from St. Louis in January 2019.

Novack, the co-director of Chabad on Campus — Rohr Center for Jewish Life at Washington University, was heading to Israel. Costello, a professor of law and international business at the University of Missouri- St. Louis, was leading a student trip to Abu Dhabi. 

Novack suggested: Since you are taking students to the Middle East, why not take them to Israel?

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That conversation inspired Costello to organize a two-week trip in June to Israel for undergraduate and graduate students in the University of Missouri system. 

“I think there is a lot of fear, mostly from people in the Midwest, about the whole Middle East. But when they get over there and realize that 90% of the people there just want to have a good life and raise their children and do well, they start to then see the political issues differently and start to open their minds up. So I think it is useful to visit Israel as well as the Arab countries,” Costello said. 

The trip, from June 5 to 19, will focus on the business sector in Israel, and students can earn three college credits. Costello hopes to attract 15 students.

Costello, who served as legal counsel for Agribrands and Ralston Purina before retiring to teach, said the trip will hopefully include visits to the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, departments of the Israeli government, traditional tourist destinations such as Masada and the Dead Sea, and between 10 and 14 Israeli businesses with St. Louis connections. To develop the itinerary, Costello has spoken with people such as Karen Rader, director of the Israel Center at Jewish Federation of St. Louis, and Donn Rubin, president and CEO of BioSTL and founder of its international recruitment arm, GlobalSTL, a group that has spurred Israeli startups to open offices in St. Louis.

During the Dead Sea visit, for example, the students will visit a magnesium extraction plant that supplies material to Metal Exchange, a St. Louis-based company.

“The fact that they are going to see big companies, small companies, Israeli companies, customers of U.S. companies, suppliers to U.S. companies — I think that’s going to be fascinating,” said Costello. 

The trip, including airfare, will likely cost $5,000, Costello said. He has received commitments from companies for about $15,000 in scholarship funding, so he hopes to be able to underwrite all or a portion of the students’ airfare. 

Novack said he encouraged Costello to take students to Israel because it’s “a really interesting part of the world, a lot of beautiful things happening [there] in business and in technology and in medicine, and I think his programs are designed to help young people who often have never been out of the country to see things from a new perspective.”