Live With Alum Noah Stevens, Duke University Graduate, About Swimming Through Life
Updated: Mar 31, 2022
We catch up with Thrive Alum Noah Stevens who is in Boston, where he currently resides after graduating from Duke University. Noah was a Division I swimmer for Duke, where he also studied economics and Judaic studies, before coming to Thrive. Noah studied in Tel Aviv University in Spring 2019, and ended up swimming for their team as well. He went on to enter the tech startup world and works as a biotech investment banker. Catch the video or read the transcript below!
Rabbi Isaacs: All right, Noah!
Noah: Hey how are you doing Adi?
Rabbi Isaacs: Wow! It's great to see you, it's been a while!
I want to first of all apologize for my voice. I was very excited to catch up but I apologize I just lost it this morning, I got so excited to see you and my voice went, so I want to apologize.
Noah: I'm currently in Boston with Covid so I'm quarantined in my tiny apartment here but happy to connect and it's definitely been a while since we've spoken.
Rabbi Isaacs: Amazing! Well first of all, you look great, and I love the flag in the background. Have you always had that since you moved to Boston?
Noah: Yeah. I actually got it in Israel on Yom Yerushalayim and I brought it back with me to America, and when I moved to Boston after I graduated from Duke, it was the first thing I put up in my room.
Rabbi Isaacs: Amazing. I can't wait to catch up with you in a little bit, but just seeing you right now brings me back to- remember when we had that amazing Jerusalem shuk tour? We tasted all the foods, just eating everything, that was after the semester.
Noah: I think you and I did that twice actually!
Rabbi Isaacs: That's true, it was so good the first time we needed to do it again, so a lot of good eating.
Rabbi Isaacs: Yeah and you know the other thing I just remember, it was so nice when your parents came with your sister and they came to my house for the Friday night meal. I love meeting the family of students, so it was so nice that you brought your family also then.
Noah: Yeah, it was a beautiful experience to have them not only see what my life looked like as a student but also as a Thrive member and for them to meet you was you know, they always talk about you, and obviously, you know they send their best regards to you and your family.
Rabbi Isaacs: Amazing! Well, I know we could catch up forever and we need to catch up a little bit more, but I want to introduce you to everybody that doesn't know you. So tell me where did you study? Leaving aside studying abroad for right now, where were you studying, what did you study and what are you up to now?
Noah: Sure, yeah so I graduated from Duke University down in Durham, North Carolina. I was initially recruited to be on their Division I swim team, with the intention of obviously focusing my time and energy on school. I was a top athlete in high school and was fortunate enough to get recruited to Duke to swim on their team. So while I was at Duke I studied economics and also Judaic studies and Hebrew.
Rabbi Isaacs: Yeah, cool. You gotta tell me, I remember when we met one of the first times when you came to Israel, and we were talking about being an athlete in Duke, you were an athlete at Duke at a good time! You know, do you remember you showed me that picture of you and your buddy Zion?
Noah: Oh yeah, yeah, I was fortunate enough to befriend a lot of the basketball players who are now common household names, so I'm currently living in Boston with Jason Tatum which is also a very common name. He was a classmate of mine, so there were a lot of really cool perks of being a student-athlete at Duke.
What was actually amazing, and I would say my first introduction to Israel and Judaism was while I was a freshman on the Duke swim team, I was invited to be on the team USA for the Maccabiah, the Maccabiah games. It was the 2017 Maccabiah games and I obviously accepted and that summer in 2017 was my first time in Israel. I was there for a month participating in the Maccabiah games and competing for Team USA.
We traveled around the entire country. It was really my first time experiencing the country and the culture which obviously materialized into my study abroad which we can speak about later, but yeah, you know swimming opened a lot of doors for me, and presented me with a lot of really incredible opportunities.
Rabbi Isaacs: Amazing. Now for those of us that aren't as intense of athletes like yourself, what was your schedule like when you were at Duke, just in terms of the commitment to being a swimmer and an athlete just enough to understand that?
Noah: So swimming at any Division I program or being an athlete at any Division program comes with a lot of sacrifices and a lot of time management. Swimming specifically for me was around 20 plus hours a week, so you know you can consider it a part-time job.
Even more so, it was early morning swim practices. I was waking up at 4:30 or 5:30 in the morning every morning. Two and a half hour practices in the morning, two and a half hour practices in the afternoon, so just about five hours of swimming every day throughout the week, and then also balancing that with a full academic course load, so it definitely required a lot of time management and discipline and staying focused. That was the reason why I went to Duke, and it was absolutely an incredible experience. To not only go through that on my own, but to have an incredible support system with me and my teammates and all the resources that Duke had to offer me.
Rabbi Isaacs: Okay, well let's fast forward a little bit also right now. So you were studying economics and now what are you up to? You said you're living in Boston, what are you doing?
Noah: I graduated from Duke in 2020. As I said, unfortunately it was the Spring of Covid, so I unfortunately lost my spring semester but was lucky enough to line up a job in investment banking, and ironically it happened to be in the biotechnology industry.
So as Covid was hitting, and everyone was wondering, are there vaccines coming out or therapeutics for this strange new disease, I actually happened to start at a time when a lot of my work focused around developing or helping companies develop vaccines and therapeutics to treat Covid. So since the summer of 2020, I've been working as a biotech investment banker, and have been working on some really, really cool technologies in the space, and have really been heads down for the most part.
I started during peak quarantine in the States and Boston was especially locked down, so I have really just been kind of putting my head down and learning as much as I can and working hard.
Rabbi Isaacs: Cool! I remember when you were here, we hooked you up with one of our buddies to have a really good internship with the VC. Do you think that helped give you an understanding a little bit more, maybe get you into the field?
Noah: Our good friend, Thrive's good friend, Alex Oppenheimer was nice enough to take me under his wing, and have me go and work with him throughout the summer of 2019, which put me in a really good position to recruit into a top-level banking job in Boston.
I obviously spoke a lot about my time in Israel and my experience working with the Israeli startups, venture capitalists and investors and the entire business world in Israel. That was obviously an amazing experience and wouldn't have happened if I wasn't part of the Thrive community.
Rabbi Isaacs: Before we go I have to throw out one other thing. Thanks to our relationship, you hooked up my cousin with a job by your place, so everything that comes around. My cousin said he's very happy, and he loves working with you, so thank you.
Noah: Thanks for that business call with Isaac we do good work together.
Rabbi Isaacs: Okay, you gotta give him a hug for me!
Noah: I absolutely will.
Rabbi Isaacs: Okay cool, so let's go back now to study abroad for a second. Being a Division I athlete and a swimmer, you really had to make a sacrifice in order to study abroad in Israel. How did you go about making that decision and why was it important for you?
Noah: Just to set the framework, I couldn't go abroad had I stayed a Division I swimmer at Duke, it was one or the other, and I had previously expressed my interest in going abroad to Israel. This was definitely something I wanted to do. I always had it in mind that I wanted to get this experience in Israel. So I made a life-changing decision after my sophomore year, which was to retire from the college world of swimming and to take a leap of faith and go abroad to Israel. Knowing that I couldn't rejoin the swim team after my abroad experience.
So it was an active decision to quit swimming, and at that time I had thought it was really my last time swimming competitively ever.
Rabbi Isaacs: It is fascinating and important. I talk to students when I go recruiting at all the colleges a lot of times. I say that making a decision to study abroad, and where you decide, there is always potentially a sacrifice. Whether you want to stay on campus, especially like right now with Covid, you missed x amount of semesters, so I want to stay here, or maybe I want to study abroad somewhere else, but every decision does have amazing pros, but also has sacrifices.
And I know your experience really shows that more than ever. You had to make a major sacrifice where you started college and then you pivoted. Why did you think Israel was that important to come to?
Noah: Maybe just quickly building off of that, I mean, when making a decision like that, it's much more clear, it's easier to see all the reasons why not. Right? I have friends in college. You know, I'm missing Duke basketball; there are so many reasons to stay, and there are a lot of unknowns or reasons why to go.
And so in my mind, I had been to Israel before through the Maccabiah games. It was an experience that was very interesting that to me. I didn't know what would come about, I didn't know about Thrive, I didn't know what I would be getting into with the startup world, and so I took a leap of faith and there were a lot of reasons to stay back home, but eventually I made a decision that could be one of the best decisions of my life. Today I look back at it and it absolutely was.
Rabbi Isaacs: Amazing! So let's jump forward a little bit. I want to first before we hear a little bit more of your swim story, I would love to hear, what was your favorite memory of being in Israel specifically with Thrive?
Noah: Ithink what sticks out the most was probably our first trip away, which was the Gadna, the
the military Israeli army boot camp which was, I believe just over 24 hours, and it was really our first time coming together as a group. It was a full military experience where there was this ‘Mifaked’, this commander that was just kicking our butts the entire time, making us do running and doing a lot of- just so many ridiculous things, but it really brought us all together.
Rabbi Isaacs: I remember you and Matt carrying that water jug for hours.
Noah: Absolutely! I was assigned the waterboy, where I was responsible for holding the jug of water with one of our other Thrive members. Yeah, I think that was the first experience or probably the most significant experience that really stood out to me.
Rabbi Isaacs: Cool! Yeah, good times. I remember that.
Noah: I have a lot of footage of that. If you recall, I was the videographer that semester.
Rabbi Isaacs: There you go! So our group that just arrived right now, they're going to Gadna next week, so we don't have to give too much away from it right now. So ultimately you came here and sacrificed a lot from leaving the Duke swimming team. Tell us what happened here because it was a pretty wild story.
Noah: Yeah, so it was wild. Again, I had in my mind, I had thought I was completely done swimming competitively and specifically, I made a commitment to never swim in an
indoor pool again. I had some PTSD from all of the hours swimming indoors and fortunately, there was a beautiful outdoor pool at the Tel Aviv University campus. A beautiful Olympic size pool, and I was still staying active and I obviously love the act of swimming and on these beautiful days, I would go outside and swim in the outdoor pool.
It just so happened one day very very early, I was swimming, and the Tel Aviv University swim coach actually came up to me. He saw me swimming and he said, you know, this doesn't look normal, are you a student here, would you like to join our team?
I said, no, you know, I'm done swimming. I'm retired. I just do this recreationally. He kept pushing me, he said, no, trust me, it would be an amazing experience, and I was telling him I'm here for a semester. I was giving him reasons why I couldn't join their swim team and finally, he convinced me to join. He said it's going to be an absolutely amazing experience. It'll give you an opportunity to meet more Israeli students in the program, you'll learn Hebrew, you'll get to do all these things, you know, you'll practice, you'll train, whatever, and I said all right fine. ‘
He said there was one caveat though, you need to compete for Tel Aviv University at the Israeli collegiate national championships, which included schools from Europe as wel. It was down in Eilat. I said all right, I'll swim for you guys, and you know, sure enough a few months later I was competing for Tel Aviv University.
I did very well for myself and the swim team, and I just realized, I had thought that I was sacrificing a really large part of my life in swimming, and being a Duke swimmer, and that was really what defined me. While I thought I was sacrificing that, I realized that I would say when you fully commit to something, if you sacrifice something and you fully commit to the thing that you're sacrificing against, you will be rewarded and I found out, that you know it completely came full circle that I was able to compete again and be in Israel and I didn't have to sacrifice my swimming, but rather have that supplement a part of my Israel experience so it was a really wild experience and I just had such an amazing time doing it!
Rabbi Isaacs: Amazing! You didn't just not sacrifice, you like became a Tel Aviv University legend and hero!
Noah: I happened to win the Israeli national championship which was amazing. I got a scholarship in shekels based on that performance and was able use those proceeds to enjoy the rest of my time in Israel!
Rabbi Isaacs: I remember you coming back with those medals and you were just living it up.
Noah: It wasn't just swimming, it was called the Assad games, they do all sports so it's kind of like an Olympics for Israeli collegiate athletes.
Rabbi Isaacs: So so cool, and it's a great lesson what you were saying before, about just when you believe in something it doesn't become a sacrifice, it enhances it and now here you came full circle and became an Israeli legend!
Noah: Yeah again, I thought I had put swimming behind me and you know, the next thing I know I’m not only in Israel where I wanted to be, but I was also swimming for an amazing team and got to go down to Eilat and compete for an entire week, and just have an amazing time and meet new people along the way, so it was an absolutely surreal experience for me.
Rabbi Isaacs: Amazing amazing! And you know, whenever people come back from study abroad it’s the classic thing like, ‘abroad changed me’ and we joke around about that, we've spoken about that before, but you definitely have told me a number of times that abroad changed you and specifically coming to Israel. How would you explain that to people?
Noah: Yeah, well I mean there are a few things that I would say for one, and especially as an American Jew, there’s obviously a culture around Judaism and America. But to see Judaism in Israel and to just be part of that culture for a sustained period of time… Some people visit Israel for a few weeks, maybe even a few days with their family or they do Birthright. I actually had done Birthright prior to coming to Israel for the semester abroad, but I actually realized that living in a different country and living in Israel for six-plus months really gave me an incredible understanding of not just Judaism, but the culture that Israel has created since you know it's inception.
And I always carry those values that I learned from being there, the understanding of Israel's history and my personal experience, not only in Thrive, but I stayed in Israel for the summer working in Tel Aviv, being on the ground and part of the startup community, and I developed relationships that I continue through today.
Rabbi Isaacs: Amazing, amazing,. So just final words from you, would love to hear. Anybody that's debating about, should I study abroad? Should I not study abroad? Should I go to Prague, Budapest, Barcelona or Israel you know, what would you tell them?
Noah: I mean, I would tell them if they're Jewish, I would say there's no question to be in Israel. Like I said there's a lot of value in not just visiting Israel but to actually living here, and being part of the culture and experiencing, as an example, to experience what Shabbat is like in Israel, where the entire country shuts down and you really get a sense of- you know, again as an American Jew, you think the Shabbos or Shabbat is just taking a day to relax or go to services, but to be in Israel and to see an entire country shut down and to be with friends and family and to celebrate what it actually means.
In Thrive we do a lot of Shabbatons where we travel around the country, and we learn the values of Shabbat and the importance of togetherness and unity and taking a break from all of the craziness that goes on in our lives and to really reset and appreciate the week before and to set goals for the week after. As an example, you know, these are values that you can only get by living in Israel, and I think when students are making decisions on where they should go abroad, if you're a Jewish student in America I think it's a no-brainer.
Rabbi Isaacs: Amazing. Now, it sounds like you had a great time and a really good Jewish experience. Did you also have fun?
Noah: I had an amazing time, yeah! So I was part of the Tel Aviv University program, and Tel Aviv is very lively. It's right on the beach. There's a lot of nightlife and activities to do during the day and I was there during the Spring of 2019, which was fortunately a very peaceful
time in Israel. All the students would go to the beach together and go to all these events together, so it was a fantastic time, and again, I was very happy with the decision to go abroad to Tel Aviv University
Rabbi Isaacs: Amazing Noah! Listen, it was really great. First of all, to have you in Israel with us, that was the most important. It's also really nice to catch up a little bit and share a little bit of your experience with other people and I look forward to hopefully seeing you very soon in person.
Noah: Yeah thank you so much! I really appreciate you taking the time, especially, what time is it there? Almost 9:00?
Rabbi Isaacs: Yeah, it's getting there.
Noah: Thank you so much Adi, I really appreciate it. Take care now I'll see you soon
Rabbi Isaacs: Bye!