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Tuesday, July 30, 2019
Gap Year In Israel
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Video Of The Week – Gap Year In Israel - https://tinyurl.com/y35lwwcg
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The Times of Israel, By Wendy Singer, 25-7-2019
Tomorrow at 7 a.m. we are taking our youngest daughter, Yarden, to Ammunition Hill to begin her two-year army service. Given what an emotional event this is for most families, the drop-off routine is the most non-ceremonial act one can imagine.
For me, an equally significant part of this day is that it will close a chapter in our lives, a “stage in life” that each of our daughters experienced, in succession, in the last few years. They each decided to take a gap year after high school, and enlist in a mechina — which literally means “to prepare” but actually is a pre-military leadership academy.
Here, preparing for the military has little to do with drills or getting into shape. The main preparation is to build character and start transitioning to a world where you are part of something that is larger than yourself. This gap year combines intensive community service, study and cultivating a deep appreciation for Israel, through exploration of the country, top to bottom.
It sounds like a pretty straightforward gap year option, but on a much deeper level, I see the mechina innovation as one of the most interesting and impactful entrepreneurship projects to come out of Israel in decades.
Each mechina has a slightly different focus. Some are more intensive on the study side; others on the volunteering end; and others for the all-out Israel exploration, and agrarian embrace of the land. Some mechina programs undertake ambitious urban renewal efforts; others have an “eco” or sustainability focus. Many of them deliberately combine participants from different stripes of Israeli society — religious and secular, city and periphery.
What they all have in common is that 40 to 50 18-year olds from all over the country live together, self-govern their community, and open themselves up to intellectual and even spiritual development that they would never have reached in their regular academic lives. What they all have in common is a breaking down of barriers so that an openness to listen to the “other” becomes natural. They also form a lifelong network and support mechanism taking them through their army service and beyond.
The common thread is that these kids live in sparse, I mean sparse, conditions for the year, and are given assignments — think of them as missions — where they have to figure out how to do more with less, and go way out of their comfort zones in order to accomplish the said assignment. At the Nachshon mechina, our daughter Noa had to find her way as a volunteer at a Bedouin community center for kids-at-risk. At the Nofei Prat mechina, Tamar’s “social projects committee” was tasked with building (from scratch) a week-long day camp during Chanukah for 180 Ethiopian youth, so that the kids’ parents could continue to work, while they were off from school. Her budget was less than a shoestring, and she was told to go raise the remainder. And Yarden, who will get her green uniform sometime tomorrow, was busy with her committee’s renovations of the still-young campus of the Aderet mechina, which sits alongside a high school for youth-at-risk. When the vegetable patches they planted weren’t getting sufficient water, they were told to figure out how to build an irrigation system. The tools for doing so had to be figured out from scratch. When the kids wanted to build a geodesic dome at the mechina to allow for more communal hang-out space, they knew they would be the designers, architects and logistics operation for doing so. Bare-bones materials were acquired on a paltry budget.
The academic angle is especially interesting. Most of the lectures given are arranged by the mechina students. As each of the core topics is covered during the year, these kids have to contact speakers, big name ones and just interesting ones who are less famous, and convince them to come lecture to their cohort: no compensation, not even for transportation. There’s a lot of hustling, and a lot of figuring out with your peers, what is the best way to cover each topic.
Most of the content is around the history of Israel; philosophy; religion; and life-related dilemmas. There are no tests and no grades. Yet we found that, for the first time in their K-12 lives, our daughters were actually paying attention in class, and actively engaging with the material being taught. They imbued the kids with an extraordinary sense of purpose, to give back to the State of Israel, and help it become a better country than the one they inherited.
Like so many aspects of the building blocks of Israeli entrepreneurship, these things are often hard to replicate in other countries. But the mechina model is different. The pioneers of the mechina movement have constructed a model that I believe can be piloted in other places. Already, through various cross-pollinating, some of the Ein Pratt Academy leaders from Israel have managed to advise NGOs and governments in Zimbabwe and the Ukraine on how to build similar leadership academies. Active discussions for doing the same in the Netherlands and the US are underway.
As policy-makers in many countries wrestle with how to create something impactful for high school graduates at this critical phase in their lives, I invite them to look at what Israel has done with this stage in life. In my view, this model is no less transformational than the drip irrigation that we have exported to markets around the world over since the ‘60s and ‘70s. In this case, it is not tech, but rather a concrete and replicable social innovation that Israel has to offer. The key is an openness for a year of scrappy living, and a mindset that forces the youth to take on assignments where the key element is: figure it out. The outcome could be a generation of purpose-driven youth who have more tools and determination to serve and take on the challenges of their communities.