Commanding Officer Alon Weiss
“At the mechina, I acquired social skills. A lot of social skills – learning to be sensitive towards others and to understand people who are different than me. I grew up in an environment where everyone around me were overall similar to me in terms of their background and in terms of their world views. I learned how to be a friend to people who are different than me… As a soldier, and, today, as a commanding officer, it is important to know how to interact and get along with people who are different from you. After all, you are first and foremost dealing with people.”
“I come from the southern Israeli town of Meitar. I grew up there, with my two sisters, big sister Lihi and little sister Yael. I had always taken interest in sports, and from the early age of 5, began to practice karate. As I grew up, karate was my life. I competed as part of Israel’s official team and eventually joined my local martial arts studio, teaching karate to children.
Since my entire focus was on karate, I began to have difficulty in my studies. In 10th grade, I transferred schools to a nearby kibbutz. Overall, the transfer went smoothly. I still had my friends nearby and made new friends at the new school.
As I neared my IDF draft date, I was torn between qualifying to be considered an athlete, that way I would have a small role to fulfill in the IDF but be able to continue to train and compete, or giving 100% to the army and taking on a meaningful role in the IDF.
It was around that time that [Derech Eretz Co-Founder and CEO] Yonatan Kischinovsky showed up at our school to tell us about the Derech Eretz pre-military program (mechina). I knew there were gap year programs but didn’t know too much about mechinot, let alone ones that wouldn’t delay my draft. He spoke of values that I immediately connected to. I went to one of the ‘open days’ to see what it was all about, and brought a friend along with me. We met the then current mechina participants at the open day as well as [Derech Eretz Co-Founder and Head of Educational Programs] Avi Cohen and all of the counsellors. I felt connected. And I felt like I had a lot to learn about my country.
My parents were not so on board at the time. They weren’t familiar with such programs. This was something I had chosen for myself. The friend I had come with had also decided to sign up. He went to the Derech Ertetz mechina in Yerucham, and I joined in Nitzana.
At the mechina, I acquired social skills. A lot of social skills – learning to be sensitive towards others and to understand people who are different than me. I grew up in an environment where everyone around me were overall similar to me in terms of their background and in terms of their world views. I learned how to be a friend to people who are different than me.
I learned a lot at Derech Eretz. I learned, travelled, and felt on top of the world. I realized that I had truly wanted to go to a combat unit in the IDF. I trained and worked hard to achieve that goal.
The mechina played a big role in my getting there. There was a counsellor that helped us learn to express ourselves. How to speak openly about our strengths, how to speak to the point. I can clearly remember my interview at the army. I wasn’t nervous. I was prepared to answer tough questions. I knew what I wanted, knew how to articulate what I wanted, and felt confident. I was thrilled when I got accepted to the elite combat unit I had wanted to join.
The Derech Eretz staff made sure to challenge us – collectively and individually, on what we each needed strengthening. I learned to live outside of my childhood home before having to do so in the army. I learned from people who were different than me.
As a soldier, and, today, as a commanding officer, it is important to know how to interact and get along with people who are different from you. After all, you are first and foremost dealing with people.
I came to the army in great physical shape, surpassing peers in my unit and also surpassing them with my maturity level. Also, not every situation was new to me so much less could throw me off the path I had chosen to take.
I have signed on for an extra 2 years in the IDF as a commanding officer in an elite combat unit. I am happy to be serving my country as best I can. I don’t know what the future holds, but am certain that I will carry on the Derech Eretz tradition of volunteerism and plan to always remember to contribute to my community and my country.”
IDF Commander in an elite combat unit
Derech Eretz Nitzana Graduate, 2014-15