“Before Derech Eretz I was very shy and had a hard time articulating myself in front of others. With the support of the staff and my new friends from the program, Derech Eretz gave me the tools to build up my confidence and learn to speak out.

Another challenge I faced at Derech Eretz was the outdoor trips. I hadn’t previously been the outdoors type. During the program, I went from waiting for that first long hike to end, to enjoying every minute of being outdoors – the views, the navigating, disconnecting from our cell phones, lighting a fire – everything. I felt a wonderful sense of accomplishment to complete each hike. I also understood that I have the ability to succeed, and the ability to exceed my own expectations.

I am now in the army, grateful to be serving as a Terms of Service Officer – a meaningful role with a clear mission of helping others.”

“I was born and raised in a small town in Israel called Mevoim. Growing up, I was a good student, and I was always very shy.

I first heard of Derech Eretz from my cousin who had attended the mechina [pre-military program]. I’d see her post these amazing pictures and it intrigued me. When I asked her about it she told me that the mechina was a once in a lifetime experience that gives you the tools to become a better you. You will learn, grow, and make friends for life.

I decided to give it a try. I came to an ‘open day’ at the Derech Eretz Kmehin Campus. I saw the program participants. They seemed so confident and responsible. They weren’t afraid to stand in front of everyone and speak and instruct. I had a hard time seeing myself the way I saw them, but I wanted to try. I signed up and was placed in the Ashalim Campus, in what we called the pioneering cohort.

At Derech Eretz my goal was to build up my confidence – to be able to speak in front of a crowd and to express myself the way I would like to. I had previously often felt that if I can’t say exactly what I want to, I just wouldn’t speak up at all, and if I spoke, I’d be wondering the whole time what others were thinking.

When we reached the half-way mark of the program, as part of our group dynamics sessions, everyone was opening up about what they would like to change about themselves. It was extremely hard for me, but I decided to nonetheless speak up about wanting to speak up and open up and have my voice be heard. The Derech Eretz staff and the friends I had made at the program were all very supportive.

A short while after, at the mechina, we were putting together TED talks. This was my opportunity to speak in front of a crowd. It turned out to be an amazing experience. My friends at the mechina were again extremely attentive and supportive, and I felt blessed to be with such a wonderful group of people who had helped me overcome this major barrier.

Another challenge I faced at Derech Eretz was the outdoor trips. I hadn’t previously been the outdoors type and hadn’t been very fond of camping out. Our first long hike of the program was the Coast-to-Coast hike from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee. I felt every kilometer of that trip. I counted the days. But the friends I had made were there to support me, and I did somehow end up enjoying my time and feeling a sense of accomplishment when I had completed the hike.

Our next 5-day hike was on the Israel Trail. For me, this was a huge success. I was no longer waiting for it to end. In fact, I was enjoying every minute of it – enjoying the views, enjoying navigating. Being out in the field brings something out of you – connects you to your true, inner self. Taking a break from our cell phones and from social media was amazing. It was if the whole world had stopped and we could connect to ourselves for just one moment in time.

This was something I never would have thought that I would like, but has strengthened me as a person. I can light a fire. I can cook on that fire. I can ration my food. I can build a sheltered space. I can handle the changing weather. It gives you proportions in life. At home, we have everything. Out in the desert what I carry on my back is what I have, and, if you want it, you need to carry it.

I understood that I have the ability to succeed, and the ability to exceed my own expectations.  

There was another important lesson I learned on that second hike, out on the Israel Trail. We were divided into groups of 5. In my group was a dear friend who had a very difficult time in the field – especially with going uphill and downhill. As the hike progressed, and there were particularly steep climbs and difficult moments, I found myself putting my own difficulty aside and focusing on my friend. Our group all held hands with this friend in the middle and went at a pace where she felt comfortable. For me, it was no big deal – to hold a hand and help a friend – to her, it meant a whole lot!

I am now in the army, serving as a Terms of Service Officer, helping soldiers with personal affairs. This wasn’t initially what I had wanted but things have a way of working out for the best. I am in a meaningful role with a clear mission of helping others. I am interacting with people all day and am in a position to help them. 

My time at Derech Eretz will always be a part of me, whether it’s my desire to be a pioneer in where I will settle down in the future, or wanting to do volunteer work. At Derech Eretz I volunteered at an at-risk youth shelter. I would want to volunteer with at-risk or special needs kids. They deserve to have others help them and speak out for them with good will and intentions. Now that I have built my own confidence and feel empowered to speak up for myself, I know that I will be able to do so for others as well.”


Keren-Or Dino

Terms of Service Officer in the IDF

Derech Eretz Ashalim Graduate, 2017-18