Alumni Stories

“When I was in 12th grade, I attended the Ben Shemen boarding school, and my studies focused on biology, agriculture, and social studies. During my high school years, I volunteered at Magen David Adom (Israel’s Red Cross), first as a crew-member and then as a guide for two and a half more years.


I heard about the Derech Eretz program for the first time, when Yonatan came to our school and told us about it. Not quite realizing what I was getting into, I decided to attend one of Derech Eretz’s open days. During that experience, I started understanding that a huge opportunity lies before me – to take a short break from the crazy race that’s called life – and do something special with the free time I would have before entering the army. Derech Eretz was truly a very meaningful time that allowed me to formulate my identity through community service, by learning about my homeland and its society, by exploring different cultures, and by learning to take responsibility for myself. During this time, I realized what kind of human being I want to be and what values I wish to hold. The value of trying to make the world a better place and the value of hard work are ones that I better understand thanks to Derech Eretz, and I have decided to take this with me onwards, for the rest of my life.


After Derech Eretz, in March 2013, I enlisted in the Armored Corps of the IDF. At the end of my training, I went on to attend commander school, which lead to serving as a tank commander in the training division. In July 2014, I served in Operation Protective Edge in Gaza. Following the operation, I continued serving as a tank commander in one of Israel’s operational areas. I finished my three years of service in March 2016.


Following my military service, I returned to live with my parents, and went to work as a fisherman in the Maoz Haim Kibbutz.


In October 2017, I started studying Molecular Biology at Ariel University which will take 3 years to complete. I intend to continue on to a PhD in Medicine which will take 5 more years of study. While I do realize that my dream of studying medicine might seem like the impossible dream for a boy who went to boarding school, or for someone who works as a fisherman… but I know that I have it in me to do this. I exceeded my own expectations when I became a commander in the IDF. I know that I become a doctor and be able to fulfill my dream by helping others once I will finish my studies.”



Assaf Donnyo, 23, Ramle

Derech Eretz, Nitzana Campus


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“I have always aimed high, but thanks to Derech Eretz I was able to succeed in fulfilling my goals and serve in Unit 217. The Derech Eretz pre-military program prepared me for the IDF on so many levels, and I came ready to face the challenges that came my way.”

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Derech Eretz changed my life. I was destined to be a truck driver, but with the confidence I received at Derech Eretz I made it to the top units of the Nachal Infantry Brigade and served a meaningful service, participating in three IDF operations, and taking part in anti-terror warfare….

To this day, Derech Eretz is a part of my life. At Derech Eretz we performed community service, and I realized that I would like to continue to contribute positively to my society. Today I serve as a police officer in the city of Rahat.”

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“At Derech Eretz, we learned how to make our service in the IDF meaningful. Today, I am proud to serve as a combat soldier in the rescue brigade… Derech Eretz was no doubt an integral part of my basic training and preparation.”

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Growing up in Arad, was not easy for Tali. While the city of Arad may be known outside of Israel as a place mentioned in the bible, or a city where asthmatics come to due to its clean, dry climate, within Israel, it is known as a small southern city with a relatively low socio-economic level including a low average income and high percentage of people on welfare and/or receiving child benefits. Growing up in Arad and coming from a broken home, Tali didn’t always show up at school. She mainly worked, as much as possible – to help support her family and help out at home. Life was difficult, but she was doing her part to help out. She recalls Yonatan coming to her high school to speak about Derech Eretz, and the option of attending a social-educational pre-military program (mechina), but didn’t seriously consider it at first.


Tali nevertheless came to the Derech Eretz Open Day, admittedly more to hang out with friends than to actually see the program, but something clicked for her and she instinctively wanted to stay in the serene Nitzana scenery. “It was something I knew was important for me to do,” she says. “I needed to get away from my surroundings and do something for myself. At that time, I was anyway no longer living at home, so I thought that Derech Eretz could be my home until I would join the IDF.”

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Find out what it was like for one Haredi participant, Shlomo, in Nitzana…

Derech Eretz focuses on Israeli youth and young adults, providing social-educational programs for those entering the army, and those exiting the army. These are critical life stages during which people begin to assume increasing ownership over their identities. At Derech Eretz, participants are constantly forming their life views and establishing their social and individual identities, as Jews and as Israelis, as they make their way towards adulthood. Part of what we do at Derech Eretz to facilitate this personal growth is expose our youth to a wide range of views, people, organizations, places and issues so that they can form their own informed opinions, and learn critical thinking, based on knowledge and first-hand encounters.

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Yossi Mahari was born in Ethiopia and came to Israel at two years of age. The eldest brother of 6, and son to hardworking parents, Yossi grew up in what he describes as “not the best of neighborhoods” which is what motivated him to seek out a place where he could fulfill his potential and arrive at Derech Eretz.

At Derech Eretz, one of our goals is promoting an integrated society with equal opportunities. In Israeli society, the army is one of the few places in which there is social mobility and joining an elite unit is synonymous with increased opportunities in the job market later in life.

Today, Yossi serves in Maglan – a Special Forces unit which specializes in operating behind enemy lines using advanced technology. While the training program for Maglan is one of the toughest, Yossi was prepared and motivated to succeed. He is only one of only a few Ethiopians to ever serve in this unit.

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