News and Events

“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

2012-13

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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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In May 2017, we launched the Derech Eretz post-military program. The post-military program helps transition young adults into their civilian life – processing their army experience, exposing them to the options available to them in academia and the job market, going through life-skills workshops, such as how to budget, and preparing them to face future challenges.

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In April, our 2017-18 pre-army program participants that are enrolled for this coming September joined us for our first get together. We met on the Carmel Mountain Range and spent two days getting to know the new cohorts, letting them get to know each other, the staff, and Derech Eretz. It was wonderful to have alumni as well as former counsellors join us on this journey.

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On Thursday, December 1st, the Derech Eretz Yerucham campus cohort cohosted an event to celebrate the Ethiopian-Jewish holiday, Sigd, marking the receiving of the Torah and immigration to Israel.

The event included an exhibit, a buffet of traditional Ethiopian cuisine, music, dancing, a guest lecture by leaders of the Ethiopian community in Israel as well as the screening of the movie “The Jerusalem Dream” by Director Manny Elias.

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In November, Amidst the fires raging across Israel, Derech Eretz immediately announced it’s call to host those evacuated from their homes, on our three campuses in the Negev. In addition, we contacted all relevant government agencies and organizations with direct access to emergency response and follow up in order to assess where we – staff, alumni, and program participants – can volunteer further, as needed.

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For many of our participants, entering the IDF in a meaningful role is not only a way to contribute to the country, but also a way to improve their future, for social mobility. The way to succeed? Come mentally and physically prepared…

At Derech Eretz, we view preparation for the army from a holistic approach. For starters, everything we do that prepares our participants for life prepares them for the army as well: leadership training, independence, working as a team, building a sense of personal and communal responsibility, acquiring the skills to cope with challenges, learning not to give up, and more. All of these life lessons are equally important both in the army and after.

“Our whole mentality has become stronger,” says Danielle from the Derech Eretz Nitzana campus 2016-17 cohort, “We are more prepared for situations, and have the tools do deal with these situations. We also realize that there is another way to do things – to get up and go to class, even when you are tired, not to give in and not to give up. It’s not only the big things, but the little things as well. Not to be lazy. To get up and run in the morning, to clean up after yourself, to delve into the projects we are developing. Each one of us has the ability to lead and contribute and there is no doubt that every day that we are here we are developing and becoming empowered. I certainly am.”

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…One of the many activities, or rather consequences, happening on “Median Week”, a week marking the midway point of the 6-month program.

“If you will it, it is no dream” goes the famous quote by Theodore Herzl. In that same Zionistic spirit, the Derech Eretz Nitzana campus cohort said farewell to “I can’t”, as a phrase and as a concept, and banned its use among all 47 participants. This was one of the many activities, or rather consequences, happening on “Median Week”, November 20-26 2016, a week marking the midway point of the 6-month program.

At a night-time bonfire, held specifically to give participants time to share their feelings with the group, Gal, from our Kmein campus had the following to say: “I can’t believe how much I’ve changed… My parents can’t believe how much I’ve changed. They keep telling me how I have grown up, matured, become independent. Here, I have been exposed to new things – new people, concepts, experiences, places. This is the first time in life when I am consciously thinking of who I want to be and how I want to live my life, instead of just stumbling along…. Seriously, I even lost 7 kilo along the way from our group training that we do every morning. 3 more months here? Let me tell you – the sky is the limit.”

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Derech Eretz itself is a multi-cultural, inclusive organization that accepts religious and secular participants, new olim as well as veteran Israelis, from all over the country. Together, our participants are breaking down the silos in which many Israeli communities reside.

After learning, in the classroom, about the various populations of Israeli society, program participants set out to meet people from these populations in person. Each cohort broke off into small groups, and each group spent a few days with a particular population in Israel: Bedouins, Druze, Ultra-Orthodox Jews, Arab-Israelis, Christians, settlers, the gay and lesbian community, and refugees. Some also went to kibbutzim, to a youth-at-risk hostel, and to a farm.

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Last week, Derech Eretz staff welcomed 135 new participants at a gathering at Lahav Forest. Joined by program graduates from previous years and former counsellors, as well as new prospective counsellors, this pre-holiday outdoor trip was a momentous gathering that showed just how much Derech Eretz has grown in five years.

In 2011, we began with 23 students on one campus. Today, we have three campuses, over 350 graduates, and are welcoming our 2016-17 cohort of 135 new students that come from across the country – from big cities and small towns, moshavim, kibbutzim and youth villages; olim, veteran Israelis; religious and secular participants.

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In September 2015, with the support of our generous partners, including JNF UK and Hagshama, Derech Eretz opened its third campus in Kmein, a moshav located in the western Negev desert. These first 23 students took pride in being the first cohort in Kmein, and with a pioneering spirit, arrived determined to help build a Derech Eretz campus. Their ceaseless motivation began even before the program, when they came to assemble their bunk beds and paint the caravans – all the way to the end when they paved a path in the desert moshav, where dirt roads are not uncommon, leaving their mark for both local residents and future Derech Eretz students.

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