News and Events

On Thursday, December 13th, we held an overnight event in Nitzana for all program participants, alumni, and staff. The interaction between current and past program participants was incredible, and there was a sense of a larger Derech Eretz community coming together.

The event included an opening conversation by Derech Eretz co-founders Yonatan Kischinovsky and Avi Cohen, as well as an introduction from Ofri Lev, our Alumni Coordinator. There was Hanukkah candle lighting; breaking off into small groups to get to know each other and have a joint Hanukkah-related limmud session; dinner; a show and then singing and conversation into the late hours of the night, surrounding a bonfire. The night was spent at the Nitzana Khan in large Bedouin-style tents.

 

In the morning, we had breakfast together and held a summarizing conversation before saying our goodbyes.

We hope this will mark the first event of a future annual tradition.

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From alumni programs to an alumni council and an alumni network, Derech Eretz is continuing to cultivate our youth well into adulthood.

Six years ago, we began with 23 students enrolled in one program on one campus. In 2017-18, 600 Israeli youth and young adults are participating in our various programs and alumni network, on 3 campuses.

In 2017, we began increasing focus on the needs of our graduates and creating programs that will continue to encourage, inspire and support them.

 

Alumni programs include:

In 2017, Ofri joined our team as our Alumni Coordinator. She is monitoring the progress of our 500 graduates and working closely with our Alumni Council which has 2 graduates from each cohort. We are increasing the scope and depth of our engagement with alumni, leveraging their collective Derech Eretz experiences, to create a supportive, active network which leverages their experience in Derech Eretz for their life beyond their military service.

We have held several alumni events this past year which have included joint community service activities as well as study sessions and time to meet, nosh, and network. We plan to continue these events in 2018, based on our alumni’s areas of interest and leveraging upon the critical mass of many graduates to help do good for local Israeli communities.

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Derech Eretz pre-military program participants braved the Israel Trail this December – 90 kilometers, six days, and countless breathtaking views.

Our participants overcame challenges throughout this week outdoors including carrying heavy backpacks, the cold weather, and steep uphills.

The result? Strengthened friendships, lifted spirits, and the feeling that we can accomplish anything we set out to do!

The journey ended at the gravesite of David Ben Gurion where participants’ parents were proudly waiting to greet their loved ones and congratulate them on their willpower, abilities, and completion of their desert journey.

 

 

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“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.”

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Ethiopian participants of the Derech Eretz pre-military program Nitzana and Kmein cohorts initiated and organized a celebration to mark the Ethiopian-Jewish holiday, Sigd, marking the receiving of the Torah and immigration to Israel.

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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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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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