“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.”
Proud IDF Combat Soldier Sintayehu Genet
“I was born and raised in an Ethiopian village. In July of 2011, I came to Israel with my family… I studied at a boarding school in Hedera for 4 years until I finished high school… At Derech Eretz, I loved going on outdoor hikes and familiarizing myself with the people and places that comprise Israel. Subsequently, I feel more connected to Israel than ever before and really feel part of it…
Today, I am proud to be a combat soldier in the IDF, in the Golani (Infantry) Brigade. Derech Eretz helped me reach this unit. I came prepared, and was taught what to expect and so many aspects I had no way of knowing before.”
Keren-Or Dino: Speaking Up for Herself and for Others
“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.”
From Philadelphia to Kmehin to Dog Handling in the IAF: Derech Eretz Graduate Ilana Hirsch
“Growing up in Philadelphia, I had always wanted to come to Israel. At Derech Eretz, I fulfilled my goal of learning Hebrew. By the end of the pre-military program, I was speaking, yelling, laughing, singing, and texting in the one language I’d never been allowed to study as a kid. Beyond the immersion in Hebrew and with Israelis, I learned to think on my feet, the tiyulim were incredible, and the mechina even had us running 10k by the end which really showed me what I am capable of. By the time the mechina ended, I was ready to be a contributing member of society and join the army.”
Derech Eretz Community Annual Event
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.
Focus on Alumni
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:
- Term of Service Support for mechina graduates while they serve the country
- The Derech Eretz Post-Military Program – transitioning into adult civilian life
- Mentorship and Scholarship Program
- Alumni Network
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.
Braving the Israel Trail
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.
Headed to College: Derech Eretz Graduate Assaf Donyo
“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.”
Celebrating the Ethiopian-Jewish holiday Sigd
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.
Able to Fulfill My Goals
“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.”
To this day, Derech Eretz is a part of my life
“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.”
We learned how to make our service in the IDF meaningful
“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.”
Launching Our Post-Military Program: Transitioning into Adult, Civilian Life
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.
First Pre-Program Gathering of the 2017-18 Derech Eretz Cohorts
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.
Offering to Provide Assistance
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.
Preparing to Enter the IDF
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.”
Saying Goodbye to the Phrase and Concept: I Cant
…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.”
A Multicultural Society
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.
New Pre-Program Events
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.
New Kmehin Campus
In September 2015, with the support of our generous partners, including JNF UK and Hagshama, Derech Eretz opened its third campus in Kmehin, a moshav located in the western Negev desert. These first 23 students took pride in being the first cohort in Kmehin, 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.