How and Why I Flourished During a Year in Israel
Mechina, a post-high-school, gap-year program offered by the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, seeks to nurture the next generation of young Israelis to reflect both Jewish and democratic values in all their endeavors. Seventy-five young men and women participate annually in leadership training, enrichment, and tikkun olam (repair of the world) volunteer experiences in which they work with underprivileged populations – migrant workers, refugees, Arab-Israelis, the elderly, people with disabilities, and others – to bring about social change in local communities.
Among the program’s 650 North American and Israeli alumni from the last 15 years is Mattan Berner-Kadish, who shared this reflection about his year-long experience in Mechina.
I had no idea about the program I was entering. Sure, I had asked questions, talked to others, and read a little about it. But I truly did not have a clue about the magic of the program my mom had convinced me to sign up for until the first night of the opening hike across northern Israel – after a long day of toting a heavy backpack, first conversations, and amazing views.
As we discussed what we had done that day and what would come when the sun rose again, I realized there was nowhere else I'd rather be; I was in for something much larger than I had anticipated. As my understanding of Hebrew, the Mechina program in Jaffa, and the incredible year awaiting me improved, I reset my expectations higher and higher – and they continued to be surpassed.
With every new place we visited, every new conversation with people in this magical country, each friendship solidified with shared experiences, we enhanced what many of us came to view as the most meaningful and fun year of life.
Living in close quarters as a group, we learned to cook and clean – both individually and collectively – as well as experienced a wide range of interesting classes, fascinating seminars, and speakers, some of whom we invited and organized ourselves. In addition, we volunteered, serving diverse populations in South Tel Aviv and Jaffa; shared intense conversations about the local community and people's lives; and explored Israel – alone and together.
Embraced by so many wonderful people and families, I heard incredible stories; worked out regularly, physically and spiritually; and hiked the country from north to south, learning to navigate through nature, appreciate its beauty, and deal with wild boars along the way.
I had opportunities to talk to settlers and Palestinians, the poor and the rich, the right and the left, refugees and migrant workers, all of which taught me how to listen and express myself to those from situations so different than mine. The tools and skills I acquired in Israel, also helped me in college, pushed me to study and travel abroad through Chile and Morocco, and succeed in the classroom.
The Mechina program challenged me, made me uncomfortable, pushed me out of my comfort zone, and gave me confidence to do so much more than I might have done otherwise. I was forced to grow, to learn, to adjust, to see differently. I flourished.
This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity helped me see Israel from so many different angles, understand its complexities and people, and grow as a person, within my community, and as a member of society. I cannot recommend the Mechina program in Jaffa enough and I hope the Americans who choose to embark on this incredible adventure have just a little bit better idea than I did of the adventure on which they are headed. It’s a path not everyone will walk and on which all will struggle, but the process and final outcomes are worth every second.
For more information, visit the IMPJ Mechina Project.