This semester, 35 Israeli high-school graduates distinguished themselves from their classmates by enrolling in "Aharai! B'ir" Mechinah – a new post-high school service learning program for underserved young adults designed to enrich their IDF experience. The participants have already proven themselves to be a group of highly motivated and unique young adults, determined to make a difference even before they enter their national service.
Aharai! B'ir offers unique daily model where participants continue to live at home for the six month preparation course, during which they experience authentic group bonding, engage in identity-building towards a meaningful national service, but they also work with their local community. Participants also have the option to work, which is often important to young Israelis and their families before entering the IDF.
The 2013 program launched in October with a special event in Jerusalem. Guests included proud parents and representatives of the partnering organizations; CEO of Jerusalem Municipality, Yossi Hayman; CEO of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, Zion Gabai; and Director of The Jewish Agency's Social Activism Unit, Nir Lahav.
"A lot of people just talk about doing, but for you, today is all about actions," said Nir Lahav, addressing the new participants, and added: "Mechinah and preparation for a significant army service encourages social responsibility within growing sectors in Israeli society."
The confident Bar Yefet (18) was elected to represent the excited participants at their opening ceremony. From the way she delivered her speech, and from its content, one would have never guessed that only two months ago she was an introverted and insecure young woman.
Stressing the values of tolerance, respect, leadership and social action, Yefet, from a religious community near Jerusalem, concluded: "We are no longer kids, but young adults who choose to swim against the current rather than with it."
The program provides participants with educational trips around Israel, career building workshops, and physical training and preparation.
Today, Yefet already feels a part of something bigger: a network of supporting friends with whom she learns and studies in an enjoyable environment—for the first time in her life. Though she had a troubled high-school career, attending a school which catered mostly to children with special needs – she now feels confident enough to return to her school once a week to volunteer and help young women like herself. For her, it is important to share some of the tools she learns at Aharai! B'ir.
Yefet also holds a job at a local coffee place near her house, thanks to a career workshop provided at Aharai! B'ir, which gave her the confidence to speak, promote herself and nail her first job. And this is only the beginning.
Danny Rosner, CEO of the national Aharai! youth group, thanked the program's devoted partners: The Jewish Agency, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, Jerusalem Municipality and of course the supportive parents, adding a message to the participants: "Partnership is one of the main values we teach – we do things better together."
Click here to learn more about Mechinah experiences in Israel for Israelis and young Jewish teens from around the world.