Empowering Israel's Young Women: Meet Michal Barkai
MEET MICHAL BARKAI:
My initiative, Alma Derech-Eretz, is to start a pre-military program for young women, aimed to empower young women as talented leaders of Israel's future, helping young women find themselves and their strengths, forging their own paths and dreams in making a difference.
I grew up in a privileged life in Tel Aviv, I had everything I ever wanted, always felt like I had every opportunity at my fingertips. I felt like I can do anything in my life. Me, my friends – we felt this incredible, inner strength, that anything was possible. But later, as an officer in the IDF, I saw another Israel. I met so many wonderful girls that needed to overcome all different kinds of barriers, those that come with background, gender, economic status, and low self-confidence. It was clear to me, since then even, that this is what I wanted to do: to start a Mechina, a pre-military academic program for women’s leadership
How did this all begin?
Sponsored by The Jewish Agency, I began a preparatory program that was a dream come true for me – a program aimed to empower girls who come from all over Israel, from vastly different places and mentalities. Here, we have Sephardic and Ashkenaz, religious and secular, sabra and non-sabra, but everyone is similar in that everyone is passionate about the future of the State of Israel.
How was The Jewish Agency involved in this process?
The Jewish Agency embraced and adopted this project with great warmth, seeing that we are on the cutting edge of shaping the future of Israeli society, regardless of economic class. And it’s from places like this that the future of leadership will emerge. The Jewish Agency supports us with both resources and strategy.
How many young women were part of your first cohort, and how is it looking today?
The first Mechina started in August 2013 in Ofakim, and it included 20 amazing young women from all over Israel. They came from the north in the Hermon to the south in Mizpe Ramon. We chose Ofakim because it is the heart of our work in the periphery of Israel. We have plenty to learn from Ofakim and from the people of Ofakim, and we also have plenty to give there. The Alpha Foundation for Ofakim supports us both financially and in spirit.
How does the journey happen? What does the program itself include?
The young women come for half a year, from August to February, after a careful admission process. They defer their army service for a half-year, to study, travel around Israel, and prepare for the army experience. The president of our Mechina, General-Res. Amira Dotan meets with them. They meet other strong women in the IDF, and are exposed to the variety of work in the IDF, and go to change the structure of the IDF.
It’s the very DNA of our Mechina program, to strengthen the way for women’s leadership to flourish. We do everything we can to show them how women’s leadership has specific ways to power. They study history, Judaism, yoga, creative writing, physical education, philosophy, gender studies, coaching sessions on relationships, all with the help of three advisors, an educational counselor, six teachers, many volunteers and I.
What are the biggest challenges that face young women?
Their biggest test is the army service, and in particular life after the army service, making life decisions, that they should lead meaningful lives, lives confident in the personal strengths they have.