At one time, the average Israeli 18-year-old graduated high school and went straight into the army. But the tragic 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a religious Israeli brought about a significant change in Israeli society, bringing many to explore a broad range of cross-societal dialogue, including high school graduates.
One result was the creation of the mechina, from the Hebrew term to prepare, an army-sanctioned pre-army preparatory program that welcomes religious, cultural and socioeconomic differences among a group of 18-year-olds, who come together for a year of learning, leadership and communal living.
The first mechinot were established in the late 1990s, and there are now more than 30 programs in Israel, serving over 1,000 teens annually. Many are co-ed and religiously pluralistic, while others cater only to religious or secular teens. Aderet, a mechina established in 2001 in the Judean Hills by a group of community activists, focuses on Israel education and the environment along with volunteer service and physical fitness, part of preparing for the army in the coming year.
The participants are a mix; young people from a variety of educational and cultural backgrounds, including the occasional American teenager who wants a more significant Israel experience. That said, “We’re not after the high achievers,” remarks educational director Assaf Peri. “We want to sit all the kids together in the Beit Midrash and talk about the big questions facing Israel today.” From this year’s crop of 40 teenagers, some thoughts about their mechina experience and their future: