The Mechinot

The Pre-Military Academies (Mechinot)

Amit Hazan

My name is Amit Hazan. I am twenty-nine and in my third years of social work studies at Sapir College, where I am the chairman of the student union. I grew up in Gan Yavne, where I went to school and played on a number of soccer teams during high school. When I was eighteen, after high school graduation and much thought, I decided to register the Ein Prat— Leadership Academy, in Kefar Adumim.

Amit Hazan

My name is Amit Hazan. I am twenty-nine and in my third years of social work studies at Sapir College, where I am the chairman of the student union. I grew up in Gan Yavne, where I went to school and played on a number of soccer teams during high school. When I was eighteen, after high school graduation and much thought, I decided to register the Ein Prat— Leadership Academy, in Kefar Adumim.

Even once I had made that decision, I had no idea of how much of a springboard the academy would be for the social activism in which I am involved today. As a student at a mechina, I was introduced to whole swathes of life that were novel to me, and to a wide range of social activism, which let me develop social creativity and a sense of social action. After half-a-year at the mechina, I began having thoughts about the day after, asking myself questions about my commitment to society, how capable I was of contributing to society, and where I would be able to take the lead in producing social change.

Even though I had all these questions, one thing I did know was that I loved working with children and I wanted my contribution to society to benefit the young people I loved so much. It was clear to me early on that I wanted to work with children who needed me, and my inclination was to go in the direction of at-risk children: those who live in poverty, have been sexually abused, or are endangered by other factors, such as living in homes were drugs are sold. When I began taking concrete steps to form a social activism plan, I approached potential partners for my work in Yerucham, Arad, Be’er Sheva, and Dimona, and after weeks of hunting, I met Ilanit Lugasi of Dimona, a community activist who herself had been an at-risk child and with time had become the chairwoman of the city’s single-parent families organization.

Being young and energetic, I proposed that we work together to create a summer camp for at-risk children from first to sixth grade. Already then, I set a goal of one hundred participants for the first year. We divided the work between us. I was responsible for the staff end, including recruiting counselors and developing appropriate content, and she was in charge of recruiting a group of participants from the most problematic areas. I could not have been happier or more excited by the adventure on which we were setting out. As soon as we had made our initial plan, I began traveling around Israel to bring together a group of the outstanding counselors we needed. The ideal model that inspired my recruitment drive was one I had seen at mechina: a mixed group of men and women, religious and secular, with a sincere faith in their ability as young citizens to produce significant social change.

In formulating the content that counselors were to communicate to campers, we set the bar high: we would introduce the children to areas and sites around Israel that they had never seen before. We scheduled alternate in-days and out-days. The in-days were devoted to a variety of educational topics that our counselors worked hard to transmit, using a range of games and challenging activities to impart profound messages and a wealth of information to our children. Out-days were dedicated to travel beyond the Dimona area, with such destinations as the Knesset, the Western Wall, a number of water parks, the Electric Company, and chocolate factories. The camp was an astounding success. It gained attention within the city and elsewhere, and several other cities even attempted to copy the new model.

Immediately after camp ended, I was conscripted by the IDF, where I served six years as a Golani Brigade special forces officer. Although I was occupied by military service, I always felt a personal responsibility for my project. Every year, about six months before the beginning of the summer, I would start working on fundraising and building a team of counselors. Every year, I had to convince both my commanders and the soldiers I commanded that I really had to take leave to be with the children—a persuasive effort that proved to be quite a project in its own right. As the years went by, the number of campers grew to 250 and a decision was made to expand the program still further, motivated by a broad view of our responsibility for children’s welfare. We concurrently introduced holiday programming, transformed ourselves into an accessible resource for children who encountered problems during the year, and later extended our efforts to assist the single mothers of our children. We built a support system for these mothers that included self-empowerment courses, legal consultation services, entrepreneurship training, and even short getaways in Tiberias, at the Dead Sea, and in Eilat.

All of the above continue to this day in Dimona: this year we will celebrate our twelfth year of activity. Through these projects, I came to know the innermost thoughts of the children and learned that the most fitting slogan for our work was simply “warmth and love”: at-risk children suffer from estrangement from important people in their lives, and therefore often lack trust in adults. Equipped with this understanding, we fight for the wellbeing of all the children, dispensing hugs and love even at the most difficult times. Every program, our children respond excellently to counselors, sharing difficulties that they face and their often impaired self-perceptions even in the first few days. Ahead of a program, we give our counselors various tools in a long series of training sessions that prepare them for the situations they will face. Because the children are comfortable sharing their stories with us, we are able to save many from any number of forms of abuse and other predicaments in which they find themselves.

It is an immense privilege to lead this work. I am thankful for the moment when I joined the Academy for Leadership, which gave me the drive to pursue social change.

The writer was recognized as a friend of the city of Dimona following ten years of activism there.

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