For the last ten months, I have chosen a new path every morning. One morning I could go for a run in Jaffa’s old city, letting my mind wander as my legs stepped on empires and conquests. Another morning I could sing Reform prayers and chant Mosh Ben Ari songs, if I find that that serves as my real prayer. From the moment I open my eyes, the mechina, Jaffa, and all of Israel offers me new challenges and choices for what I want to do the same day.
The mechina acts as a springboard for exploration, discovery, and understanding. This becomes evident with every new challenge we face; when all 50 of us sit disbelieving after learning about Sartre in our ‘Existentialism’ class, or when a child you volunteer with slowly reveals intimate, personal, and often frightening details about his short childhood. Even when, on cooking duty, you spend four hours frying vegan patties because half of the mechina has decided to go vegan. Two-hour long ‘community talks’ every Sunday morning allow each individual to voice what bothers him about the community and offer solutions to their plight. As the year progressed, dealing with interpersonal issues became easier as we became more emotionally sensitive of what our friends were going through. With every layer that is added to the mechina, whether its classes, seminars, volunteering, or trips, there is massive growth, both as a community and as individuals.
HaMechina BeYaffo allowed me to deepen my understanding of Israeli society from every angle. Four dive-day seminars that span the entirety of Israel geographically (North, South, Judea and Samaria, and Jerusalem) created safe spaces for discussion of every nuanced issue in the society. The students of the Mechina are entirely responsible for planning the seminars; for example, when I planned the South Seminar, I organized a meeting with Tzur Shezaf (famous Israeli author) in his vineyard/cave home in the desert, but also a tour/discussion with the Black Hebrew Israelites who live in Dimona. Every seminar reaffirmed the insane diversity of this beautiful country, but often time left me with bitter, unanswered questions about the state of Israel’s future. During the seminars, we learned so that we could become politically literate and active ourselves; so that we can leave the mechina and become involved in Israel’s well-being, whether it is from across the ocean or from the Knesset building itself.
Although, functionally, the mechina acts as one entity, we are fifty young adults with very different needs and personalities. The mechina propels each individual to discover how he, with his upbringing, belief system, and interests, can become the best version of himself he possibly can. Every day, we are faced with countless opportunities to be better people, whether by helping a friend build a shelf or by volunteering to be on cleaning duty when everybody else puts on a sour face. A three-hour Talmud class can turn into a (somewhat) civilized argument about God and morality, and most importantly—a dirty plate isn’t just a dirty plate. It is a sign of someone’s severe lack of a moral code.
After a year of travelling and learning, I now feel like I can do anything in Israel. “The Flaming Torch” is the nickname for an activity we have in the Mechina where groups of three participants at a time go to the Israel Trail, a hiking trail that spans Israel from North to South, and hike for three days by themselves, come back to the Mechina, and pass the torch on to the next trio. This trip, among with many others, demonstrates the independent essence of the Mechina. During my free weekends in Israel, this gave me the confidence to go on hiking trips of my own, and confidence in general to travel the country as much as I possibly could.
I have come out of this year as a knowledgeable representative of Israel at my university, an expert on how to deal with fifty personality types, a critic of how community living ought to function, and an able traveler in nature and otherwise. For the typical American-Israeli who wanted to get away from her laptop and see her nation for a year, I’d say I definitely chose the right path by coming to HaMechina BeYaffo.