The mission of the Pre-Military Leadership Academies (Mechinot) is not only to help young Israeli's prepare for meaningful army service but to train leaders for civil society after the army. Whether in the private sector or public we already are seeing "mechina" graduates becoming leaders in their communities. This is a powerful force consisting of Israelis from all sectors of society who while recognizing differences in world view nonetheless work together for the good of the community and nation.
We hope to expand the "mechinot" from the 46 we have at present (from the Upper Galilee in the North to the Arava in the South) which include 3300 students a year, and to deepen their impact on Israeli society and on the Jewish People. We are proud of the fact that 90% of the graduates of "mechinot" serve in meaningful positions in the IDF (as required by the "Mechinot" Law passed in the Knesset in 2008).
Meaningful jobs primarily include combat units, and special units that directly support combat operations. It is important to note as well that "mechinot" participants make up 25% of the graduates of officer courses, and 10% of the graduates of the prestigious pilots course in the air force. Battalion and Division Commanders seek "mechina" graduates because the year of study and volunteerism prepares them to be mature leaders ready to take responsibility, lead by example, and deal with complicated situations and dilemmas with a high level of morality and humanity.
Close to 25% of "mechina" participants come from Israel's social, economic, and geographic peripheries." Mechinot" for this group (which needs heavy financial assistance) are an absolute necessity to enable them to realize their potential as leaders in the army and in civilian life. Mechinot are also heavily committed to Jewish renewal and though coming from various backgrounds teach the values of democracy, pluralism, and tolerance.
The "Mechinot" are one of the few (maybe the only) platforms where orthodox and non-orthodox, political left and right and everything in between, work together day to day for the good of Israeli society and the Jewish people. In today's Israel in which internal divisions lead to a lack of communication and cooperation, and polarization, the "mechinot" are the unique exception which while recognizing differences, strives to find common ground to hold our society together with tolerance and mutual respect.
Ongoing Operations of the "Mechinot"
Although divided between 22 dati (religious) mechinot, and 24 general mechinot, each has a unique ideology with regard to Judaism, Zionism, and Israeli society, and therefore each "mechina's" program is different. However they have in common a number of program spheres that enable them to be considered as officially recognized (by the Ministries of Education and Defense, and IDF) for funding under the Mechinot Law of 2008. Therefore all the "mechinot" have programs and courses in the following subjects:
Judaism and Jewish Identity
Leadership Skills Development
Community Involvement and Service (volunteerism)
Preparation for the Army
The schedules are a combination of the above elements with volunteerism activities in the surrounding communities making up one- two days a week, and the studies other days. During the course of the year there are special events including wilderness navigation seminars, a ten day to two week trek around Israel during which the participants encounter all sectors of Israeli society known as "hobek yisrael", and visits to historic sites and IDF bases and units. The program in all the "mechinot" is very intense and requires tremendous commitment by the participants who are given a high degree of freedom in exchange for showing responsibility and accountability. The education programs are lead by highly qualified teachers. The community volunteering is coordinated by staff. In the course of the mechina year the students become the coordinators and take responsibility for much of the activity.
Reaching Out to the Jewish People
The "mechinot" are committed to the concept of peoplehood and as a result we recently developed a partnership with MASA, and with the support of the New York Federation have developed the Yachad program which provides opportunities for Jewish Young Adults to spend their gap year on a Mechina. We also have plans to involve groups from overseas in mifgashim (engagement people to people workshops) with young adults and leaders from overseas.
Average Annual costs for Operation of a "Mechina" per participant (based on 50 students per "mechina")
Educational Programs and Staff- $4000
Room and Board- $3000
Informal Education Activities and Volunteerism- $1500
Administration-Staff and Expenses- $1500
Furniture and Equipment (repairs etc) – $2500
Total Annual Cost per Student- $12,500
Government of Israel (Ministries of Defense and Education) – $6250
Tuition charged to students families- (varies but the average is $250 a month) – $2500
Gap per student- $3500 (Around 20% of the students receive full or partial financial aid so the gap is even larger)
A major goal of the Joint Council of "Mechinot" is to find new resources to help narrow or completely erase the operational gap. It is also important to note that as a residential program the participants live in very modest conditions. The operating expenses take into account ongoing maintenance but not capital improvements and buildings.
We believe strongly that Israeli society and the Jewish people are receiving tremendous return on investment both during the participants IDF service, and after they enter civilian society. There are many opportunities for significant support, impact, and partnership to help "mechinot" in their present operation. Projects to aid in ongoing volunteer programs, study programs, special programs from the core activities of the "mechinot" along with scholarships can be incredibly helpful.
Additionally as mentioned above we hope to receive permission from the IDF and the Ministries of Defense and Education, to significantly expand the "mechinot" with the goal of reaching 5000 participants in five years. This will lead to increases in operational expenses even if the Government continues its present level of support.
TWO- Vision for the Future- Harnessing the Power of Mechina Graduates
Beyond expanding the "mechinot" both in number of locations and number of participants assuming that the above mentioned authorities agree the most important goal of the future is to provide a program for graduates of "mechinot" after they complete army service. These young adults many of whom were officers in the IDF are a force that we believe can play a key role in changing Israeli society for the better. They are highly motivated and willing to give of themselves. Many of the individual "mechinot" have initiated programs focusing on the graduates as "communities" of individuals committed to core Jewish, Israeli, Zionist, and Human values, and to action and involvement. Some of these communities have settled in cities and towns throughout Israel and become a driving force for social change in those communities including a very significant presence in Jerusalem. However due to the need for funding and national direction these efforts have been sporadic at best.
Our vision is to develop a national program for the graduates of the Mechinot that would allow each mechina to develop its individualized effort according to agreed on goals, objectives, and criteria while at the same time creating national activities and events. This national program would involve ongoing dialogue, interaction, and cooperation between "dati" and general "mechina" graduates, and will focus on impacting communities on a local and national basis.
This idea is in its beginning stages and is something that we are actively seeking partners to develop and implement with us. We know that there are thousands of graduates of "mechinot" in various fields and communities, and we are convinced that they will want to be an active part of this process. We hope to have a multi-year program proposal ready soon.
Governance- (lay leadership)
Today the "Mechinot" are "governed" by the Joint Council of "Mechinot" which has an Executive Committee made up of six members three of whom are from orthodox "mechinot" and the other three from general "mechinot". The co-chairs of the Council are Rabbi Moshe Hager who is the head of the Yattir (orthodox) "mechina", and Danny Zamir Esq. who is the head of the Rabin (general) "mechina". The Joint Council sets overall policy decisions working in close coordination with the IDF, and Education and Defense Ministries.
A decision was made recently to set up a lay Board of Governors made up of volunteer leaders from Israel and abroad who care deeply about the future of the "mechinot" as one of the main solutions to the challenges facing Israeli society. We already have a core group of volunteer leaders from Israel from a variety of ideological and professional backgrounds who have agreed to be active participants. The chairman of the Board of Governors (in development) is Gen. (res) Yiftach Ron-Tal, who in the past served as Commander of Land Forces of the IDF, and today is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Israel Electric Corporation. We are in the process of developing the mission, vision, specific authority, responsibilities and objectives of the Board of Governors, and their relationship to the Joint Council and individual "mechinot". There is no question that the Board will have the ability to shape and impact the future development of the "Mechinot" in all aspects. We plan to involve international participants as well.
We would be pleased to provide further information on the Mechinot and to discuss opportunities for partnership and engagement.