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“Mechina taught me how to live with intent”: A trans-Atlantic talk with Yachad alumni

We asked Yachad alumni to tell us a bit more about their experience at a mechina in Israel. They told us how it continues to influence them even now, and why they’ll definitely recommend it to their friends.

06/02/2022 - 18:55

Yachad, a program of the Joint Council of Mechinot, lets young Jews from across the world spend a gap year between high school and college attending mechina with young people from all over Israel. The program is a phenomenal way to see life in Israel up close and learn about Israeli history, culture, and society. Students live as part of a group, work collaboratively, and hone leadership skills while learning about Zionism, Judaism, and lots more. This year, 100 students from Europe, North America, and East Asia are attending the 13 participating mechinot.

We talked with Zach Harris, Rita Feder, and Justin Pellis, three Yachad alumni who graduated from mechina and then went back to the United States. They told us about how the mechina experience continues to influence them today—and why they’d encourage other young men and women to make the same decision.

 

Zach Harris

From: Providence Rhode Island/Skokie Illinois, USA

Attended: Nachshon, Sderot

Now: a Senior studying Political Science at Brown University in Providence Rhode Island.

My time at Mechinat Nachson was by far the most meaningful, challenging, and rewarding year of my life. I gained so many new skills, values, and knowledge -- some I expected to find, but most I didn’t. 

As an American Jew, Mechinah was the place where I truly formed my relationship with Israel and Israeli society. I learned to speak Hebrew fluently and engage with the country on a more intimate level than I ever had before. I learned to see Israel critically – as a place with deep problems but also enormous potential. Israel can be a complicated subject on campus -- but Mechinah gave me a basis with which to approach the subject with confidence, criticism, and love. 

Mechinah also taught me how to lead and work on a team in the most intensive way possible. My work as a leader of student organizations and camp counselor has been greatly improved by my experiences at Mechinah. I’ve also found that the intensity of Mechinah excellently prepared me for a rigorous academic experience at college. After you finish a mishmar (night-time learning program) that stretches to the early hours of the morning or finish an intensive week of hiking in the backcountry, you feel an amazing sense of ability and self-confidence. 

Finally,

mechinah taught me how to live an intentional life. We speak a lot at Nachson about “purpose” and “values.” Everyday is committed to helping our peers – our “kvutzah” – and the community around us

I strive to continue the lifestyle and fill everyday with the sense of meaning that I found at mechinah.

Mechinah is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. When else will you be able to commit a year of your life to self-development, learning, volunteering, and finding your closest friends? Mechinah can be hard, especially for chuniris such as myself, but I could never imagine choosing another path.

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Rita Feder

From: New York

Attended: Mechinat Beit Yisrael

Now: A pre-med student majoring in Middle Eastern studies

I learned lots of things at mechina, so it’s hard to decide what to write. For me, though, the most meaningful thing, which continues to influence me to this day, is the way mechina taught me how to work with a group. I learned how to live with people, and how to behave and work in a less selfish way.

At mechina, even the most minor decisions and activities affect other people. Being aware of that continues to help me, even two years after I graduated from mechina.

I’d absolutely recommend mechina. A lot of Americans go to Israel for a year before starting college, but they do American programs, live with Americans, and speak only English. Mechina is an opportunity to get to know something different—to improve your Hebrew and learn from people who come from different cultures. I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to go to mechina. How many times in life do you have an opportunity to do something like that? Probably not a lot … Make the most of it!

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Justin Pellis

From: Mount Kisco

Attended: Mechinat Nachshon, Kibbutz Shoval, Cohort "Kaf Harishon." (2016-2017)

Now: Studying to be a Cantor/Hazzan at The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.

How difficult it is to describe all of the things I learned at Mechina. When the program was complete, we received a 4-page diploma with an extensive list of all of our accomplishments, which ranged from outdoor navigation to the various topics of Zionism and Judaism that we studied. What the diploma can't mention is that Mechina made me a better person through trial by fire. The experience of being a foreigner teaches you what it really means to empathize with the struggles of immigrants and outsiders because, although you had it pretty nice, you will understand what it means to feel out of place in a country that, in your case, wants to accept you.

I recommend Mechina to the young Jewish person in pursuit of their Israeli heart. Although

Mechina promises long periods where the Hebrew will confuse you, the unmatchable adventures will be your greatest emotional asset for years.

You will feel like a feature-member of the Israeli society, all the while reckoning with the Israel you thought you knew. Lastly, and most importantly, you will make friends-for-life with whom you will speak to every day.; four-and-a-half years later, it is those very friends who can attest to my Israeli heart.

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