This year for the second time, the Joint Council of Mechinot (Pre-Military Leadership Academies) is recognizing mechina alumni who have made their mark and spearheaded changes of various types in Israeli society. The prize will be awarded at a festive ceremony attended by the heads of all mechinot on Sunday, September 16, in Jerusalem.
The winning alumni were nominated to the prize committee by mechina officials and partners who see them as taking responsibility for society and leading processes of positive, far-reaching change within it. The winners, who put the tools that they acquired in their mechina year to practical use, stand out in their work in behalf of Israeli society in the target fields designated by the Joint Council.
Winners of the 2017–2018 Joint Council Alumni Prize
Municipal Achievement Award: Iris Czerwonogora (Mechinat Aderet)
Iris Czerwonogora, who immigrated to Israel from Uruguay 11 years ago, was an outstanding student at her mechina. During her military service, she served as a teacher in the Education Corps and commanded teachers stationed at youth villages. In 2014, she enrolled in Cadets for Local Government, a program of Atidim, at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. On completing her studies, Iris chose to begin working in economic development and strategic planning at the Al Qasoum Regional Council while starting work on a master’s degree in urban planning.
The committee chose Iris because she is a groundbreaking figure whose choice to work in a Bedouin regional council in the field of economic development reflects a desire to reduce gaps in Israeli society.
Government Achievement Award: Cpt. (res.) Aftamo Yosef (Mechinat Oz Shlomo)
Aftamo Yosef immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia in 1991 at age 5, attended Bnei Akiva in Ofakim, studied at a mechina in Kiryat Malachi, and served in the Paratroop Unit as a fighter and commander. During his military service, Aftamo mentored, empowered, and provided guidance to Ethiopian Israeli soldiers. After his discharge, he founded Tzeida Laderech Lesherut Mashmauti with the goal of mentoring and guiding youth from the periphery toward meaningful military service by removing barriers and maximizing their hidden potential. Two years ago, Aftamo joined the Military–Society Division of the Ministry of Defense, where he helps to advance the interests and recruitment of special population groups.
The committee chose Aftamo because the initiatives that he founded and advanced, as well as his joining the public sector in a key role, are a model for Ethiopian Israelis in general and Ethiopian Israeli youth in particular.
Military Achievement Award: Lt. Col. Benny Meir (Rabin Pre-Army Leadership Academy)
Lt. Col. Benny Meir today is the commander of the 498th Unit of the IDF, the Shachar Rescue and Evacuation Battalion. Benny’s abilities stood out in his time at mechina. After he was drafted, he was recognized for excellence during training in the 669th Unit, to which he returned as a section commander after completing an officer course. He later was appointed a company commander in the Givati Brigade’s Shaked Battalion, established and was the first commander of the Rimon Commando Unit, and was decorated by the commander of his brigade for gallantry during Operation Summer Rains. Further, Benny demonstrated courage in confronting the commander of his battalion for unseemly conduct, despite the price he was sure to pay.
The committee selected Benny because the unique trajectory that he followed from his childhood environment through mechina and to these acts of military and civic courage is a model of what is expected from mechina alumni as ethical military and political leaders.
Educational Achievement Award: Yehuda Salama (Arzey Halevanon)
Yehuda Salama immigrated to Israel from France with his parents as a three-month-old. He founded and has for the past three years directed Massa Gour Arié and Massa Levia, two eight-month programs for 18- to 21-year-old French-speaking men and women, respectively, that seek to provide tools for successfully integrating in Israeli society and engaging in meaningful service in the IDF.
The committee determined that in light of the fact that this initiative targets French Jewry and its decisive role in encouraging young Jews to immigrate to Israel from France, a trend that has declined of late, it is doubly important to recognize a graduate who took it upon himself to advance these unique programs and leads an impressive effort to fulfill this goal.
Award for Community-Building in the Periphery: Rona Levin (Mechina of the Upper Galilee)
Rona Levin has been a part of the Harel community-building mission group for the past six years. After years of efforts to push forward community-building in the Negev, the group successfully settled in a temporary camp located in the area of Tzochar, on the Gaza perimeter. Today, Harel is a burgeoning community of some 110 members, and Rona and the other community members are working on obtaining permits to build a permanent community.
The committee found that Rona merited this award for her resolve and for dedicating all her efforts and her life to establishing a large mission-group community in Israel’s periphery, including her refusal to give up despite the lack of a permanent solution, and her ultimate success in founding a permanent home for the group in the geographic periphery.
Nonprofit and Social Initiative Award: Genetu Mangisto (Gal Leadership Academy)
Genetu Mangisto is an alumnus of the first class of the Gal Leadership Academy. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, is studying for a master’s degree in political marketing, and is the founder of the teen empowerment project Dream Alone—Do Together. Genetu was a leader of the 2015 protests against police brutality, which were sparked by the treatment of Ethiopian Israelis by the Israel Police and reverberated throughout society. The National Union of Israeli Students and the Knesset awarded Genetu the 2016 Outstanding Student Award, and in 2017 he was recognized with the Interdisciplinary Center’s award for outstanding social action.
The committee selected Genetu in recognition of his courageous leadership, his dedication to civic action, and his ongoing work to change Israeli society for the better.
Congratulations to the awardees!