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From the Mechina of the Upper Galilee to Harvard: This is how a year at mechina changed Eleanor Blum

Eleanor Blum, an alumna of Yachad at the Mechina of the Upper Galilee, just finished her degree studies at Harvard University. Now, she looks back at what made her return for mechina after not being in Israel for over ten years, how she bridged the language gap, and how it is to be a mechina graduate at an American college

05/10/2020 - 22:18

I grew up in a Conservative family, and when I was a girl, I lived with my parents in Herzliya for just a few years, and I even had some rudimentary Hebrew. I came back to America with my family, and when I finished high school, I wanted to put an emphasis on personal development and do something else before starting college. We had a family friend who told me about his mechina experience. It had been 12 years since we lived in Israel, my Hebrew wasn’t amazing, but I wanted to do it.

I had a great year. I learned a lot and met new people who introduced me to a whole world of ideas: the way they taught me during the mechina year to think about society, and how individuals find their place in it, was really special. Mechina was also what made me develop a curiosity about my studies. Since I came from America without any friends or family in Israel, it was amazing to experience everybody’s generosity. It was very important to them for me to be involved, and they’d invite me home every weekend we weren’t at mechina. I met all their families and friends. That had a major impact on me, and it made me think in a really different way about caring and responsibility for the other.

My message: The best still lies ahead. That’s how I felt until the last day of mechina. The most important thing at mechina is the people around you. Always look around yourself. Get to know your friends in depth

Most of all, I remember the hiking, which is something I hadn’t experienced before. In America, when we go on a hike, we sleep in tents at the most, if not in cars or at hotels. It was amazing to sleep under the open sky, cook for the group, and learn first aid. I learned how things are done from point A to point B, and that gave me a lot of confidence in understanding how tasks are executed, learning about the process, and knowing that I can do it, and how working with other people ties in with that. Mechina was a jump into deep water in a different place, but it made me grow a lot and contributed to my success down the line.

And how did you manage with the Hebrew?

I was much quieter than I usually am. There are very impressive people at mechina, and I wanted to introduce myself as I perceive myself, as someone who’s communicative, well-read, and educated. We used to go to Kabbalat Shabbat on the kibbutz, and I knew all the liturgical poems and psalms, and all the guys at mechina didn’t understand where I knew all that from. It was weird to them that I barely spoke Hebrew. I grew up on all the prayers that they got to know only at mechina.

Not being able to speak made things difficult at first, but my friends at mechina not only supported me, but also made a point of translating the entire experience for me. Around December, three months after the beginning of mechina, the rhythm of the language suddenly caught on and I was able to join in. The mechina experience was really a christening by fire that helped me speak Hebrew. It has to be emphasized that the general message of what we did and the connection to the community and the

environment transcended the language hurdles and helped me have that empowering experience—despite the language barrier I’d come with.

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How was it to go back to America?

It was really weird. I started working on a bachelor’s degree in economics and computer science. College is very different from mechina, much less structured and much more individualistic. I couldn’t help but notice the big gap in mentality. At mechina, the emphasis was on looking at what was happening around you, and less on looking at yourself. Aside from studying, I started volunteering at a shelter for homeless people, and I did things that took me outside of college and made me become a more active part of the community.

I feel that the moment you’ve opened up your head to this idea of personal responsibility and social engagement, it’s a mistake to ignore how dependent we are on each other and how much we can help each other. It totally changed the line of thought I grew up on. I always was a good student. I set myself goals and I achieved them. But today I’m able to think about it and understand that most of the goals were centered around me. I was still a good student when I got to college, but I was a lot more passionate about my significance in the world, because mechina helped me develop a better eye when it comes to how individuals contribute to the world.

In general, before mechina I made do with empirical answers and cold calculations, but after mechina I understood that there aren’t always definitive answers in this world. There are only statistical estimates about the future and how it will affect others, and there’s never anyone who is 100% right, especially when it comes to decisions that impact on a lot of people. We can learn a lot from each other, and my experience in Israel inspired me to examine how competing approaches in the world differ from each other.

I started taking an in-depth interest in the influence that different political-economic forms have on society, and last year I wrote a thesis on the differences between Europe and the United States with a focus on the last 20 years, against the backdrop of changes that we’ve seen in the twenty-first century.

What message do you want to send to mechina students?

The best still lies ahead. That’s how I felt until the last day of mechina. The most important thing at mechina is the people around you. Always look around yourself. Get to know your friends in depth. In the real world, you don’t have this opportunity to get to know so many people in so many situations and aspects of life. It’s really a unique opportunity, and I recommend making the very most of it.

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