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Voting for a difference: Mechina alumni running in local elections

Local elections are set to take place on October 30. We met with mechina alumni who chose to run for local government in order to take responsibility for the way things are and take action for the sake of residents.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018 14:19

Yael Shemer

Alumna of Mechinat Minsharim Kalu in Ma’gan Michael

Candidate for Tel Aviv City Council

Yael Shemer, now 25, grew up in Lehavim and spent her high school years in North Carolina. “In 12th grade, I decided I wanted to come back to Israel to strengthen my Israeli identity. I heard about the mechina (pre-military leadership academy) in Ma’gan Michael, and I submitted my candidacy. Over the course of the year, I fell in love with the field of ecology and the notion of community organization and group action,” she says. “At mechina, I led volunteer projects, and I didn’t really think I’d go in the direction of civic work at the time, because I didn’t know what it was.” During the mechina year, Yael’s parents came back to Israel and made their home in Tel Aviv. Yael joined the IDF and served as a tour guide. “At the time, Tel Aviv seemed like a big, noisy city to me, and that conflicted with my love of nature. After my discharge, I studied environmental science and I actually fell in love with the field of urban planning. Then I started looking at Tel Aviv in a different way and seeing all the good in it.”

“While I was studying, I took part in a student exchange in Paris and got to be at the climate conference, and there I realized that the climate crisis is actually a crisis of democracy,” Yael says. She explains, “There are entities with an interest in polluting, and that led to a crisis of leadership, of transparency. When that penny dropped, it stirred me to action. I promised that when I came back, I would become an environmental activist.” Sure enough, when Yael returned to Israel, she joined Green Course, and she’s been an environmental social activist for the past two years. “There are moments when I ask myself about all sorts of things that make me angry: Why doesn’t anyone do something? And then I realize that I need to do something.”

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“Talk about the local elections started last year, and I realized that the average age of council members in Tel Aviv was 55, and also that there were few women in that arena. The status quo made it so that there was no model of women in local politics, not to mention young women leaders. So I decided I was going to do it. We started to come together, all sorts of young people who didn’t have a political home in Tel Aviv, who identified an apathy in our generation: people tired of politics who feel that they don’t have any platform they can use to take action.” We founded Mekomi in Tel Aviv as part of a nationwide initiative to bring stronger leadership to various cities.” Yael is second on the Mekomi list for city council. “Founding a party is a bureaucratic, expensive process. As a group, we managed to overcome the difficulties and recruit young people to take part. We work according to a model that connects elected officials to the voters, so that democracy wakes up not just once every five years, but throughout the entire term.”

“I had a yearning to continue on the path that my mechina charted for me. At a certain point, I realized I was a check that had to be redeemed already, I felt that they’d invested in me and believed in me, and now it was my turn to take the tools and make change happen, and I choose to do that through civic activity. Recently I spoke in front of an audience of 70 mechina graduates at an alumni conference, and I spoke about the fact that there isn’t any moment when you feel ready to start. You have to jump into the water, take the reins, because they won’t bring them to you.

Shilo Adler

Alumnus of Mechinat Bnei David in Eli and now chairman of the mechina’s board

Candidate for chief executive of Matteh Binyamin Regional Council

Twenty-one years ago, Shilo Adler entered the gates of Mechinat Bnei David in Eli. “I came out of a desire to combine mental and religious preparation for the army with physical preparation for meaningful service. I joined the Golani Commando Unit, went to an officer course, and finished as commander of the 51st Support Company (today, a battalion commander in the reserves). In the middle I got married and took a break to study at the beit midrash in Eli, I threw in my lot with the community of Eli, I built a house there, and this is where I’m rearing my seven children.” He came full circle and became an active partner in the mechina as chairman of the board.

Adler has been active in the public arena for quite some time now. In his last post, he served as CEO of the Yesha Council. Previously he served as chief of staff to the late minister for senior citizens Uri Orbach and was a member of the general assembly of the Binyamin Regional Council, where he served as a board member as well as chairman of its finance committee. This summer, he announced his candidacy to lead the Matteh Binyamin Regional Council, whose jurisdiction is the largest in Israel, stretching from the Dead Sea all the way to Latrun. “I decided to enter the race out of a calling, because of the value of settling the land and a deep connection to the region. In light of my experience and the connections I’ve accumulated, I believe I’ll bring good things to Binyamin.”

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Hadar Belisha Barak

Alumna of Mechinat Nachshon, former counselor at Mechinat Melach HaAretz, chairwoman of the board of Mechinat Melach HaAretz

Candidate for Rosh HaAyin City Council

Hadar Belisha Barak, 36, married and a mother of three, is running for the rosh HaAyin city council on the list headed by mayoral candidate Benny “Benga” Beit Or. “Three-and-a-half years ago, we moved from Tel Aviv to Rosh HaAyin. A lot of people were surprised by what we did, but as far as I’m concerned, I discovered a new world. I fell in love with the city after I started work there, I met the people, the young men and women, the green nearby, its potential for influencing its surroundings, the proximity to central Israel, but also how peripheral it is, in a good way.”

Hadar established the Rosh HaAyin Department of Teens and Young People, which she managed for three years. Among other things, she built leadership groups and introduced events for young people, scholarships, courses, and more, all the while becoming closer to the community and its young people.

“It’s always a good time for a surprise,” she says. As much comes across from the fact that she ran on a list for city council at a time when she had more than enough to keep her busy. When she was in the middle of maternity leave with her third child, she received a call with an offer for her to be a part of bringing change to the city: “I decided I didn’t have the right to remain apathetic when called to action. I also identified with the message of unity that the list was promoting—when two candidates representing two ostensibly seemingly groups in the city came together—and also with the activity of the candidates themselves. As a mechina graduate, I feel that at many opportunities and crossroads in life, I choose and I aspire to be in places with influence over my surroundings. For that reason, I felt a need at the time to answer that call, too.”

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“The city of Rosh HaAyin is going to triple in size in the coming years. There’s no precedent for such a thing in Israel,” explains Hadar. “It’s a test that if we pass it, we’ll be an exemplary model for other cities undergoing similar processes. The city has the potential to become one of the foremost and most significant cities in central Israel—whereas in the test’s tragedy scenario, it’s liable to be thrust into an urban disaster. This is why it’s so important for exceptional, decent, professional people to lead the city, and I want to see such people in my city’s leadership.”

“One of the objectives I set for myself is to encourage young people in the city to go for a service year or go to mechina, and to integrate ‘mechina content’ as early as the high school years and in informal educational settings. Also, of course, I’ll represent the young couples and young families who have become a predominant part of the city’s population, but unfortunately one that is lacking in representation. I also aspire to bring to the decision-makers’ table the viewpoint of female residents—there are municipal services that statistically, we consume more as women and mothers: use of public parks, communicating with the school system, afternoon child care and the offices of the municipality, cultural events for children, and so on, and we know what needs improvement.”

With optimism in the air but a realistic perspective, Hadar promises, “Even if I don’t have a chair in the council, it’s possible to contribute and make a difference in many ways as a resident and public activist, through various municipal committees and volunteer activities.”

Liri Pinkhas

Alumna of Tavor Leadership Academy

Candidate for Yehud City Council

Twenty-three-year-old Liri Pinkhas was born and raised in Yehud and was active in the Tzofim in that city for many years. After finishing school, she went to the Tavor Leadership Academy, in Nazareth Illit, and joined the IDF to serve as a commander at Chavat HaShomer. “My mechina and the experience of being a commander were very meaningful for my realization that I can bring change. Mechina for me was my first introduction to municipal matters. I understood how much the operation of the Nazareth Illit municipality affects residents.”

Upon her discharge from the IDF, Liri returned to her city, and for two years served as a troop leader of Yehud’s Tzofim troop, a position in which she worked extensively with the city government. “I needed lots of help, but I got very little. Every city has a division for young adults and teens, but here there wasn’t any, so there was no budget for it either.”

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The deputy mayor knew me from interfacing with the Tzofim and invited me to join his list. At first I was wary of politics, but when I realized how much I could change through it, I understood that that was what I had to do. I’m the only young candidate in the city.”

“I feel that my mechina gave me essential footing for this,” says Liri. “I’m in touch with the head of the mechina on a regular basis, I send him election clips from the campaign and he’s very supportive. My counselor is advising me during this time too, and I feel that I always can draw inspiration and courage from my mechina and its staff.”

Liri, who was placed third on the list, is already thinking ahead: “I’m very excited about the day after, I want to start doing things already.”

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Nehoray Ofri

Alumnus of the IMPJ Mechina in Jaffa

Candidate for Tel Aviv City Council

With a stunning record in theater, in music, and even on the Israeli judo team, you can find Nehoray Ofri, age 25, in the third slot on the list, next to his colleague Yael Shemer. “Already in high school, I started taking part in social projects that bring together people from different backgrounds through music and theater.” Toward the end of high school, he made a far-reaching decision: “I trained with the Israeli judo team, but I realized I wanted to go to mechina and serve with meaning instead of being an outstanding athlete.”

Nehoray went to the IMPJ Mechina in Jaffa. Over the course of the year, he established an after-school center in Jaffa regularly attended by some 200 children who enjoyed activities led by mechina students. “For the first time in my life, mechina gave me an opportunity to dream and devise. They gave me a platform and stood behind me. Mechina provides fuel for action.”

Nehoray was drafted to the Combat Engineering Special Operations Unit. After being discharged, he began studying political science at Tel Aviv University. “I interned at the Knesset with MK Manuel Trajtenberg, and that opened up the political arena for me. After two years at the Knesset, I moved to Mitvim, and I advise Knesset members. At the same time, I’m on the way to a doctorate.”

“The campaign for city council started a year ago, when I was talking with friends about the gap between how our generation is seen—as apathetic—and how we see it—as caring and active. The young generation doesn’t believe in institutions. Politics has become a derogatory term. Eighty percent of students in Israel think it’s impossible to have influence politically. A third of those with the right to vote in the city are young people, and under 10 percent of them voted in the past. Our goal in the Mekomi Party is to build the groundwork for the young people in the city to have influence.”

“Our grandparents built a state, our parents’ generation thought more about individuality, and our generation is searching again for a sense of community and belonging. I arrived at this understanding at mechina, where I felt that togetherness, and all the friends I gained there are helping me with the campaign and being supportive.”

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Soly Raider

Alumna of Rabin Pre-Army Leadership Academy

Candidate for Tirat Carmel City Council

Soly Raider, age 30, was born and raised in Tirat Carmel. She is second on the Young People of Tirat Carmel election slate. “The candidate who heads the list, whom I hadn’t met previously, published a post on Facebook about education in the city, and we started corresponding about the topic. I put forward what teens lack here in the city, and out of that correspondence, we connected and I joined her list.”

Soly has spent most of her life working in education, mainly that of teens. “At school I was a counselor for junior counselors and a representative on the Youth Council. Then came the decision to go to mechina, and after I was discharged from the IDF, I worked with teens and was the coordinator for junior counselors in the city. I feel a major lack in how teens are handled. There’s no safe place to hang out, there’s no place to ask questions and share the uncertainties of the teenage years. There’s no exposure here to service years or mechina at all. My objectives are to strengthen the city’s youth center, provide solutions for teens’ needs, work with parents—lectures, working out dilemmas, and more.”

Soly is a mother of three, including a one-month-old, and she’s been asked more than once about the possibility of moving elsewhere. “I feel that I’m fighting for my home. It burns inside me—I want a better future for my children. I could have gotten up and left for a place with better education, but I decided to take action myself to make our city better. I understood that I couldn’t sit on the side and say ‘This isn’t good.’ I need to get up and take action, and here’s the opportunity.”

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