The Mechina at Hannaton was founded just eight years ago, but it’s already attracted lots of interest. In part, that’s because of its Conservative Judaism and its unique approach to education. However, it’s also thanks to the mechina’s Galilean setting, which brings to life the stories of Jews who lived in the area hundreds of years ago. Even before the appearance of Shibolim, the project that helps young people with disabilities become mechina students, the Mechina at Hannaton was one of the mechinot to make a point of having such individuals in its student body. To this day, the mechina is a model to many others as they join Shibolim, too.
The class of 2020 on a hike
According to mechina head Rabbi Yoav Ende, this idea is part of the mechina’s efforts to create a student population that is representative of Israeli society. “Mixed mechinot usually deal with bringing together the religious and the secular. The Mechina at Hannaton puts a lot into creating the most diverse social aggregate possible. It isn’t just about integration with religious people. At the mechina there are people from youth villages and boarding schools, and there are students with disabilities, too. We don’t screen according to officer scores. If we can’t bring in Arab or Haredi students, but at least we can bring in lecturers, that’s powerful. You can talk about Israeli society until you’re red in the face, but if you build a bubble, that makes it difficult.” Students at the mechina come from all Jewish denominations, from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds and all parts of Israel, from the Arava in the south to Metula and Nahariya in the north, from development towns and from Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem.”
When the founders of the Mechina at Hannaton arrived, the kibbutz of Hannaton was bankrupt and underpopulated. They began developing a relationship with the local populace, which has similar social and religious ideas. Many members of the kibbutz attend pluralistic Conservative services at the mechina’s egalitarian synagogue, and the relationship with the mechina’s students is an integral part of life in the kibbutz. “A mechina in the Negev speaks the language of the Negev, and it’s only fitting that a mechina in the Galilee speak the language of the region where it’s located,” says Ende.
“Without love of Israeli society and Judaism, it would be hard to go about a deep process of social correction and creating broad equality of opportunity”
The educational pillars of the mechina are Judaism, Zionism, and humanism. According to Ende, the unique motifs of the Mechina at Hannaton are the Jewish–Arab connection (“the students are exposed every day to the Galilean way of life, and through the mechina’s social engagement, partnerships are created in Shfaram, Nahalal, Bir al-Maksur, Zarzir, and more”); Jewish creativity in the Galilee (“the aspiration is for the students to see the Galilee as home and as a region with ethical and historical content for the Jewish people: the Sanhedrin, which wandered from place to place across the Lower Galilee, the Kabbala movement of 16th-century Tzfat, and the yeshiva of Tzipori, where the Jerusalem Talmud was learned. Ben-Gurion’s ethos of the Negev is powerful, but here there’s extensive, venerable Jewish history of which people aren’t always aware”); and Jewish renewal in the Galilee (“from the Tanakh to the Palmach—that’s the Zionist leap and the Jewish renewal in the region; the Jewish people came back to the Land of Israel from exile, and our presence in the Galilee completes the leap and renewal”).
“The Galilee as home”: the Mechina at Hannaton class of 2017
They say at the mechina that every student with special needs who starts the year there causes a deeper understanding of the kinds of sensitivity needed in interactions between students, but also in physically modifying conditions in the mechina’s buildings. For instance, with funding from Shibolim, an access route was built between the cafeteria and the classrooms, so a students who used a wheelchair could move from one room to another; special nighttime lighting appropriate for individuals with poor vision was installed for another student; and more. Itai Capsouto, the education director of the Hannaton Educational Center, says, “We create something in a world where there often is nothing. The mechina is a supportive, warm community that makes it possible for every person to be himself. The Hannaton kibbutz community embraces the mechina, and every child has an adoptive family from the kibbutz for Shabbatot and holidays when they stay. It adds to the feeling of homeyness and family.”
Members of the Mechina at Hannaton class of 2017
One of the first activities after studies begin each year, says Capsouto, is an accessibility tour during which the students experience, as it were, life with disabilities, using equipment (a wheelchair, for instance) or a simple eye covering to simulate life in a world of disability. The students receive simple assignments—to buy something from the grocery store, get money from the ATM, buy a book, and so on—that illustrate just how complicated day-to-day existence is for individuals with disabilities. In view of how successful the mainstreaming of students with disabilities was, the Joint Council of Mechinot established Shibolim to mainstream young people with disabilities at mechinot, with the goal of assuring them equal opportunity to attend mechina as preparation for meaningful service in the IDF, and thus to influence their future as an integral part of Israeli society writ large.
The class of 2020 on a hike
Ende, the head of the mechina, explains how this project expresses the educational language of the Mechina at Hannaton with three words: “friction,” “love,” and “secret.” “Growth happens,” he says, “where there is friction with a variety of textual and social challenges. Without love of Israeli society and Judaism, it would be hard to go about a deep process of social correction and creating broad equality of opportunity. To learn is to discover a secret, and that in turn leads to the joy of identity formation.”
Two years ago, responding to interested students’ need to take their studies and social engagement to the next level, the Mechina at Hannaton created a Year 2 program. “We aspire to cultivate people who learn in depth, who take an active part in the beit midrash and are able to go up to the Jewish bookshelf independently or in small groups with a teacher,” says Ende. “In Year 2, volunteering turns into activism, and the students conduct in-depth exploration and examination of issues of policy change and influence over political processes in the country.
“At the end of the day, many of the mechina’s graduates take up places in units across the IDF and in officer and command positions—and we’re very proud of how they put our values into practice.”
The class of 2017 poses before Shabbat