Dear Friends of the Mechinot,
I want to quickly update you about the diverse activities, progress, and achievements of the Joint Council of Mechinot (Pre-Military Leadership Academies) during the 2016–2017 academic year and the beginning of the current year.
As some of you know, in 2016 the Joint Council and the KKL signed a strategic cooperation agreement with dramatic ramifications for the scope of our operations and our ability to make the Joint Council’s founding goals a reality.
At the same time, we continue to identify new fundraising opportunities that will help us meet those goals better and faster.
By its nature, the Joint Council is both a discrete nonprofit and the umbrella organization of dozens of different academic institutions, each with its own particular character.
This year, our member institutions embarked on the complex but important process of considering the ways in which how they relate to each other and work together are affected by issues in Israeli society, such as conflicting ideological positions, the right to free expression, and the tension of being both a Jewish and a democratic state.
Together, we will continue exploring the best ways to keep cooperating as we always have despite our differences.
As you will read below, the leaders taking part in the dialogue are convinced it is headed in the right direction.
During the current academic year, we plan to keep growing and developing Joint Council activities as we continue diversifying the population of mechina students, introducing them to non-Israeli Jews and the challenges they face, providing assistance to disadvantaged students, and keeping up a meaningful dialogue as we define and fulfill the common vision of all mechinot—a vision symbolized by the upcoming establishment of the first of our mission-oriented alumni communities in the Israeli periphery.
Appreciation to the Mechinot at the Knesset
For the first time in its history, the Knesset dedicated an entire day to the mechinot.Five Knesset committees—Foreign Affairs and Defense; Finance; Immigration and Absorption; Education; and Labor and Welfare—devoted their sessions to such issues as financial allocations for the mechinot, diversifying the mechina student population, assistance for mainstreaming students with disabilities, integrating new Israelis at the mechinot, and mechina education for graduates of boarding schools for children at risk.
Dozens of Knesset members then attended the main event of the day, conducted by Minister of Education Naftali Bennett, to learn about the operations of the mechinot, the progress they have made, and the challenges ahead.Also participating were representatives of the students, leadership, and staff of the various mechinot, as well as Dani Zamir, CEO of the Joint Council.
This unprecedented event was a powerful boost for the public image of the mechinot and highlighted the need to fund more places for students and expand to additional target populations.
In concluding its activity for the day, the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Knesset resolved that the mechinot, together with gap-year national service programs, are the most important manifestation of Zionism in our time.
Collaboration with the KKL
We were privileged last year to initiate a number of far-reaching projects in partnership with the KKL, most importantly community service opportunities for students, tuition aid for the economically disadvantaged, alumni programming, and the new alumni community-building initiative.
Nes Harim Dialogue
Two of the Joint Council’s top priorities are to formulate a common vision shared by all member mechinot and to check tensions resulting from ideological differences.
We therefore established a beit midrash-style forum of mechina heads that meets every two weeks to engage in peer learning and discussions—including a two-day conference in Nes Harim at which they produced an initial draft of agreed principles.
The forum, led by leading secular, traditional, and Orthodox opinion leaders, will continue meeting this year with the goal of fleshing out and finalizing the agreed principles.
Israel’s minister of education has applauded the forum and its results for showing how educators with opposing ideologies can come together for a serious, productive dialogue.
New mechinot and affiliates
Two new mechinot and five new affiliates opened their doors this year.
Two target at-risk youth, while three are located in the periphery (near Lebanon in the north, adjacent to Jerusalem, and in the Jordan Valley).
The rate of opening new mechinot and the number of students admitted are dictated by government regulations, demand is outpacing supply: there are five to eight candidates for each place at a mechina.
Integration at the mechinot
Last year, Ethiopian Israelis accounted for 8% of all enrolled mechina students, after a year-on-year jump of 15% (from 200 to 230), while this year the number of Ethiopian Israeli students increased another 10%.
Students from disadvantaged groups and socioeconomically disadvantaged areas increased 4% and now make up 20% of students.
The Druze mechina, at the request of its leaders, became a joint mechina and now draws half its students from the Jewish population.
Diversification efforts to bring in more members of disadvantaged groups previously were aided by professional partnerships with Maagalim, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, and Zinuk B’Aliya. This year, Joint Council will execute its diversification projects together with organizations created by mechinot for the purpose.
There were a total of 25 students from North America at various mechinot last year.
This year, boosted by a new partnership with Tzofim (Israel Scouts), the number of young North American Jews with Israeli parents at the mechinot has shot up to 55. We intend to double this number within two years.
Students with disabilities
We launched the Joint Council disability mainstreaming program last year with 18 students at 10 mechinot.
As the year progressed, we successfully overcame growing pains, drew on experience to create professional standards, and conducted five seminars to help staff with the subject.Once the current academic year had begun, following an extensive marketing campaign, there were 30 students with disabilities enrolled at 24 mechinot and affiliates.
We conducted five meetings last year of a forum of female leaders of mechinot and other bodies.
This initiative reflects the decision of the Joint Council to promote the study, discussion, and encouragement of female leadership in society and the IDF.
Participants in the sessions discussed practical issues regarding female leadership content and women’s employment at the mechinot.
Since a source of funds was not identified, the plan to provide financial support for teaching this subject at the mechinot was not implemented and activities were instead directly funded by the Joint Council from membership dues.Even in the short term, there are results.
There are a record 11 women heading mechinot or affiliates, up almost 100% from last year, and more than 35 women are serving as mechina directors or educational directors.
Meeting in One Land
Last year, 16 mechinot participated in Meeting in One Land, an educational program conducted in partnership with the Abraham Fund.
Students at participating institutions study Arabic or learn about dilemmas faced by Israeli Arabs, visit Arab communities, and at some mechinot attend dialogue sessions with Arab peers.
We are working to identify additional funding sources to expand the program.
The program, conducted at 27 mechinot, exposes mechina students to the full range of Jewish denominations, with an emphasis on non-Israeli Jews, and examines a wide variety of ways to live a Jewish life.
Dor Ledor (Generation to Generation)
At the 6 participating institutions, students adopt some 100 solitary elderly individuals, whom they visit every week, help with day-to-day needs and home repairs, and host at holiday celebrations.
The mechina founder who initiated this program was recognized with the Joint Council of Mechinot Award in 2017.
Religious guidance (new project)
Beginning in the 2017–2018 academic year, the Joint Council will allocate significant funding to create a system of religious guidance for graduates of the Orthodox mechinot to help them serve meaningfully in the IDF while maintaining their commitment to a religious lifestyle.
This year, thanks to the Joint Council’s focus on alumni, there are alumni coordinators at 45 of the 53 mechinot, and alumni associations are being established or grown at nearly 20.
The Joint Council provides alumni coordinators with training and mentoring throughout the year.
We work together with them to develop new initiatives and further professionalize alumni relations at member institutions as we encourage alumni to pursue one of the four goals traditionally set for them by the Joint Council (participation in civil service, education, nonprofits, or community volunteer work).
A fifth goal, added last year in partnership with the KKL, is for alumni to build new communities in the Israeli periphery.
A conference on the subject at the International Conference Center in Jerusalem drew 3,000 participants, among them the president, the minister of education, the chief of the general staff of the IDF, and the chairman of the KKL.
A comprehensive database covering all mechinot was created in order to make information about this initiative accessible and help interested alumni network with each other.
In early 2017, the Joint Council established HeChalutz: Strengthening Israeli Communities, a nonprofit whose mission is to implement the council’s vision of new alumni communities in the Negev, the Galilee, and Jerusalem, with an initial emphasis on Nazareth Illit and Arad, and to assist in the construction of mechina facilities.
Within months of its founding, HeChalutz administered surveys to alumni, assembled focus groups of graduates and government officials in target areas, defined strategic objectives, created an information center, and began communicating on an ongoing basis with about 10 community-building teams, the first of which is expected to arrive in its new community in 2018.
HeChalutz is also ramping up operations to help individual alumni and small groups join existing communities in target areas.
If appropriate funding is secured, HeChalutz will expand its activities this year to include urban renewal and community development.
In keeping with a central objective defined by the Joint Council for the previous year, we conducted training workshops, seminars, and mutual study sessions including nine regularly scheduled alumni beit midrash programs across Israel, a monthly forum for the educational directors of the mechinot, two seminars for administrative directors, a beit midrash-style session for mechina heads every two weeks, five workshops for counselors at secular and traditional mechinot, two workshops for counselors at Orthodox mechinot, a two-day conference for the heads and directors of all mechinot, three seminars for mechina heads covering current issues (such as discipline and conscription), two training sessions for alumni coordinators, ten board meetings, and three general meetings, in addition to a weekly newsletter for all mechina staff.
PR and marketing
The Public Relations and Media Department of the Joint Council developed a new website, upgraded the joint registration website of the traditional and secular mechinot, and conducted social media campaigns as necessary about female leadership, disability mainstreaming, and other topics.
Research and evaluation
The Joint Council now conducts assessments and surveys on an ongoing basis, including a 2016–2017 alumni study administered in partnership with the Bloomberg Foundation.Projects are assessed according to a plan that is finalized before the beginning of the academic year.
Last year, projects assessed included Jewish Diversity and Meeting in One Land.
Wishing all of us happy Hanukkah,Dani Zamir
Joint Council of Mechinot