In the summer of 2014, during Operation Protective Edge, I was stationed in Kibbutz Nahal Oz, less than a kilometer from Gaza. I spent two months living on the kibbutz, carrying out missions at night and getting to know the kibbutz members during the day. Aside from the rocket fire and the constant sirens, the kibbutz was an idyllic place. The residents were idealistic and optimistic.
Then, on August 22, 2014, 4-year-old Daniel Tragerman was killed by a mortar shell. The spirit of the kibbutz was broken. After nearly two months of living in shelters or away from their homes, of the 30 families with young children, 17 had plans to leave.
On the day of ceasefire, I received a call from a member of Kibbutz Nahal Oz. “Nimrod, we heard you set up a village for lone soldiers in the North. Maybe you can help us here,” she said to me.
Two weeks later, my wife and I moved to Kibbutz Nahal Oz to establish the Lachish Academy for Leadership in Nahal Oz. We recognized that young people would continue to leave the area if we did not lift the morale and show the Negev residents that the country supports them.
The mechina, or leadership academy, brings forty energetic and principled youths to the kibbutz for a year of rigorous leadership training, community service, and study before their army service. Our students also ran programs for the kibbutz children, ate weekend meals at members’ houses, and participated in holiday celebrations. Since 2014, the kibbutz has seen a rebirth, launched new businesses, and has even built a new neighborhood to accommodate the significant rise in residents.
I stayed in Kibbutz Nahal Oz for two years, and recently became the CEO of Ein Prat: the Academy for Leadership, but these fragile, borderline kibbutzim have continued to need our help.
This past August, Ein Prat opened the Hadar Goldin Leadership Academy in Kibbutz Sufa, one of the first kibbutzim into which Hamas dug a tunnel before Operation Protective Edge. The academy, named for Hadar Goldin, an IDF lieutenant killed in action in Operation Protective Edge, continually breathes new life into the kibbutz. The forty students live, learn, and volunteer on the kibbutz. The academy’s presence on this border kibbutz provides jobs for six staff members, a renewed consumer market at the local grocery store, an additional 50 customers for local transportation, and teaching posts for a dozen lecturers.
While we work to bring new life back to the Negev and ensure that the civilian population remains, those in Gaza fight a slow war of attrition. Two weeks ago on Friday, a rocket hit a community center in a border kibbutz. This is one of the few times that a rocket made contact in a populated area since 2014. The sense of terror and insecurity returned full force.
In response, my wife, 1-year-old son, and I, along with dozens of graduates of the leadership academies spent Shabbat on that kibbutz. As the IDF defends Israel’s borders militarily, we can ensure that the civilian population remains, and is supported by Israel’s next generation of pioneers. One mechina at a time.