Israelis came together today as we watched the live news broadcasts of the ‘Mechina’ (pre-military academy) students and candidates who were trapped in the flash flood. The tragic outcome is heart breaking. Ten young lives were taken during this fierce act of nature. The pictures and stories shared by the families and friends help us connect to these great Israelis. Beautiful, idealistic, devoted and excited about their future. These future Mechina students are the secret weapon of the ‘Start-Up Nation’. They are the future leaders of Israel and the backbone of the Jewish people.
For those who have never heard about the Mechina program before, this is really not the first impression or PR it deserves. On the contrary, it is probably the most important and innovative Israeli educational project of the last 3 decades.
Not many people outside of Israel know about this amazing phenomenon. It is hard to explain why nearly 3,000 Israeli 18-year-olds choose to join Mechina gap year programs every year. As if 2-3-year army service is not enough, more and more Israelis are willing to invest an extra year and give back even more to the Israeli society. It’s truly amazing to watch the great success of Mechinot. Mechina alumni serve in the most elite IDF units and comprise a disproportionately higher number of commanders and officers than their numbers suggest. After their army service we see Mechina alumni leading in all fields, in academics, business or social justice organizations.
Mechina is about learning for the sake of learning. Classes are lively, positive, and the students take an active part. Study topics include Jewish texts and history, Zionism, leadership, philosophy, and Israel advocacy. The goal is for the students to become leaders with vision and purpose, possessing the resolve and ability to effect real change both within themselves and society at large.
.The best way to teach leadership is by actual actions. Being a leader means that you are willing to take responsibility, and as such, personal responsibility is a big part of the Mechina experience. All aspects of Mechina life are run together with the participants. The staff serves merely as guides. The participants are divided among different Va’adot, or committees, with each responsible for a different aspect of running the Mechina. Every day, the Va’adot have time to meet and work on their various jobs.
It is most likely that Mechina students and young staff members where involved in planning and managing this tragic incident. While it’s obvious that serious misjudgments led to this terrible outcome, I am 100% sure that all those involved had good intentions. As an educator who was in similar situations in the past, I know there is a fine line between giving and taking responsibility simultaneously. Failing is not uncommon, and is probably one of the best ways to learn. However, the dilemma of how much responsibility is assigned is one that Mechina educators face daily. For example, when teaching our students to navigate, it is critical to let them get lost so that they learn to read a map and use a compass. But how far do we let them drift away from the trail? I wish there was a clear answer to this.
Please suspend judgment. Please don’t rush to blame. We can all be certain that the people involved are devastated enough. Let’s trust the authorities and wait for the outcome of the investigations. During these difficult times, I suggest that we stand by the great educators that dedicate their lives to creating the next generation of Jewish leaders.