My name is Shraga (Eli) and I am an educator, a Zionist activist, a social entrepreneur and an officer in the IDF reserves.
Five years ago I was part of the team that founded Mechinat Yiftah, a year-long leadership development program for high-school graduates before they are called up for compulsory army service.
My military experience as a company commander in an IDF infantry brigade taught me about the great importance of training the future generation of leaders in Israel to have a firm moral compass and a strong sense of duty to the community.
Leadership for me means taking responsibility for the society in which we live. And this is how I try to live my life.
After seven years of active service in the IDF I decided to turn my energies to educational activity. Mechinat Yiftah is the fruit of my efforts to invite Israeli youth to take responsibility for the face of their society.
The Mechina welcomes high-school graduates from a cross-section of Israeli society, particularly those from the country's geo-social periphery. Our overarching goals are to teach participants to dream of a better reality for the country we share, and to give them the tools to fulfill those dreams.
Many of our participants come from disadvantaged backgrounds or had difficulty getting by in the formal schooling system. Many have never had access to the kinds of opportunities enjoyed by most Israelis their age.
At the Mechina we try to give our participants the best chance of becoming the leaders that Israel deserves, and that they deserve to be. To do so, we provide them with practical tools and experiences, such as opening and running their own cooperative businesses, learning to work together, solve problems creatively and take on shared responsibilities.
Without the Mechina, many of our participants would likely be declared unfit for duty in the IDF. In a country where military service is compulsory, the army is both a melting pot and a gateway into adult society. Guiding our participants towards successful enlistment and meaningful service is one of the most vital things we do for them.
I live in the Ravid Educators' Kibbutz. The other people who live with me in the Educators' Kibbutz go out every day to work as teachers, youth workers, counselors and educators all over northern Israel. The educators' kibbutz model brings together people working in all kinds of formal and informal educational platforms. There is a special kind of magic in the creativity and innovation that comes naturally from us living together.
Something special about the Mechina is that the other guides and youth workers with me in the educational team come from other Educators' Kibbutzim all over the north – Carmiel, Haifa, Afula and Akko, in addition to Ravid. Lee is one of our counselors and a member of the Educators' Kibbutz in Akko. Recently we held a team workshop at her house in Akko. It was inspiring to see the energy with which the Educators' Kibbutz there is approaching the unique challenges of Akko. Not only was I inspire by what I saw there, I understood how Lee being a member of the Educators' Kibbutz in Akko brings such important things to her work at the Mechina.
Akko is a microcosm of Israeli society. Social gaps, racism, aliyah absorption, etc. are part of the daily challenges faced by the city, and they reflect exactly the challenges our country faces as a whole. Moreover, these are the challenges we face in a personal way every day in our work at the Mechina. These are the same challenges that the future leaders of Israel will have to contend with.
At the Educators' Kibbutz in Ravid, I found a home for my dreams of a better Israel, Israel as it should be.
Now I see the same incredible potential in the Akko Educators' Kibbutz. They are calling it "Israel's new social startup" and I think that's spot-on. In Ravid we started the concept of the Educators' Kibbutz and now in Akko they are applying the concept to the city. The energy, innovation, pioneering spirit coming out of the kibbutz in the urban environment is remarkable. I can't wait to see it grow and all the ways we will continue working together.
Shraga Eli Stren is a member of the Ravid Educators' Kibbutz and an active partner in Dror Israel's network of educators' communities.