School officially started a week ago, and along with it the beginning of the “mechina” year. As our daughter is one of the new mechinistim, I thought this might be a good time to talk about what is a mechina, in large part also because our friends and family overseas have never heard of the concept.
Basically, it’s possible to defer one’s army induction date by a year to participate in mechina, a program that combines study, volunteering, hiking and getting to know who you are as a person. Up to seventy 18-year-olds live together, cook together and play together, becoming better citizens and hopefully more sensitive human beings. They also do a lot of pre-army physical preparation. The army likes the mechina system because it delivers more mature and motivated new recruits.
There are tens of mechinot in Israel, with more sprouting up every year. There are several types: all religious, all secular, boys only, girls only, and mixed boys and girls / religious and not religious. Our daughter chose the latter.
A recent article in the Jerusalem Post quoted Shmaryahu Ben-Pazi, the director at Aderet (that’s the name of the mechina our daughter is attending), as explaining that these “programs teach young people to leave behind indifference and deepen their Jewish and democratic principles and values.”
Aderet’s educational director Assaf Perry added that his mechina aims to mend the rifts present in modern day Israel. He defines those as “the rift between the religious and secular, between rich and poor, between the center of the country and the periphery.”
Studying starts early in the morning and discussions go late into the night. This is not learning for a grade; it’s what you’d call in yeshiva “Torah l’Shma” – studying for its own sake. The same is true at the mechinot, as they debate provocative questions like “is it a Jewish value to die for your country.”
As excited as I am for our daughter, saying goodbye was another matter entirely. My wife and I both drove her to the drop off point last week – we only really needed one parent in the car, but we wanted to get a chance to see what the other mechnistim looked like when they were still raw individuals, before they jelled (or didn’t) into a tight group.
At the parking lot next to a McDonald’s in Beit Shemesh, I felt like I was sending my child off to college in the States (she’ll be 18 later this week and she’ll no longer be living at home, so the comparison is apt, even though she won’t be out of the army for another three years).
I also hoped to give her a big hug as she was swept away into the crowd of other eager 18-year-olds. But she wasn’t having any of that, as she instructed us to leave her a good 100 feet from the other kids.
It’s often hard (it certainly is for me) to let your kids fly away after spending so many years carefully raising them with all the right values and extra-curricular opportunities. But if we have to set them free, sending them off to a mechina might be the best thing we’ve done yet.