Shalom l’kulam (hello to everyone)! The summer has been going by fast and furiously and I wanted to take a few minutes to up date you about this week’s program.
The group is now in the middle of its “IDF experience.” This year we decided to create our own program rather than use the Gadna, as we have done for most of the years of Na’aleh. We had the possibility of making the change because of the size of this summer’s group, and we have done a great deal of preparation with the hope that the experience will surpass what we have done in the past. The Gadna is the army’s 4-day training program for high school kids. It has been adapted to groups of teens from around the world, but it is essentially the same program that is offered to Israeli youngsters in order to prepare them to cope with the shock of military life. The ambience is meant to be similar to the beginning of basic training, where the emphasis is on discipline, close order drills, assembling and shooting a rifle, and KP, with the addition of a number of value education units taught by very young soldiers who generally have had no experience other than the Gadna itself.
Our goal is a bit different. We would like to communicate a much deeper sense of the DNA of the IDF, in which discipline is more the means than the end. Therefore, we developed an alternative program with a company made up of graduates of elite units from the IDF who specialize in creating training and group-building modules for both the IDF and the civilian sector. If I needed to philosophy of the program “on one foot” I would say the following: The IDF does not try to turn its soldiers into a heroic rambo stereotype. Rather it needs to teach our youth that if the circumstances require them to act heroically, then they too can find the inner strength to rise to the occasion, and that our fate as a people requires them to do so. Our goal is to give the Na’aleh participants a taste of both that responsibility and the pride of realizing that they, too, can accomplish more than they might imagine.
The program familiarizes participants with the camaraderie and sense of responsibility which the IDF teaches its soldiers and commanders, the fact that the IDF sees itself as the army of the Jewish people as well as the State of Israel (e.g. Entebbe, the Ethiopian aliya and other less well known operations), the values defined by “purity of arms,” i.e., the many steps taken to limit harm to enemy civilians even at the price of putting our own soldiers at risk, and includes an introduction to a variety of combat and non-combat units in which very young soldiers are given enormous responsibility. The “seminar” began on Sunday at the Kastel- one of the key battles of the War of Independence, and included meetings with IDF graduates from different units, a lecture and workshop on combat ethics, group building exercises used by the IDF elite units to encourage improvisation and creativity, and “training” in skills such as camouflage and navigation, and a variety of mental and physical challenges. We do not use any firearms on the program- leaving that to those who chose to make a longer commitment to defending the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
Ironically, during the first two days of the program we stayed at a “real” hotel in Neve Ilan on the outskirts of Jerusalem, so that were were able to have air conditioned rooms for the intellectual side of the program and ample space in the Judean Hills for the more active elements. This afternoon, we left the hotel to bivouac in a forest near Ein Karem just outside Jerusalem, and for the rest of the day, we will be running the group through a variety of exercises. During this part of the program we give out real IDF uniforms and create a slightly more “military” environment. The program culminates tomorrow morning with a stretcher-bearing march through the woods followed by a ceremony, a summary session, and one of the best breakfasts of the summer.
I visited the group during one of the activities yesterday afternoon (see below- the idea was to figure out how to throw an unboiled egg as far as possible without breaking it). As you can see, the group was enthusiastic and cooperative. The only problem we faced is that about 1/3 of the group came down with a 24 hour virus over the weekend. We hope to overcome that challenge as well and are keeping a close watch on everyone.
I am on my way now to check on the program first hand and will try to send you more pictures.
All the best,
You can see highlights on video by clicking here