I am currently sat in a lounge in Jerusalem surrounded by peers from Australia, South Africa and other parts of the UK, the sun is shining through a mix-match of colourful curtains and there is an array of guitars, board games and books spread about the place; we are in our Etgar ﬂat. ‘Etgar’ directly translates from Hebrew as ‘challenge’ and is the name of the section of the Netzer gap year programme (Shnat Netzer) that I have just begun. Sitting in my new home, surrounded by new friends and new challenges, I have time to reﬂect on my experience so far.
We started our Israel journey on Kibbutz Lotan - an ecological, Reform Zionist kibbutz located in the Arava valley in the south of Israel. The picturesque landscape, along with the ideologically-driven kibbutzniks we were surrounded by, provided an inspirational beginning to our me here. We started each day with a peer-led Ma’amad (creative prayer service) before aending discussions and classes on topics such as ecology, Reform Zionism, Progressive Judaism and Hebrew. As well as these classes, we also partook in practical sessions such as working in the Kibbutz date ﬁelds, composing and building a mud wall for the Nursery. In between these activities we got to know the people of Lotan during communal meals in the Cheder Ochel (Dining room), my favourite being Shabbat dinner after a lovely Kabbalat Shabbat service in the synagogue. This constant sense of community and care for one another set the group up well for our move to the North, after having lived on Kibbutz for a month.
At the beginning of December, our group packed up our belongings, squished them into a minibus and made the ﬁve hour journey to the other end of Israel. Once there, we setted into a large house in a Moshav called Meona and began the section known as ‘Tikkun Period’ (Repairing period). Over the following weeks we all took part in volunteering work, some of us attending High Schools (both Arab and Jewish), while others volunteered with younger children in Primary Schools and a Kindergarten. Throughout our me volunteering, we had the special privilege of getting to know both Arab Israelis and Jews and hearing opinions from peripheral areas of Israel on topics such as the conﬂict, the distribution of resources between central areas of the country and the periphery, as well as what it’s like to live on the border with Lebanon. We were able to gain extra insight into the reality of living on the border every Wednesday, when we would visit a different Moshav, most of which were situated only a matter of metres from Lebanon. Whilst there, we ran activities with the children, learnt about the history of the Moshavim and ate dinner with families who opened up their homes to us Before we knew it, it was once again me to pack up our things and move to another part of Israel. This me we were headed to the heart of the country - Jerusalem. We were greeted in the holy city by twelve Australian Netzerniks and one member of Netzer South Africa, having recently arrived in Israel.
Whilst this period meant new and exciting opportunities, it also brought with it a big change to group dynamics; six of our original group decided to take part in the Etgar programme, along with ten members of the southern hemisphere kvutzah (group), while the rest enrolled in the alternative option called ‘Machon’. Machon offers a university style educational programme, with members of multiple Youth Movements from around the globe living in halls. During Machon, participants attend lectures on a variety of subjects such as Jewish Studies, Hadracha (leadership) and Gender studies. Mechinat Etgar also provides education to its participants, but uses an informal approach to teaching and heavily focuses on creang an intentional community and living out Netzer ideology (Etgar differs from Machon in the sense that it is an option only for members of Netzer Olami). The ﬁrst week of Etgar has ﬂown by, and we have just settled into the ﬂat we will be living in for the rest of our me in Israel. We spent the days prior to this sleeping in a large Bedouin tent in the desert, after days of hiking and laying down the foundations for the journey our group is about to embark on. We all arrived back in Jerusalem feeling inspired and motivated about the period of me we are just beginning, excited for the precious memories we’ll all share in this communal living space, full of anticipation for the education we are about to receive, and motivated to help each other grow into beer madrichim (leaders) for the Progressive Jewish movement in our communities back home.