A new mechina pre-army program for Ethiopian Israelis was recently founded as a branch of the Bnei David mechina in Eli. Derech Avot (Way of the Fathers) combines preparation for IDF service with learning about the legacy of Ethiopian Jewry.
A pre-army mechina is an educational program that helps prepare recent high school graduates for their IDF service, concentrating on the development of leadership skills and volunteering.
The program is headed by Rabbi Lior Nagesa and has 31 young people from all over Israel, children of olim (immigrants to Israel) from Ethiopia.
“The mechina was founded following an identity crisis among the second generation of immigrants from Ethiopia,” said Nagesa. “On the one hand, [this generation] is not connected to the legacy of its ancestors and wants to be a part of Israeli society; on the other hand, many feel that society does not accept them.”
Nagesa said that he also experienced an identity crisis when asked to talk about the Sigd holiday in the officer’s course. “I did not know much and then I remembered my mother’s aliyah story. Esther, a prisoner of Zion, was in Ethiopian prison for a year and a half for trying to make aliyah.”
The rabbi said that the positive response of his friends in the course to his mother’s story moved him and made him want to learn more about his roots.
When a wave of protests broke out following the police killing of Ethiopian Israeli Solomon Tekah in 2019, it was a breaking point for Nagesa. “We gathered, four friends from different parts of our lives; all of us rabbis and children of immigrants from Ethiopia, educators who are connected to our roots and the younger generation,” he said.
“We talked about the identity crisis and came to the conclusion that the right platform is a pre-army mechina that will give young people values and prepare them for meaningful service in the IDF and at the same time emphasize our roots.”