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A Service Year at Kibbutz Harduf

A Service Year at Kibbutz Harduf Halva the goat reviewing the situation in the goat pen

In Israel, as is well-known, military service is compulsory for everyone who has reached the age of 18. What is not so well-known is the option for Israeli high school graduates to do a Pre-Army Service Year (Hebrew: שנת שירות‎, Shnat Sherut). This is a one-year voluntary service program prior to their service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Contrary to the gap year offered in other countries, the Service Year is entirely devoted to volunteer work, and offers no material reward for volunteers. The Service Year volunteers work full-time in a variety of different civic organizations and projects.

In order to participate in the Service Year program, prospective volunteers must defer their compulsory military service. However, the number of deferments allowed by the IDF is limited, making acceptance into the program selective and competitive.

One of the interesting options offered to these volunteers is working and living at Kibbutz Harduf, located in the lower Galilee. I first heard about this kibbutz when my granddaughter, Einav, applied for, and to her great delight was accepted to do her volunteering Service Year there. She knew, as did all the other applicants, that this was a very sought after option, but she never realized that it would have such a profound effect on her life.

A decorated table made n the workshop of the therapeutic farm with the inscription “I walk upright on the earth welcoming the world and all living beings”

Kibbutz Harduf was established in 1982 and members live according to the anthroposophic philosophy - a lifestyle formulated by Dr. Rudolf Steiner in which health is a combination of mind, body and spiritual balance. The population numbers 600 of which 150 are adults and children with special needs. And this is what makes Harduf so outstanding. The kibbutz has opened its doors and hearts to adults and children who need a place to live and recover. They live and work within the community. The health centers include a home for the rehabilitation of adults with special needs; a center for children and youth who have been removed from their homes and need a new foster family; and a rehabilitation center for people going through or following a mental crisis.

The Service Year volunteers spend two days a week at one of these centers, organizing workshops and activities with the residents. Einav, for example, works with adults with special needs in the workshop of the therapeutic farm attached to the center. This is an opportunity for both sides to get to know each other. The young volunteers are learning how to accept and work with people who are different and Einav, who has never before been presented with a challenge like this, realized very quickly how happy it makes her when she sees what joy she brings to the people she works with. 

Enjoying a lesson in nature

Another interesting aspect of life at Harduf is the Sha'ar La'Adam community project that promotes a Jewish-Arab partnership. The project encourages coexistence with the Arab population in their area, organizing social and educational communal activities. The volunteers contribute by going into the Arab primary schools in the area and assisting the students with their English lessons. They get to know their students and are invited into their homes and Einav reports that her time spent with these kids having fun and learning together has opened up a whole new understanding for her of the Arabic culture and way of life. She teaches them English and her students teach her Arabic! 

Besides all this, the kibbutz members are also pioneers of an organic, vegetarian lifestyle, growing their own organic produce which they also market commercially. The volunteers work in the fields learning the methods of organic agriculture. They particularly enjoy the fun of helping with milking the goats in the therapeutic farm and taking them out to graze - a source of great hilarity! For young people coming from towns in the center of the country this is a new and exciting experience

The volunteers live on the kibbutz in a self-contained "commune" together with young adult volunteers from overseas countries including Germany, the US, Canada and Australia. They live in a separate building as part of the Sha'ar La'Adam project where they run their lives independently, cooking, cleaning and working together. They organize their own work schedules and activities according to guidelines set out by the coordinator of the program, who also directs their afterhours study. Work takes up most of every day, but the evening hours are devoted to enrichment programs, personal development and learning which includes Arabic lessons, coexistence classes, and self-awareness workshops. Of course for young adults just out of school, the social side of life in a commune is very important, and it is so much fun that even on the coldest night having to go outside to a separate building in order to shower is seen as no problem at all!

One of the features of anthroposophy communities and educational facilities is the encouragement of performance arts and in keeping with this the volunteers perform plays and make music together. They are at present working on two plays that they will be performing for the Arab kids in the neighboring villages. The emphasis is always on the arts, nature and the imagination. The activities take place in a communal space which is still only partially complete and for which the volunteers are running a crowd-funded campaign to raise money for its completion.

A view of the kibbutz from the communal building

I was lucky enough to be invited to a family day where I toured some of the workshops, the organic vegetable gardens and the goat pen in the therapeutic farm where we were introduced to Einav's favorite goat. For me, meeting the young people involved in this very exceptional Service Year program, as well as their dedicated coordinators was an eye-opening experience. It was inspiring to hear the volunteers describing how living on Harduf has given new meaning to their lives and provided them with a much broader perspective on who they are and what they are capable of doing and learning.

How good it is to know that such a worthwhile opportunity to live, learn and volunteer in such a nurturing environment is available for young people who wish to contribute to society before joining the army.

Pre-Army Service Year - Wikipedia

Pioneers of an Organic Lifestyle 

Crowd funding for  the Community Center



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Thursday, 25 July 2024

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