Leading Diaspora Jews to do Messima Leumit

By Nancye Kochen, Bogeret of Netzer, Member of Kvutzat Nissan and Shorashim Madricha

Messima Leumit:  A project/mission (messima) that is by and for the nation/people (Am). A messima leumit is a way to answer basic needs for all the people in a society, especially in a time of crisis. Agriculture in Israel has been a Messima Leumit since before the establishment of the State of Israel and continues to be to this day. 

To be a madricha for chanichim from the Diaspora over the last few weeks has not been a simple mission. To navigate how to make the chanichim feel safe, understand the situation and the context of what’s happening; to help them deal with their parents who want them to come home; to help them cope with grief and navigate interacting with their friends at home and online leftist spaces that are unfortunately pretty anti-Israel and antisemitic. It’s a hadracha position I never thought I would find myself in. Having to navigate how to speak and deal with the chanichim, while dealing with the same dilemmas, tensions and emotions that they are facing has been honestly quite challenging.

I am with a heavy heart, deep in mourning, scared. For the first time in my life the conflict and terror in Israel is something I am a part of, experiencing, not just something I see on the news or on Instagram. For the first time I feel deeply part of the Israeli People, and of course the Jewish People. Part of the collective mourning and fear, but also part of the strength and resilience. I see, hear, feel and understand life and people here far more than before.  Through talking with my tzabar friends, kvutza members and movement partners here, while also seeing them go out and do meaningful work in the society at this time, my understanding of the reality and attitudes in Israel has deepened. 

While it is hard to hold all the hurt, there have been moments of hope. There is a strong sense of societal resilience here and I see it every day. It gives me small moments of light. Our chanichim on Shorashim are currently living at Kibbutz Ein Hashofet. I feel so lucky that the chanichim are safe there, that they feel safe enough that they want to stay and be in Israel now, despite the situation. This past week we have gone ahead and run a shavua mataim (working week on the orchards) at Kibbutz Ravid. 

I have been asking myself, why the mataim? Why now? Are there more important things that we could be doing with our time? As this week comes to an end I can confidently say that bringing our chanichim to Ravid, having them work in the orchards together,  was an important thing to happen. It might not seem like the obvious thing to do with chanichim who come from the Diaspora, especially during this time, but it has been a meaningful and important Messima Leumit (national mission). It isn’t the obvious thing to do because these chanichim didn’t come to the shavua mataim with the necessary  skills to do all the labour required, meaning part of the work was also learning how to do the job. It’s also not an obvious thing to do during this time specifically; why take them away from the safe structure of the program on Kibbutz Ein Hashofet, to do difficult manual work harvesting olives and trimming trees in the fields of Ravid? There must be a good, and meaningful reason. 

Working in the mataim under normal circumstances is an opportunity to connect to labour and land, build connections with the group you are working with, contribute to an important and vital industry in Israel and develop personal skills and perseverance doing manually challenging work (something most of us are not used to doing in our day to day lives). During this time, with all the reservists being called up to serve, there is a need for more hands in the day-to-day running of the mata. On top of that, working in agriculture now is an answer to the needs of the food security crisis that has developed since the beginning of the war, with many farms and orchards having been destroyed and agricultural workers being unable to return to work around the borders of Gaza and the Northern border due to the ongoing security situation. Being able to provide the opportunity for our chanichim to partake in this work during this time should not be taken for granted.  

Above all, continuing the program and providing meaningful and educational experiences for our chanichim from the Diaspora is incredibly important right now. To have a strong connection between Israel and the Diaspora is more essential now than ever before, and these chanichim are going to be the leaders and connection between the diaspora and Israel, they will be the ones helping build a strong Jewish People. It is not obvious that the Workshop chanichim would even want to stay in Israel right now, much less contribute and take responsibility over an important industry to society, to do a Messima Leumit. Their choice to contribute, and our choice to lead them through the process of a week at the mataim only strengthens the bonds between Israel and Diaspora.