A year in Israel on the Netzer shnat programme

By Kathryn Henning
A year of Netzer and Progressive Jewish education. A year of making fantastic, lifelong friends. A year of experiences that no one else will quite understand. A year to find out who you are, where you want to go in your life, what kind of person you want to be. The freedom to make your own choices, your own mistakes.
Shnat Netzer (Hebrew for Netzer Year) is a programme of Progressive Jewish education and leadership training for post-matrics, offering a variety of different activities in different parts of Israel. This year, two youngsters from Beit Emanuel went on shnat, myself and my friend Lily Manoim. We arrived back at the end of November.
I spent the first four months of Shnat Netzer on the Etgar programme, which is run by the Progressive movement. I was living with 13 other teenagers from around the world- Spain, Germany, Australia, America and the UK – sharing an apartment in Jerusalem overlooking the Old City. We lived, volunteered and had study sessions together, learning about Judaism, Israel’s history, Zionism, Netzer’s Ideology and leadership. Not to mention all the Asefot (meetings) we had to have about who isn’t doing the dishes and what to have for dinner.
Lily, on the other hand, attended Machon L’Madrichim, on the other side of Jerusalem, where participants live in dorm rooms and have lectures on a wide variety of subjects from some of the best teachers in Israel. Because all the Youth Movements from around the world take part in Machon, the social aspect is quite different. You get to meet and have discussions with many more people, lots of whom have different religious beliefs and political views.
For the next three months we did voluntary work – for example soup kitchens – in Karmi’el, a small town in the North of Israel. Here we had to build a life for ourselves by making bonds with the Reform Community of Karmi’el.
From the far north we headed down to the deep south, at Kibbutz Lotan, an eco-friendly Progressive kibbutz that does organic farming in the desert. We started work at 5.00am each day, harvesting dates, milking the goats, even cleaning the toilets. We got to experience the magic of Sukkot, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Simchat Torah in the original Israeli context, where everything made much more sense than at home in the southern hemisphere.
Scattered throughout the year were different seminars and fantastic hikes over several days in the North and South of Israel and through the desert. We also got to explore the country on both organised tours and by ourselves.
This year I learnt a lot. More than I could have learnt from books or teachers. I feel that I’ve come back from this as a better version of myself.

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