It was at the end of the 1980s that the first pre-military academies were established in Israel to train young high school graduates destined to join the IDF and to develop a sense of social reliability and civil leadership among them. It is a clear path: the young high school graduates join the pre-military academy, postpone their military service and join the IDF a year after their classmates.

Soon enough it was clear that the academies are a powerful educational tool; however, another issue arose: the academies are mainly drawing high school graduates of strong communities from central Israel, manly youth movement graduates. Young men and women of other communities, feeling detached from the Israeli society and avoiding even trying to feel a part of it, did not join this world: boarding school graduates, underprivileged (socially or financially), CIS immigrant youth, Arabs, Bedouin, Hasidic Jews. Some of these are very successful, with outstanding accomplishments, and still feel left out of the entire society and give up on the attempt to influence it in advance.

This realization has brought the Jewish Agency to establish “Ofek” (“Horizon” in Hebrew): a chain of heterogenic pre-military academies in Nitzana, Yerucham, Beer Sheva, Lod, Or Yehuda, Shlomi, Jerusalem, and more.  In the coming up year, 22 academies will start operating, 7 of which are “Kol Ami” academies, where 50 percent of the members are local Israelis and the rest come from around the world. Regulations require that all of them will join the IDF or enroll in a National Service program.

“We keep making sure these academies are not therapeutic but a leadership catalysator,” says Dana Zachs, head of the program. “It’s a very demanding path that requires the members to wake up early, run, volunteer, navigate, work outside. On the other hand, we try to be sensitive and to reach those who wouldn’t have done this if it wasn’t for ‘Ofek’.

“The academy is transforming the lives of these young men and women. If a young girl, born to an Ethiopian immigrant family, fulfills her dream of becoming a military social worker, a sports instructor or an infantry corps trainer, instead of being a driver for two years, she is discharged from the IDF completely different from the way she joined it and has a much better chance of doing well in her civic life too.

“Our goal is very ambitious,” Zachs explains, “we want to show that leadership doesn’t necessarily come from youth movement graduates. We encourage young men and women who come from an underprivileged background to take their leadership stand – for themselves and for the entire society. We ask to revolutionize the idea of Israeli leadership, and we succeed: according to the statistics we get from the IDF, our success rate is equal to those of the conventional academies”.

On 2018 “Ofek” received a donation of 100,000 USD, used to fund outdoor activities, workshops, and lectures.