By Erin Kopelow
Nativ director Yossi Garr is standing atop a picnic table. In front of him congregate the record 104 Nativ participants (2 more will be joining the following week), who have just graduated high school and have come to study and volunteer in Israel for one year.
Yossi has dragged his heavy eyed participants, who landed in Israel only a few hours ago, off their buses in order to assemble here by the road that leads to Jerusalem. Although the participants are tired, they are obviously excited and as they stretch their legs conversations begin to ripple though the crowd emitting an energetic hum.
Yossi has stopped at this particular location for a reason. In front of us, he explains, lies Jerusalem. Behind us Tel Aviv. To our right is the Castel, a Crusader fort which saw one of the most defining battles of Israel's war of independence. To our left is a strip mall that contains the first Kosher McDonalds in Israel.
Everyone takes a moment to look around and asses the location in which they stand. As opposed to the Kotel, or the panoramic view of Jerusalem from the Tayelet, or even the comforts of an auditorium, Yossi has chosen to begin Nativ right in the symbolic center of Israel's multifaceted historical and societal nature.
However, Yossi insists that this year is not about emotionally experiencing such aspects of Israel, but rather embarking upon an individual journey.
"This year is about finding your place between the old and new. Getting to know this society for what it is and Judaism for what it means to you."
Yossi concludes by confessing to his participants that by the end of their year here in Israel, they will not have all the answers. They will, however, "be leaving this country able to ask better questions."
Arriving a few hours after Nativ was Project OTZMA, a ten month program for university graduates who come to study, work and volunteer in Israel. Although Nativ is a post-high school program and OTZMA is post-college, participants in each have decided to embark upon a year-long experience in Israel before they take the next significant step in life.
OTZMA participants Jessica Greenmer and Arielle Seidan were both sociology majors in University and admitted they wanted to further explore the field before committing to a masters program, while simultaneously getting a deeper understanding of the social forces at work here.
"When you come on Birthright you see the good stuff. It is important to see what Israeli society really is. That's why we're here," Arielle said.
This year a record 9,000 young Jewish adults from around the world will be coming to Israel on a Masa program. As one Native participant, who is in Israel for the first time, exclaimed, "this is a once in a lifetime opportunity! I had to take part!"