Linda Olmert, executive director of Eretz Nehederet – a staunchly Zionist not-for-profit organization celebrating the fact that Israel is truly a “wonderful country,” as its name in Hebrew denotes – is proud of her organization’s most recent initiative: a “well-deserved” trip throughout the country for young men and women upon completion of military service.

The program, Matnat Shichrur – an IDF demobilization gift – is based in Israel and modeled on the popular Birthright trip for young adults from abroad who had never experienced an organized tour of the land of Israel.

According to Olmert, young people are Israel’s most valuable resource, and they deserve to be rewarded with a trip full of fun and adventure. The program’s mission, however, is to “reward them with the gift of their heritage,” reinforcing the Zionist values instilled in Israeli youth throughout their education.

National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau founded Eretz Nehederet in 2006; Olmert runs its Matnat Shichrur program.

Although former IDF soldiers have likely traveled from north to south, there are fascinating sites with profound meaning that most had not seen. An example is the mixed Muslim-Druze town of Peki’in in the north.

When the Second Temple “was literally burning” more than 2,000 years ago, Olmert explained, seven Temple priests and their families gathered whatever possessions they could and fled to the north, settling in Peki’in. Included among the items they took were two panels from the Temple itself.

They remained until 1938, when they were threatened by Arabs and fled to Hadera. Two years later, the Zinati family returned. Yosef Zinati had a son, who left Peki’in a few years later, and a daughter, Margalit, who never married and had no children. On his deathbed about 40 years ago, Yosef told her it was her responsibility to care for the synagogue, where the Temple panels are exposed on two walls. She respected her father’s wishes and has never left.

Ori Shamla, a student of physics and biomedical engineering at the Technion, participated in the May 2012 program and was deeply moved by the Peki’in visit. That same day, he arranged to volunteer, working in Margalit’s agricultural fields that were owned by Jews for thousands of years and in the synagogue. He was thrilled to be offered summer employment this year; among other duties, he leads tours.

Margalit, in her early 80s, is hoping that one of her nephews or nieces will continue her work, Shamla said.

“Apart from the Temple Mount and the Kotel, I think this is the most important part of Israel because it shows the uninterrupted existence of Jews in the land of Israel since the destruction of the Temple,” Olmert said.

Shamla recalls the first day of the Matnat Shichrur program.

“We had all been recently discharged from military service but we didn’t know what to do with our lives. We were in our early 20s. Getting a part-time job as a waiter or at a gas station seemed too ordinary. We wanted to make a difference. It was a great feeling that we were all in this together. There was a sense of unity.”

Besides enjoying a trip of a lifetime, they were inspired by knowledgeable guides and unique individuals who were making a real difference in society, he said. As a result, “we woke up. Everyone was ready to make a renewed commitment to the country.”

Volunteering for the Jewish state “had only begun” in the IDF, Shamla concluded. “The question for all of us, as a result of the trip, became: Where do we go from here to make our own personal contribution?”

Eretz Nehederet is planning Matnat Shichrur’s third pilot program, which should take place sometime in the fall and accommodate approximately 45 participants.

Author: Atara Beck, Senior Writer, United with Israel
Date: Sept 29, 2013