A Friend Alongside the IDF

According to a 2022 study conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute, the socioeconomic mobility of young Israelis is directly linked not only to the status of their parents but to their “living environment, social sphere, educational investment, and social connections,” with education serving as the primary catalyst in “creating upward mobility of populations from weak economic backgrounds.” By those criteria, neither Nathaniel nor Chen stood much of a chance coming out of their Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) service. Nathaniel, a lone soldier who grew up in an Orthodox family, never advanced beyond secondary school. And for Chen, who was raised by her grandmother with virtually no additional support, simple survival was a struggle. For both, a life of purpose and success beyond the IDF seemed a distant dream.

Nathaniel (right), Amit La’Derech participant

And yet, today, Chen is on the verge of completing her degree in Economics and Real Estate, and Nathaniel is on the way to attaining his master’s degree.

Both would be quick to tell you that it wouldn’t have been possible without Amit La’Derech, one of the Federation’s grantees. Founded in 2013 by two former IDF officers, Natalie Horowitz and Inbal Elisha, Amit La’Derech (Hebrew for “a friend alongside”) helps integrate at-risk soldiers transitioning from the IDF into civilian life. And with over 5,000 soldiers from challenging backgrounds returning to the same high-risk environments from which they came, their services have never been more needed.

Amit La’Derech participants

The support Amit La’Derech provides is all-encompassing.
But it starts with small group and one-to-one mentorship. Upon completing their IDF service (and frequently before), young adults are matched with volunteers who help them “define goals, create personal plans to realize objectives, develop practical skills, and exhaust rights,” according to Amit La’Derech CEO Amit Shapira. “The mentors serve as meaningful figures to the beneficiaries, providing them with empowering interpersonal connections and an outlined plan for what awaits down the road.” That plan addresses everything from employment to education to housing. Moreover, Amit La’Derech provides its beneficiaries with a comprehensive platform that includes emotional support, access to therapy, private tutoring, scholarships, and group sessions covering financial literacy, decision-making, and career counseling.

We are dealing with young people who possess abilities, skills, and motivation to succeed, but simply lack the starting point and opportunities that others from strong family backgrounds or stable financial situations might have.

- Amit La’Derech CEO Amit Shapira

In addition to these core services, Amit La’Derech operates three unique coaching programs: Startline, which advances the integration of young adults into the high-tech industry; Ba’Derech Lemala (On the Way Up), a career counseling program; and Beshvil Ha’atid (For the Future), a long-term mentoring program for members of the Erez pre-military preparatory program for at-risk youth. These young adults are accompanied over a five-year period that begins before their military service and continues well after their release into civilian life.

May we reach every young person who needs a helping hand, knowledge, values, and the ability to find their place in Israeli society.

- Retired IDF General Amram Mitznah

This holistic approach to long-term well-being has led to extraordinary results, with 72% of the participants indicating that their involvement helped advance their education and employment opportunities, 88% reporting a high to very high level of self-capability and self-confidence, 92% of the mentors reporting a positive experience, and 98% of the returning soldiers saying they would highly recommend the program to others.

Amit La’Derech participants

But what fuels this program more than anything is a deeply held belief in Israel’s young people, regardless of their religious, cultural, and socioeconomic background, and a commitment to an inclusive view of Israel’s future.

“It’s the ability to give an equal opportunity to every teen, every young person, and every soldier to progress and reach their goals in life,” said retired IDF general, former mayor of Haifa, and Amit La’Derech board member Amram Mitznah.

Indeed, during this tumultuous time of division and discontent, Amit La’Derech is strengthening Israeli society by demonstrating the power of friendship, inclusivity, and hope.

The Federation partners with Israel’s visionary community leaders, organizations, and philanthropists to strengthen social cohesion and commitment to a shared future in Israeli society. In 2022-2023, the Federation has awarded a total of $1,633,517 to grantee organizations in Israel. This support is made possible through the Federation’s Annual Campaign.

Categories: Israel


August 02, 2023


Jon Moskin