Central to the Shalem experience is a belief that participants should know Israel as residents – not solely as tourists. It is this commitment to exploring Israel and living as a member of Israeli society that guides every aspect of the program. Israel is the Holy Land of the Jewish people and its significance to us is great. It is here that every Jew should feel at home. Though Israel is small in size, it is expansive in terms of its diverse communities, regions, history, cultures, architecture, archaeology and traditions. There are miracles that happen here on a daily basis and the spiritual magic that surrounds this country is worth experiencing firsthand.
The Shalem experience is enhanced by the time students spend volunteering, learning and speaking Hebrew, traveling all over the country and living with fellow participants in their own apartments. Rather than spending a year seeing Israel solely through the window of a classroom, Shalem participants become intimately involved with Israeli communities and develop deep understandings of what it means to live in Israel. By living independently, often for the first time, and learning to shop, commute and share space with roommates, participants develop important life skills that help them far after their time in Israel.
Living with roommates in an apartment is a new experience for many Shalem students and it helps each participant develop life skills that will serve him/her well in Israel and in life after Shalem.
All apartments are single-sex and the number of students in each apartment varies depending on the size of the living quarters. Apartments are outfitted with basic furniture, cooking utensils,
and internet access. Each apartment receives a stipend and is responsible for shopping and cooking together. At the beginning of the year, students are oriented to the community, local shopping establishments, bus routes, shuls, and other relevant information about the neighborhood. In addition to a myriad of volunteer placements and learning opportunities, Shalem is enhanced with a variety of cultural events, seminars, Shabbat hospitality and activities with Israeli peers and adopted families. The Shalem schedule includes weekly kvutzah (group) meetings run by madrichim, weekly siyurim (field trips or excursions) and free evenings and weekends during which students are encouraged to explore on their own, and increase time spent in the Beit Midrash.
The best way to understand Israel’s diverse history, culture and geography is to live as a member of Israeli society. Over the course of the program, each Shalem participant lives on a religious kibbutz, then in Jerusalem, and in the final semester opts to go back to the kibbutz or serve in the Marva army program.
The Kibbutz movement has been a focal point of Jewish development in the land of Israel since the early 1900’s. Shalem takes students off the standard tourist path and enables them to take advantage of the wide variety of cultural encounters and unique living situations otherwise unavailable to them. Living on a kibbutz, they have the opportunity to assist Israeli kibbutznikim with daily activities and to partake in the special circumstances that arise in a collective religious community.
Founded in 1929, Kibbutz Yavneh is located in the Southern coastal region, three miles east of Ashdod. The founder of Kibbutz Yavneh dreamed of building a cooperative community and building a religious study center in the tradition of ancient Yavneh, an ancient city which became a Jewish spiritual center after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Yavneh’s population is approximately 900 people, consisting of 400 members, 250 children, and 250 volunteers. The primary languages spoken are English and Hebrew. In the summer, the climate is hot and humid, while in the winter cool and rainy. Yavneh is proud of its agriculture which includes field crops, such as cotton and fodder, fruit tree orchards, such as olives and avocados, poultry houses, and the largest poultry incubator in the country, as well as a large cow shed. Industrially speaking, Kibbutz Yavneh holds the second largest canning factory in the country as well as the only watch manufacturing company in Israel.
Services on the kibbutz include a dining room, kitchen, children’s houses, laundry and sewing room, carpentry shop, metal shop, garage, electrical and plumbing facilities, a mini-market, hair dresser, and specialty shops. Yavneh’s leisure accommodations are also fun-filled. There is a large outdoor sports area, a swimming pool, and a closed circuit TV. Participants are invited to take part in all cultural and festival events, and enjoy Shabbat with the special flavor unique to a religious kibbutz.
The largest city in the country, Jerusalem is a multi-cultural melting pot comprised of residents from a myriad of different religions, cultures and ethnicities. While in Jerusalem, participants are given a monthly bus pass that allows them to explore Israel’s capital city and participate in weekly siyurim and a wide range of volunteer placements and chessed projects. Jerusalem is also a wonderful place to spend Shabbat and chagim with more synagogues per capita than any other city in the world. Students are encouraged to take advantage of all the art, theater, music, sports, museums and cultural centers that Jerusalem offers. While in Jerusalem, participants have the opportunity to live in suite-style apartments in Baaka, the heart of this majestic city and learn well in the Shalem Beit Midrash, Beit Knesset and classrooms. Laundry facilities are available within walking distance of all Shalem apartments. Additionally, there is a fully-equipped gym, including weight machines, free weights and treadmills, with the option for separate times for men and women.
Army Experience – Marva
One of the ways to truly understand Israeli society is through military experience. While on Shalem, participants can choose to take advantage of an Army experience through Sar-El and Marva. As part of Sar-El, participants spend one month volunteering and living on an army base in order to help and better understand Israeli society through interactions with soldiers. After the month with Sar-El,
participants continue on to Marva, the army program run by the Israeli Defense Forces. (Marva is not part of the IDF and is not considered actual army service). Marva is an 8-week program and each week is dedicated to a different topic. The participants go through physical and emotional army training. They wear uniforms and are under military discipline and rules. The army program includes weapons training, learning survival skills, field operations, self-defense, topography and navigation, meeting Israeli soldiers and observing live drills with different army units. It also includes learning about famous battles in Israeli history and familiarizing themselves with the different units in the Israeli Defense Forces. While training, students will continue their spiritual growth, davening, learning, and partaking in the important mitzva of defending Am Yisrael.