At Ayanot Youth Village, Heschel Fellows Collaborate to Enhance Sustainability

It is in Noam Sheffer’s job description to dream big. As the director of the Ayanot Youth Village, he works to shape adolescents’ understanding of citizenship, social responsibility, and commitment to their communities and surroundings. Noam had a dream of turning his youth village into a completely sustainable environment, starting with a pre-army Mechina (an Israeli educational program) for environmental leadership, inspired by sustainability values.

During his search for guidance of how to make this project real, he received a recommendation to apply to the Heschel Fellows program, which he did, and was accepted. While at the fellowship, Noam gained knowledge and connections, with his peers and the program’s staff and guest lecturers. To begin with, the first Fellows Hackathon took place in Ayanot Youth Village with the topic – how to transform Ayanot into a leader in sustainability. The two-day Hackathon produced creative ideas that helped Noam develop his initiative.

Noam, who himself grew up within the youth village movement, has an impressive background of public service. He served as a parliamentary assistant to MK Amir Peretz, then as the secretary of Am Ehad Parliamentary faction, the senior advisor at the Prime Minister office and the Histadrut. He speaks highly of his experience at the Heschel Fellowship: “During the entire fellowship I was surrounded by mentors, professionals from various backgrounds who supported me professionally and even mentally during the planning and implementation process. It was priceless, said Noam.”

After almost a year of hard work, Noam is in the final stages of opening the new Mechina, which has become a prime example of collaboration inspired by the Heschel Fellowship. The living structures are Mongolian Yurts, an ecological-energy-saving structure which Heschel Fellows and architects Lilach Raz and Sharon Abramson helped design and build. There is a grey and black water collection system on the premises, which the Mechina participants will use to grow their own foods. The facility is powered up by “The Good Energy Initiative“, established and run by Heschel Alumnus Eyal Biger, which uses Bio-Charcoal.

Once the Mechina is open, participants will live ecologically, grow their own vegetables, work in the organic chicken coop and eat the eggs, learn how to make their own soap and shampoo and experiment with making bio-diesel and compost.

But there is more collaboration coming from Noam, Lilach, and Sharon’s cohort. Maskit Hodesman, a researcher and developer of Educational-Therapeutic Cooking, has joined forces with Noam and will operate a therapeutic cooking kitchen at Ayanot. Maskit has an impressive background, having earned two degrees in History, and she is a graduate of the Mandel Institute Leadership program. Professionally, she works with the Bedouin society as part of her job with the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel, and she mentors teachers about sustainability values and how best to integrate them into the educational system with the Institute for Democratic Education. She also lectures in colleges. Last year, she received a long term grant from the Ministry of Education to develop the educational -therapeutic cooking pedagogy, and she joined forces with Noam to operate her experimental kitchen in Ayanot.

“Educational-therapeutic cooking is an easily accessible tool that can be added to any therapeutic process. It could be a retirement home, a school or any other facility through which teachers can transfer different subject matters, like English, for instance. Through cooking, different memories and experiences arise. I work with teachers to learn how to read the children’s reactions and nuances that rise out of that treatment,” said Maskit.

In Ayanot, students will benefit from taking part in Maskit’s kitchen. She hopes to gain insight that will assist her to develop a toolkit for teachers. “Maskit’s research really demonstrates a wide angle of sustainability since food – growth, health, waste, and social inequality serve as an excellent entry point to explain what sustainability is all about,” says Yoav Egozi, Director of the Heschel Fellows Program.

“I am grateful for the experience at the Heschel Fellowship”, Maskit concludes, ” it had been an amazing collection of people that contributed to one another from each other’s professional background: Neti (Neti Zait, facilitator), added elements of marketing and branding, Dr. Lia Ettinger and Dr. Jeremy Benstein lectured about sustainable foods, and another Heschel Fellow was a food Etymologist,” she continued.

“And of course, I met Noam who opened his big fancy kitchen for me to conduct my research in.”