“To live with a view of undisturbed nature; to wake up to a dreamy sunrise; to enjoy a social life that doesn’t exist anywhere else: moonlit hikes, cool jam sessions, a community pub, potluck meals and most of all – great friends that will always be there for you.” Sound too good to be true? The students living at the Rimonim Student Village in Binyamin say that this is an authentic description of their reality.
There are a variety of diverse students who live at Rimonim: half are secular and half religious, and 70% of them didn’t grow up on the other side of the Green Line, while 30% are “locals.” Some are married, some single, and they are pursuing different degrees at different academic institutions. So what do they have in common? The desire to be socially active and the dream of meaningful, vibrant community life.
The Target Audience: Young Adults in Search of Social Activity
The Rimonim Student Village is one of seven student villages scattered across Israel, from north to south. It is part of the Kedma program, which aims to develop village-style communities in Israel. Rimonim is the first village that was founded by the project. We caught up with Tirael Cohen, founder of the Kedma program, for a conversation about the universality of values such as giving, community life and the desire to be part of a group that acts as a supportive, accepting family unit.
Tirel, you are very young – how have you already managed to establish a network of youth villages?
Yes, I’m 24 but I’ve had time to think about the things that are important to me. I’ve already earned a BA in Journalism from Tel Aviv University and an MA in Public Policy from Hebrew University. Due to my attraction to the Binyamin region and my realization that young adults in this region need a place to develop, I decided to found the first youth village while I was pursuing my BA.
Why establish a student village specifically in Binyamin? Did you grow up in this area?
No. I grew up near Modiin. But from a relatively young age, I was living in a school dormitory in Maale Levona, in Binyamin. Binyamin is another region in Israel, no different than other regions where we’ve established student villages.
Yet, I’m sure each region has its own unique character and needs. How would you characterize Binyamin?
I’m very connected to the Binyamin region, but I sensed a problem: although there are people here with energy to give and be socially involved, the framework for doing so is missing. This void really bothered me. I noticed that many young adults would like to be involved in social action, but they have nowhere to channel this energy. I realized that after they finish high school or do their National Service/IDF service, if you’re a young woman who isn’t married or isn’t religious, there’s nowhere in this region where you can grow and develop. There’s simply a vacuum.
“I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself”
So that’s the idea that sparked the Kedma project?
Exactly. When I enrolled for BA studies in Journalism at Tel Aviv University, I wanted a framework where I could be involved in social action and be part of something bigger than myself, so I established the first student village with some friends, in Rimonim. The objective of the village is to give young adults a chance to experience community life, give to the community around them and essentially fill the void that existed, by growing and developing together.
How have things changed since then?
Today, our program includes seven villages from north to south, with student villages in Katzrin in the northern Golan Heights, Pnei Kedem east of Gush Etzion, Maale Efrayim in the Jordan Valley, Kibbutz Almog north of the Dead Sea, and Shima in southern Har Hevron. There are hundreds of students involved in our project and active in their local communities – and this is just the beginning.
How was this Israeli idea of “student villages” even born?
Trumpeldor said that the place where one lives doesn’t need to be near the place where one works, but it should be the place where one’s values lie. This is exactly what we are trying to create. In the student village, you can feel your community’s values outside the grocery store, on the way to the doctor’s office and when you go to sleep. We live the value of settling the land. We live the value of community life. We are involved in the value of settling the land as we develop our community. We are connecting to the soil by connecting young adults to village life in the land of Israel.
I heard you also won a prize for the village initiative.
Yes, I won the Moskowitz Prize – “Spirit of Zion.” This prize is awarded to people who put Zionism into action in today’s Israeli society. The prize truly suits the vision of Kedma’s student villages, which is based on values of settlement. I was very excited to hear that I was receiving the prize.
Rimonim Student Village: A Very Heterogenous Community
What types of students come to live in Rimonim?
Most are students at Hebrew University, and usually they are studying in honors programs. They are young adults searching for community-style living. There are religious and secular students, men, women, singles and couples. The community is very heterogenous, which results in really interesting discussions.
From a technical perspective, what are your requirements of the students?
The students receive inexpensive living conditions and even a scholarship of NIS 10,000 for their studies. In exchange, they are involved in individual or group tutoring for children in the greater Rimonim community. Simultaneously, every student is active in a social or agricultural project. We also have a team dedicated to senior citizens, with students who help do repairs in the homes of the elderly in Binyamin, such as plumbing, painting and more. We also run a project to help at-risk youth, with a mobile headquarters that makes rounds in the region once a week.
The Laundromat Pub: A Student Pub for Young Adults in Binyamin
Rumor has it that there’s a place here called “The Laundromat.” What is it?
It’s a pub and meeting place for young adults to hang out in Binyamin. This type of place was really lacking in the region, and it is a home for cultural life where young adults can enjoy culture together. It hosts shows, workshops and meet-ups, and the students are completely responsible for its operation, including serving as the waiters, contacting artists and organizing events. In addition, it is a place to host community events that the students organize.
For example, two weeks ago was the Spring Festival, which was attended by people from all over the region. Many different artists participated in the festival and exhibited their work, a music ensemble performed, and more. Something is always going on.
Are there other social initiatives like yours around?
My feeling is that we are unique around here. It’s an unusual project and I feel that we are doing something that is new and innovative, something Israeli that speaks to the young adults of the communities in this region and to young adults outside this area too. That’s how I see our story. It’s something extraordinary; the Binyamin Regional Council feels that way too, and they support us.
How do you envision life in 2067? Is there hope for a peaceful life?
My wish to us is to be freed from the fences that enclose our minds and become one cohesive and inclusive Israeli society. This is what we have succeeded in creating in Rimonim, and this is what I believe is important for the entire Israeli society.