Q&A with Amy Schey


Hilah Kohen

By Hilah Kohen

In Israel, a high school student’s next step isn’t college or a career; it’s mandatory military service. Amy Schey ’13 moved to West High in 2009, and returning to Israel for military duty would cause her permanent resident status to expire. Instead, Schey is participating in an intensive, ten-month preparatory program known in Hebrew as a mechina.

For the past five months, Schey has lived with 49 other young adults. They form a micro-society in which every participant is a joint leader and members coordinate every aspect of daily life, from food to transportation. The program aims to bolster self-discipline, independence, and leadership skills while providing opportunities for community service. I caught up with Schey when she returned to Iowa City for a short break in the program. Below, you’ll find highlights from our interview. Here, you can view photos of Schey’s new life.

Amy Schey '13 shows off her gear before a trip to the Negev Desert. View more photos here.
Amy Schey ’13 shows off her gear before a trip to the Negev Desert.

On day-to-day life in the mechina

“We have famous lecturers from all over Israel. They talk about political issues: the Orthodox against non-Orthodox issues, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, all those issues, and we kind of have to come up with solutions and ideas … We yell at each other, we have debates and discussions, we say, ‘No, you can’t do that!’ It’s so intense; I love it. We debate everything, and it’s really cool. It opens our minds; we see the world differently, and it matures us in a way.”

“Three times a week, we have really hard-core physical activity, like army basic training. We run a lot, push-ups, sit-ups, a lot of exercise … it’s mostly running outside. And it’s in the desert … it’s really hard.”

“A couple weeks ago, I was in charge of a navigation team. I had to remember the whole map by heart; all you have is a compass, and you have to try to get from one point to the other to get dinner, … we had to get to that point or we wouldn’t have food … I didn’t know I could navigate, know all these terms, know which way to go. It was really cool.”

“I sleep three to four hours a night [during the program]. Sometimes, I sleep one hour a night. One time I went to sleep at 6:30 in the morning and woke up at 7:30 [for a sports session]. On weekends, I really sleep the whole time. I see how tired I am.”

On the moral dilemmas she has encountered

“A lot of [Israeli] weapons get to Africa. That’s part of [Israel’s] income, and Israel is against war and against all that; I don’t know why we do it, that’s one thing that really bothers me. [My group talks] about it a lot … [It comes] really close to my heart. I was like, ‘What are you doing? Why are you doing this?’ It really shouldn’t be that way … We’re trying to figure out a way to talk to the government about it, but obviously, we can’t change that; it is a big income for Israel.”

“They took us to Sderot, and we saw Gaza, we saw Gaza City. We were in Israel, we could see the sea, and in between, there’s Gaza. I couldn’t believe how close it was … We went to the Golan Heights, and … we could see bombs going off in Syria. We could hear people screaming.”

On the ways in which she and her group try to make a difference

“We volunteer. Twice a week, we meet with Holocaust survivors and we go and talk to them and do stuff with them. They struggle, and we don’t have too many Holocaust survivors left. I hear their stories, and we’re building a book with all the stories.”

“We’re 50 kids, so we have a say. We’re 50 kids who do something for the country, so the [Israeli people] view us as very important people for them. They listen to us, and they listen to what we have to say … [Our group figures] out a solution together with help to find out what’s possible, where the money comes from … We usually find a way because we’re a big team, and we can bring it together with our different backgrounds.”

“There’s an intersection in the street right in front of our kibbutz … There have been three or four accidents since we’ve been there, and we’ve only been there for five months … We thought, ‘OK, listen, this is crazy; we have to do something about it.’ … [Right now,] there aren’t even traffic lights, and there’s a lot of traffic going through there. We decided the best solution is to make a roundabout. We called the regional councilor … We said, ‘Listen, this is something that really bothers us; what can we do about it? Can we build a roundabout?’ She said, ‘I think it’s a possibility.’ … In the next couple months, we’re probably going to build it. We’re going to build it ourselves.”