Acharai: What Kind of Leader Am I?

This activity encourages campers to explore their own leadership qualities through a discussion about the Israeli army. By reading a story about a young commander in the IDF, campers will reflect on their own capabilities to be a leader at camp and in their communities by discovering similarities between their own leadership qualities and the commander's leadership qualities.

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Core Learnings: 

At the age of 18, Israelis enter the army -- men serve 3 years, women serve 2
Israeli 18-23-year-olds serve in the army and play important roles as leaders
In the Israeli Army, officers physically lead their troops into battles (Acharai - "follow me")
Israeli officers lead to serve as role models and out of a sense of responsibility for their troops


Stage 1: Crossing the Lava Pit   

  • Split the campers into two or more groups of at least 5 people.
  • Give each group pieces of paper or cardboard totaling half the number of people in the group plus one. For example, a group of 5 should receive 3 pieces of paper.
  • Tell the campers: Your goal is to get your entire group across a “lava pit”. Your pieces of paper are your "rocks" and will help you reach the other side.
  • Rules of the game: You must be touching the “rocks” at all times. You may pick up a “rock” in your hand and send it backward in the line. If a “rock” is left untouched by either a hand or a foot, then it will be “swept away” by the “lava”. If someone is caught in the “lava”, then they are either blindfolded or told to go to the back of the line.
  • The first team to successfully cross the lava wins.
  • When the teams have completed the activity, gather everyone together into a circle to "debrief" the experience.
  • Debriefing Questions:
    • What was this experience like? How did you accomplish this task?
    • Did you all work together? Did anyone stand out as a leader?
    • What qualities do you think make a good leader? It might be helpful to think about a specific example of a leader you have encountered or worked with.
    • What actions do good leaders take? How do you know if someone is a good leader?
    • How do people become good leaders? Is it something that is learned or something you're born with?

Stage 2: Connection with Israel

  • Ask the campers: Do you think that Israelis think of leadership in the same way that we do? Why or why not?
  • Make sure to have people support their opinion by using specific examples from times that they have interacted with Israelis or things that they already know about Israeli culture.

If someone mentions the army, then talk about differences between the Israeli army and the American army:

  • Ask the campers: Does anyone know anything about the American army -- its ranking system, and how generals, commanders, or other high-level officers function within the army?
    • Explain that in the American army, the ratio of senior officers to combat troupes is 1:5 and in most situations, the senior officers command from afar while their infantry is on the ground.
    • In the Israeli army, the ratio of senior officers to combat troops is 1:9, and in fact, soldiers in the Israeli army all abide by a particular expression: Acharai (after/follow me!).
  • Connect this back to the lava activity.
  • Ask the campers: Do you think this concept of acharai played out in your group activity? Why or why not? Why do you think this concept is important to the Israeli army?
  • Conclude by explaining to the campers that, unlike in most other armies, any Israeli commander must ALWAYS lead his soldiers, not only to be an example, but also because he is responsible for them.
  • Leave the campers to consider a big question: For whom are we responsible? As Jews? As Americans? As citizens of the world? As older campers? etc.

If they don't mention the army, transition immediately into the following:

  • Ask the campers: Does anyone know anything about the army in Israel -- how it is structured, who joins, how long people are in the army, etc.?
    • Discuss how rather than going to college at the age of 18 like we do in America, everyone in Israel joins the army. Boys serve 3 years and girls serve 2 years.
  • Ask the campers: Has anyone heard of Har Herzl?
    • Explain that Har Herzl is the military cemetery in Israel and that many of the ages of the people buried in the cemetery are 18-23. Emphasize the fact that they are very young and explain that these 18-23 year olds are viewed as leaders of Israel. [If you have been to Har Herzl, you should draw upon his/her own experience at the cemetery.]
  • [Insert the above lesson on Acharai here]

Stage 3: True story

  • Say to the campers: We are now going to read a short story of a 23-year-old commander in the IDF.
    • Have campers take turns reading paragraphs of the story. (This is a story about a 23-year-old company commander who had an injured soldier trapped in a house held by a terrorist and had to figure out what to do).  
  • After the story, ask the campers: How did the commander lead his soldiers? 
What are some specific leadership qualities that the commander had?

    • Point out that the commander is only 23 years old, only a few years older than many of us and up until he joined the army at 18, he went to school, hung out with friends, and had similar life experiences.
  • Explain to the campers: we are going to spend a couple minutes in partners reflecting on our own leadership qualities. With your partner, consider: what leadership qualities do you think that you have that are similar to the commander?
    • Give the campers some examples to start them off: 1. "Caring. The commander cared about both the injured soldier that was trapped and the rest of his soldiers in the operation. Similar to him, I am a caring person. I care about my family, my friends, my community, my campers etc. 2. Creativity: The commander had to be creative in order to get his injured soldier out of the house. Similar to him, I am creative because...
    • Give the campers 2-3 minutes to discuss these questions in partners.
  • Have campers share what they talked about to the entire group.


  • Explain to the campers: Whether we are commanding a troop or leading an Israeli book club in our school or wearing our Israel t-shirts, or making the choice to come to camp, we are all leaders in our own way and it's important to embrace our individual strengths as leaders in our own communities.
  • End with a conversation about ways to use your leadership skills. Ask the campers:
    • What are some specific ways in which you can use your unique strengths to be a leader at camp? In your own community at home? How can you use the leadership qualities that you have to be a strong voice for Israel at camp? In your own community at home?


Variations in format:

  • Dilemma Situation:
    • Read half of the story and present the situation as a dilemma that the campers will have to solve as a group.
    • After naming all of the different factors in the dilemma (before reading the resolution), ask the campers:
      • What do you think the 23-year-old commander did in this situation?
      • What do you think you would have done?
  • Other options for the Opening Activity:
    • Tarp or Blanket Activity: Ask each group to stand on a large tarp or blanket. The entire group must be on the tarp completely. Once everyone is settled, tell the group that they must flip the tarp over while standing on it, working together.
    • Monster Activity: Ask each group to move as a monster from point A to B (one side of the field to the other). Each person must be connected to the monster, but they are only allowed half the number of hands and feet touching the ground. For example, an 8 person group is allowed 8 hands and 8 feet touching the ground. 
    • Engage other areas of camp/specialists:
      • The opening activity would be perfect to do in different areas in camp, whether it's the ropes course, the waterfront, the basketball court, etc.
  • Focus on Leadership Instead of Army:
    • Opening activity. Gather everyone into a circle, each with a pen (or some other object). The leader raises his/her pen, stands up and begins walking silently to an outside spot where the activity is run. All will follow, some by raising their pens.
    • Activity 2: Divide group into 4-6 people with 3-4 pieces of paper. These become “rocks” which must be used to cross a stream. All the participants must be standing only on the “rocks” and must plan a method to get everyone across.
    • Activity 3: In groups of 3 people, have them use only the “rocks” to design something that represents their Israel. They can tear the card but that is all they have.
      • Debrief: Explain the rationale for each of the exercises, focusing on what was seen and what was learned. Special emphasis was placed on:
        • The qualities and conditions required to be followed
        • Leading by example
        • Teamwork, making room for people to step up
        • Instinct in terms of making the right decisions while thinking on one’s feet
    • The Story from Start-Up Nation:
      • In introducing the army story included in the program outline, ask the participants to consider why such an account was included in the book Start up Nation.
      • Following the reading of the story, brief discussion relating to the qualities of leadership demonstrated and what leading by example means for them, and how might we see it in their roles at camp?

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