There's a saying in Israel, and it strikes a chord for 20-year-old Mordy Arymowicz.

The day before he flies out of New Zealand to the Middle East, he finds himself reciting it.

"The people build the army, the army builds the people."

Arymowicz, who spent all his high school years at St Kentigern College in New Zealand, is set to join an elite unit of the Israel Defense Forces after spending nearly a year in a special preparation course called mekhina.

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It's a programme he thinks should be offered and subsidised for Kiwis.

"The mekhina in Israel takes young people like me and creates leaders that fix issues in Israeli society, starting in the army and continuing as civilians," he said.

"I think that New Zealand is a wonderful country, which faces problems like lots of other countries. But I also think that a lot of New Zealand's problems are self-caused. A similar gap year program in New Zealand would give young people the desire and the ability to fix them."

The mekhina group, singing and dancing in a circle at their 'swearing in' ceremony. Photo/supplied
The mekhina group, singing and dancing in a circle at their 'swearing in' ceremony. Photo/supplied

Arymowicz, who was born in the US, grew up in Canada, spent four years in Israel and much of his teens in New Zealand, started the programme in September last year.

The idea of mekhina was to "take you out of the environment that you grew up in so that you're in a better position to serve the country".

His days were spent in classes, training, hiking, recruiting, and volunteering.

"I taught Hebrew to Arab kids in a nearby village," he said. "That was pretty exciting to do, that was like a big challenge for me.

"We volunteered two days a week in schools, hospitals, retirement centres; gleaning fields or house cleaning for old, poor people; all without discriminating between Arabs and Jews. Our graduation event was a 10-day hike along the Jordan River, from Mt Hermon to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee.

"I never saw myself as, like, an activist or a volunteering person before. After I experienced doing little things in my own community I was much more interested in what happens around the world and in trying to change that."

It would be "wonderful" if a similar course was offered in New Zealand, he said.

Mordechai Arymowicz was able to hike 'all over Israel' in his time his a pre-army preparation course. Photo/supplied
Mordechai Arymowicz was able to hike 'all over Israel' in his time his a pre-army preparation course. Photo/supplied

Arymowicz will be going on to join the army, as most people in Israel do due to conscription. He is looking forward to the benefits the army will give him, saying he is doing it "not because I want to go out and fight wars - the by-products that happen from the army are the important things".

Only 10 per cent of people in the army are in combat roles, he said, and the rest can choose from a variety of other positions. He could not say what he would be doing for the army, except that it was in an elite unit, but not combat.