(readers are invited to submit their stories and takes on their Habonim experience) – comments on the HABO2020 Facebook group.
1st Dec 2019
By Paul Mirbach
For ninety years, Habonim (and later, Habonim Dror), has been a part of the landscape for Jewish youth in South Africa. Norman Lurie, inspired by Sir Wellesly Aaron, who founded the Jewish youth movement in Britain, while he was studying at University in the United Kingdom, brought the idea back to South Africa, in 1930. His charisma and inspiration ensured that Habonim quickly grew into the largest, most popular Jewish Youth movement in South Africa in the twentieth Century. Originally, Habonim was envisioned as a scout movement, parallel to Baden Powell’s Scout Movement, and it adopted motifs and facets of the Scouts; embracing a closeness to nature, learning survival skills, uniforms with scarves, toggles, belts and berets and principles of “good citizenship”. However, the historical circumstances of World War II and the establishment of Israel, quickly transformed it into a Zionist movement committed to building the fledgling state and educating South African youth about Israel – and its importance for world Jewry in general and South African Jewry in particular. Lurie was at the forefront of this transition, quickly identifying the importance of linking Habonim to Israel’s establishment, while he served as a war correspondent in Palestine, and the significance of being a Jew in our ancestral homeland, and the visceral feeling of belonging seeped into his bones. True to the fundamental principle that effective and true leadership requires leadership by personal example and action, the adoption of Aliya as a central goal to the movement was as natural to Habonim, as leaves sprouting on an olive tree.
Since those early years, hundreds of thousands of Jewish youth have passed through the shichvot of Habonim Dror, generation upon generation. And, while we may age and grow out of the youth movement, the ethos, the experiences and the education of the movement which shaped our characters, never leave us. It is a part of our identity, to be a boger of Habonim.
Two weeks ago, I participated in a planning meeting for the events to mark the 90th anniversary of Habonim Dror South Africa, HABO 2020, to be held in October next year. There were people there whom I never met. Yet we all had something in common; our love and appreciation for Habonim Dror, and what it meant to us all. There was a feeling of kinship and camaraderie which transcended generations, which is hard to describe. There were people there who knew my father, who is now 88, there were ex shlichim whom I had not seen for forty years, and there were also young men and women who had made Aliya only recently, and who knew my own son, who is a member of Dror Yisrael, like him. It was extraordinary to see thirty odd people with such an age spread, cooperating and working together towards one goal – for the 90th anniversary to be something seminal and meaningful. More than a reunion. Much more than self-congratulation. Perhaps an acknowledgement of what we have achieved and contributed. But also, a desire to look forward; a desire to learn about the Israel of today, the changing expressions of hagshama (ideological achievement and realization) and their validity – and whether they too are true to the Habonim Dror ethos. Perhaps also, “Habonim Dror ledorot” – finding ways for bogrim to continue to fulfill the movement’s ideals and make an impact – or not? I left the meeting inspired, excited, committed. It was like I was back in the movement in Cape Town! And, I began to reminisce about my life in Habonim Dror. This is my story.
Norman Lurie, during his service in Palestine, WWII. (Courtesy IsraeLink)
What does a young boy living in a small town in Southern Africa do on a lazy Sunday morning in the late 1960’s? He gets dressed up in a blue shirt, khaki shorts, a blue and white scarf rolled up with a leather toggle and goes off to the shul complex to be with other young Jewish boys. That was Habonim in Bulawayo, when I was ten. Little was I to know that from those Sunday morning meetings this youth movement would have such a profound influence on my life.
My elder brother, Nick, started going a couple of years before me, and I would remember watching in fascination as he would get dressed in the uniform. I could not imagine what he did there “at Habonim” but it always intrigued me. What I could not understand, although at the time I couldn’t put it into words, was why after an entire week wearing school uniform, would you want to also wear a uniform on a Sunday, your day off? But, he seemed to do it without objection, and that was enough for me to want to do it as well. So, it was with barely concealed excitement that I waited to go to my first meeting.
I loved it. Our madrichim were young and friendly and most of my friends from school were there. It was a fun mixture of learning about tying knots and learning about Israel, but mostly it was the social group that I liked. They tried to teach us Hatikva. I got the tune pretty quick but the words were a mystery. I found myself mimicking sounds which I later learned was gibberish, but nobody corrected me. A couple of years later, I got the words right, but the meaning of the lyrics continued to evade me. What I do remember, was that we would stand in a triangle at the end of every meeting and our madrich would say, “Aleh uvneh” and we would shout back “Aloh Na’ale”. I thought it was a kind of a password, and I felt a sort of pride to be a part of it. As we progressed in years, we started talking about Judaism and Israel more and did less “stuff”, but by that time, I was hooked. That was also where I met my first Israeli. He was a shaliach. He spoke funny, but everyone looked up to him with a kind of awe, so I did too.
“Scarves and berets. Close to nature”. (Courtesy tangential travel)
The highlight, every year, was “Big Camp” – three weeks spent by the sea, with Habonim members from all over South Africa. Imagine a thousand young Jewish teenagers gathered together to build a mini society for three weeks. Just thinking about it again and I feel a twinge of nostalgia. In all, I went to nine camps. Each one more addictive than the last. For those of us living in Rhodesia, the two day train ride down to the Cape was just as much fun as the camp itself. We would pile into the compartments together and pass the time singing songs and playing cards, getting to know new faces, who would later become dear friends. The guitar players ruled the roost and Nick, my talented brother and his friends, held court in his compartment. The corridor was jammed with people, pushing to get closer to the music. We would listen and join in the chorus, while we rocked to the clicketty clack of the wheels on the tracks. I remember standing in the corridor with barely any place to move while they played “Locomotive breath”, and thinking how appropriate as we sang along, feeling the vibrations below us and watched the plumes of smoke in the air. The sense of anticlimax when we pulled into the station, was quickly overcome by the excitement to get to the campsite and reunite with friends whom we had not seen for an entire year. Oh, how I miss those moments of anticipation and reunion.
“Mifkad shichvah at Machaneh” (Courtesy elirab)
I had my first crush on a madricha at Machaneh. Her name was Joanne and I was inafatuated with her. Whenever we broke off into discussion groups, I would feel a pang of disappointment when I was allocated to another group. But, when I was lucky enough to be in her “sicha”, most of the time I found myself stealing glances at her, marveling at how she sat, her exquisite posture and the way she led the discussion. I think it was her presence which made me take an interest in the subject of discussion, just to impress her. At least, that was how it started.
How can I describe the experiences at Machaneh adequately? The feeling of togetherness and friendship was intoxicating. “The group” took on a life of its own and I yearned to be a part of it. As we grew older, the discussions became more serious as we delved deeper into issues of Zionism and social justice, Socialism and Judaism. It was a living, thriving educational experience which we went through together, forming bonds to the movement, its ideology and each other, into a oneness that for three weeks became my entire universe. It usually took me about a week to recover after machaneh. I pined and yearned for that feeling of us all together. I missed my friends and the atmosphere terribly. I would spend hours lying on my bed, remembering people and experiences with a nostalgia so intense, that sometimes tears welled up in my eyes. I resolved to go to the next one almost immediately after the last one finished.
“Waiting for Mifkad to start at Machaneh” (Courtesy Facebook).
My relationship with Habonim deepened dramatically when I was sixteen. As the situation in Rhodesia went from bad to dire, the Rhodesian government passed a law requiring all young men aged sixteen to register for the army. Acutely aware of the inevitable outcome of the war, and the impossible situation of serving in an army fighting against a cause which I believed was right, while at the same time having to deal with terrible antisemitism among my “comrades”, I grabbed at the opportunity to leave Rhodesia to finish my studies in Cape Town. The thing about small town life for one growing up there, is that the sense of security, of everyone knowing everyone keeps you blissfully naïve. Suddenly I found myself left to my own devices in a big city, not knowing anyone and with no one to rely on emotionally. Except for Habonim. Habonim was my safety net. It became my support system. I cannot exaggerate the role the movement had in the development of my character in those initial two years away and how it enveloped me in a cocoon of warmth and security. I’m not even sure that people knew that they did that, and that is what is so special about it. The Shlichim in Cape Town, the amazing Yossi Lior and Michael Lanir became sort of surrogate parents. Whenever I needed someone to talk to, they listened. When I needed advice, they gave it. While at University, and as a madrich myself, I delved deeper into its ideology and became committed to “the cause”. From about thirteen I knew I wanted to live in Israel, but Habonim gave me purpose and direction.
Perhaps the most valuable attribute that Habonim gave me however, was that it taught me to think critically and not to be afraid to think differently to others. For example, at a meeting one Friday night, a member of the leadership, whose opinion was well respected, equated making Aliya to anywhere other than to kibbutz as “second class”. I was incensed. “How arrogant”? I thought. There is a difference, I thought, between giving ideological guidance and judging people, and he crossed the line. I went straight home and wrote a scathing article for the movement’s weekly paper, criticizing him and his fellow “Aliya garin” members for their arrogance. I questioned their ability to lead, if they were intolerant of others’ thoughts and beliefs. When it came to signing the letter I lost my nerve. So I signed it with my initials P.E.M. I suppose you could say the article caused ripples. For about two weeks, people went round asking who was this PEM guy. I was found out, eventually and was summoned to a meeting with the “ba-Koach” (city head) and the shaliach. With my stomach churning and fearing that I was about to lose my safety net, I went to the meeting. As I entered Yossi’s office, my article was lying on his desk. “Did you write this?” he asked. With a tremulous voice and a dry mouth, I admitted to writing the article, fully expecting to be told to leave Habonim. He nodded his head and then said, “How would you like to be editor of our paper”? Tears filled my eyes with relief and emotion. And, that’s how I got my nickname.
Ironically, after that, I became enamored with the idea of kibbutz. At first I imagined it was a sort of perpetuation of the kind of community and togetherness of Machaneh which I loved, and that is what drew me to it. Later as I learned more about socialism and the allure of making a difference as a Zionist, my resolve to live out my ideals strengthened.
In 1982, together with my own “Aliya garin”, I made Aliya to kibbutz Tuval, in the Galilee. It is my home, which I built together with my committed friends and comrades. Now, after 37 years, it is my little corner of Paradise. No, kibbutz is not a perpetuation of Machaneh and I have moved to the community section, no longer a member of the kibbutz, but I still love it and the community life. And I have Habonim to thank – for this and so much more.
From October 18 -23 HABO 2020 is organizing a Kaleidoscope tour of Israel, with a program which will provide in-depth insights into the issues and challenges Israel faces today. Any and all Bogrim, from Israel or overseas, are invited to take part. On October 23 and 24 weekend, the ultimate get-together, HUG, will take place. The atmosphere promises to be electric. Remember the excitement we felt just before going to Machaneh? That’s what I’m feeling right now. Wouldn’t you want to feel that, and experience the intoxicating atmosphere of Habonim Dror’s hevruta one last time? I do, and I hope to see you there.
Aleh Uv’neh! Who will answer?
October 18 – 24, 2020.
15th Sept 2019
OK, so here’s the thing. Habonim Dror is nearing ninety. The movement has gone through so many cycles, that it can make you dizzy. Even the question of Israel and practical Zionism, although a constant from about 1946, after the horrors of the Holocaust were revealed to all, by at its inception, was Israel even central to Habonim? And how does this link to our political outlook over the generations? This is a sort of a nature-nurture question. I ask you all to think about this.
Let me try to explain with a sort of an overview. From my perspective:
In the Thirties, Habonim was formed as a scout movement, with all the trappings and principles of the original Scouts; ropes, gadgets and lashings, scarves and toggles (even berets!), badges for proficiency. At camps there was an emphasis on building out own gadgets, with prizes for suitcase racks, showers, tree houses etc. Survival skills were taught (I still remember some, like using a plastic bag and a hole in the ground to collect water). Question: How much of this was because Jews were not accepted into the national Scout movements in the country? Or, was it in order to form strong social bonds among Jews, where the scout trappings were the medium in order to do that.
In the Forties, I think that all changed, with the Second World War. Some bogrim joined the South African Armed Forces and went to fight in North Africa. I heard there was an ex Haboim member who was decorated for his actions at the battle of Tobruk (I can’t remember his name). Others may have joined the Jewish Brigade. And, how did Habonim operate in South Africa during those years? Can someone enlighten us? I would assume a lot revolved around the news of the Holocaust and partisans.
Post Holocaust and the end of the Mandate Period in Palestine. I think that this is when Zionism came to the forefront of the movement. Am I right? What were the issues, what did the movement’s aims revolve around? Machal and volunteering to fight in the War of Independence? The first Aliya, and the ideology of leadership by example and halutziut was probably formulated in these years. Also, the connection to kibbutz, I would think.
The Fifties. These were the pre-apartheid years. They were also the years of the formulation of Israel with the imperatives to build the country, and secure its borders. The framework for these goals were Kibbutzim, and probably this is how Habonim’s connection to Labor Zionism began. (Can someone clarify)?
During the fifties, part of the kibbutz movement broke with its connection to Soviet Russia, and it split between the Kibbutz HaMeuchad, who remained “communist” and Ichud Hakibbutzim, which eschewed communism but maintained its Labor Zionist ideology, with a stronger emphasis on Zionism. My question, is what were the prevailing political views of our members and bogrim during this period? What was our movement’s attitude to coexistence, territorial compromise and peace? Were we more in line with Tabenkin’s philosophy back then (added a wiki for reference), with an uncompromising attitude to Israel’s security and the importance to further the Jewish “domination” of the country?https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yitzhak_Tabenkin
The sixties period is probably split in terms of the movement’s political attitudes, with the legislation of apartheid and Israel’s dire security situation with Fedayeen invaders and Syrian bombardment of the Northen kibbutzim Dan, Dafna, Maayan baruch etc. Arnie Freidman was in a garin to Ma’ayan Baruch. That is the first kibbutz with SA garinim I remember. This was the period of the Tzora garinim, with Steve Hellmann, Benzie Segall, Les Oshry etc These guys were my heroes. When I was editor of Ma Nishma, I would scour past newsletters to read about these guys. The fact that they were shlichim in the years when I formulated my Zionist and Socialist opinions only enhanced that. Tzora and Netiv haLamed Hey etc, at the time was strategically critical, with the Jerusalem corridor on the border with Jordan so close. What were their views on Israeli Arabs and cooperation with the villages near them, I wonder? Has that changed, over the years? How did that period affect their political views – and have they changed over time, becoming more Left Wing over the years?
The seventies saw the Aliya of Garin Hod. Dudi Silbowitz z”l, Neil Fried z”l, legends of the movement like BerniceMilton Kaplan, Paul Horwitz, Ian Lucas, Benny Segal, Eddie Solo, Ruth Mor and so many others. And of course Olim to Israel “clalit”, like Gail Loon-Lustig. What contributions to Israel, this generation made! From the ultimate sacrifice, to building security settlements right next to the West Bank, to medicine and so much more. Surely their experiences influenced their political viewpoints? Garin Hod was in a sense, the watershed garin. These were the formative years of Gush Emunim and the shift in the “moral” value of settlements towards the West Bank (and Golan?).
In the mid-Seventies, Garin Lahav and Garin Yeud were the first Habonim garinim to make Aliya to Israel after Sebastia and the Gush Emunim, like Eilon Moreh and Efrat, as well as other settlements, but more tellingly of a Likud government, where Israel, as an army, rules over another people, with all the moral dilemmas that go with that. Jonny Swerdlow, Jules Nochomowitz, Jonathan Zausmer, Mindy Roothstain, – all influential people in my ultimate decision to make aliya. Oh, and Bing Graham. Who can forget that giant? This was also the garin of the Soweto Riots and the death of Steve Biko, in South Africa. In these years, how much was the influence of aliya of the “push” as opposed to the “pull”? And those who came because of the “push” more than the “pull”? Did they stay long?
The Eighties in the sense of Habonim Dror’s education for moral justice and social justice, seems more defined, with the Botha years of the Apartheid government, and the beginning of the sense of moral erosion and the growing rift in Israel, on the issue of the West Bank and Gaza. And, of course the growing political rift in Israel over this (The Golan was never really part of that). It was also the period of the peace treaty with Egypt – and how that influenced our hopes for peace. Kibbutz Tuval – my kibbutz and the garinim of my contemporaries, all dear friends was Habonim Dror’s last kibbutz ya’ad – and my ultimate realization of Tzionut Halutzit. There are two reasons for this, I think: The first is that the Kibbutz Movement, which ever since 1975 was in a wrestling match with Gush Emunim, vying for supremacy of who are the true pioneers and who are settling Israel, came to the conclusion that it could no longer establish a new kibbutz every year. New kibbutzim dried up. The kibbutz movement became bankrupt and abandoned its shlichim program. It lost the battle against the Settlements. At the same time, the ideological aims of Habonim Dror in South Africa shifted. Aliya to kibbutz as a movement hagshama goal was abandoned. What replaced it?
I left South Africa in 1982, so I cannot continue this overview. Is anyone willing to carry on where I left off?
All comments and corrections, insights and debates are welcome. But leave some stuff for HUG!!
HABO2020 is pleased to share this important letter written by Bing Graham in an exchange of notes with Ian Lucas (both living in London) and a response from Jonni Zausmer (living in Israel). Your thoughts and comments on the HABO2020 Facebook group?
I wanted to explain to you a little further the questions and issues we started discussing the other day re Habonim.
As many folks start looking forward and planning this grand celebration and reunion in Israel next year of Habonim South(ern) Africa it struck me there are several issues that should be explored, not least of all: Has Habonim been successful?
I do not know Habonim since leaving Southern Africa in the mid 1970’s, but as I recall Habonim was a Zionist Socialist (in whatever order) youth movement. As such it should be judged by its raisin d’etre surely? How many Habonim folks actually went to live in Israel? How many then made it to Kibbutz?
And following on from there how many stayed on kibbutz let alone Israel?
There will be many that argue that Habonim taught / inculcated a set of values which moulded us and defined our lives, and for this Habonim was successful. I would ask two things here:
(i) Did Habonim mould us or the other way round? Did Habonim provide a home to us to express our innate values;
(ii) Context: Did Habonim give us a “let out” from the politics of Southern Africa, particularly South Africa at the time we were going through the movement? And if these social values we were “taught” were so important why did Habonim not play an active or more active part in the then politics of South Africa? And for example, why was there never any discussion within Habonim as to the ethics / morality of serving in the apartheid army? Because the movement would have been banned? Precisely the point. So much for teaching social values and living them!
And how many Habonim graduates today espouse / live / share those social values? What are the politics of the wider group of Habonim graduates? Left of centre? Right of centre? How many of us are activists in social programmes? Excuse Trump because of his support for Israel? Republicans or Democrats? For those of us in the UK are we Corbynistas or Bojo supporters? Or just plain middle class armchair types?
The people gathering for the celebration, are by definition (I would submit) people who have had a ‘positive experience’ of Habonim, otherwise why would they want to get together and celebrate? And if they have had a ‘positive experience’ are they best placed to be in any way objective about Habonim?
At the end of the day, the people who remember fondly their years in Habonim will get together, those that can afford (or choose to afford) to participate in the whole programme will do so (it seems as if the costs favour the richer amongst us) and then have a Hug….
And do my musings really matter? No, not really, as we all carry with us our memories of Habonim …….. all summed up by a favourite quote of mine:
“After a lapse of time the past becomes a mythical country – a dreamscape. Memory is a literary exercise: it shapes our yesterdays into narrative form, an inevitably fictionalising process.”
17th March 2019
Read this interesting article from Times of Israel – how would you vote?
What are Kaleidoscope and HUG? And why they have value.
December 31, 2018
To start with, I have never been enthusiastic about reunions. In general, looking back comes with baggage and there are moments in life when the less baggage the better. Add to that the rushed conversations with many people who one has not seen for decades, the embarrassing moments of non-recognition and the realization that baldness, strands of grey hair, excess weight, wrinkles (or the work done to remove them) are apparent not only to you, but to those who you meet up with and notice the same in you. And after the event, usually the duration of an evening or an afternoon, there is the bitter-sweet, the awesome, the uncomfortable and lingering question that is never asked: what are the outputs? Why did I come and what am I walking away with? What, if any, value has been derived from this?
My story regarding Kaleidoscope and HUG begins in 2017. Stephen Pincus Mazkir Clali Habonim SA 1980 (BTW now known as HDSA) contacted me from out of the blue and asked whether I would be interested in taking part in an evening at the Jerusalem Cinemateque. It was part of the Kaleidoscope tour that year. You may remember that in 2015 Julian Resnick and Stephen Pincus created a “Dreamers Tour” where graduates of the movement came to Israel from abroad on a content-focused exploration of Israel today. From there, Kaleidoscope emerged. To be honest, my motivation was partly utilitarian regarding the invite. Janice and I had not yet seen the film “Foxtrot” and this was an opportunity not only to see the film but to hear the director and producer talk about it.
The event was remarkable. Not only did it feature some of the finest film-makers in Israel, but an open discussion and interaction with the audience followed which placed me and others in an engaging, and strangely familiar space: the participants were uniquely South African yet live abroad, uniquely engaged with Israel yet with critical thinking, uniquely still struggling with identity in a cultural discourse that was about identity. Kaleidoscope is an in-depth multi-faceted zoom-in to Israel, with all its complexity, conflict, wild initiative, creativity and its social and political challenges.
Many of us who actually live here in Israel are insulated in the immediate world of work, the news and the comforts zones we appreciate whether it be cultural, family, trips abroad, and so on. It was only when several of us graduates of Habonim SA became involved in peace-action back in 2011, that we came face to face with the “forbidden zones” of social discontent, legal and political manipulation, and the threat to our fragile democracy. This took us over the green line into Ramallah and the Jerusalem behind the separation barrier; onto the streets of Tel Aviv in protest; interfacing with residents of Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem and more.
For those involved in the technology revolution that has and is occurring here, this transformation of our economy is normal. Yet for those that are not close to this hive of initiative, it is a revelation. Just as a matter of interest, in the year 2000, Israel and Greece had the same GDP per capita. Today, Israel has a GDP per capita twice that of Greece and is one of the most stable economies world-wide. Likewise in so many aspects of life here. Sometimes it takes a perspective from overseas to see things up close. And of course vice-versa, we here need to get input and perspective from those abroad.
Every year on the last Friday of October, many of us gather at Kibbutz Yizreel to remember Dudi Silbowitz and Neil Fried who were killed in the Yom Kippur War. After the gathering at the graveside, there follows a short lunch and a talk on a unique aspect that relates in some way to our common background. In October 2017 about 30 or so people met in the moadon beforehand and had a discussion on whether there would be value in celebrating Habonim SA’s 90th anniversary as a finale to the Kaleidoscope tour planned 2020. The idea was to create a gathering over a weekend where overseas and local graduates of the movement would mark the event. The conclusion was clear. If this is a nostalgia-fest or an attempt to build a virtual monument to the past, we are not interested. Been there. Done that. From that point we began a journey of creating an event that has content, value, perspective and introspection all within the safe space of friendship and trust.
I think we can all agree (and this was apparent in the discussion described above) that Habonim S.A. was formative, informative and transformative in our lives no matter where we are today and what we do. It is also apparent that the Israel we set in our sights on back in S.A. is not the Israel today. We are fighting for truth, democracy, social change, human rights, justice, equality and peace, with the ominous specter of apartheid still haunting us from our common past. It is apparent that this is a struggle that we cannot take on alone. We here in Israel seek community with those abroad that identify with these issues. And irrespective of that, yes we do want to see you again, meet up and talk, engage, enjoy your company in a relaxed and unique atmosphere sharing the insights and experience we have all gained, and to cherish our special bond created so many years ago.
To answer the title question, Kaleidoscope is a 5 day exploration of Israel today in its multiple dimensions. HUG is the “Habonim Ultimate Gathering” where Kaleidoscope will merge with graduates of HDSA who live here in Israel for a weekend of celebration, passionate debate, friendship, fun, remembering the past and thinking about where we are heading today and tomorrow.
See the website for details and early registration