Youth movements: the pearls of the Jewish community

By Darren Cohen, January 12, 2012
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It dawned on me this week that in the short time I have lived in London, I have had the pleasure of hosting friends from four of the world’s continents: Europe, South America, Australasia and North America. Despite coming from four very distant corners of the world, we all have one thing in common: we are all members of the Habonim Dror youth movement.

This realisation triggered some queries in my mind. What is it that can bring together people from Philadelphia, Manchester, Buenos Aires and Melbourne? Indeed, not merely bring us together but ensure that no matter where any of us are in the world, this link, this inexpressible chain of being part of something so global yet so personal, can foster an almost instant connection.

As Joel Braunold related in theJC a few weeks ago, Jewish youth movements are essential to the longevity and sustainability of the Jewish people. Their continued existence is of the upmost imperative in producing the next generation of Jewish leaders.

Having been a member of Habonim Dror, The Builders of Freedom, since 2005, and taken part in camps, Israel tour and its yearlong gap year program, Shnat Hachshara, I have reached a point where I can reflect on what the movement has bestowed upon me. What is it that creates such a special bond among members of all Jewish youth movements? I believe that it is the movements’ values and as a consequence the type of people who get involved.

Habonim Dror’s powerful ideology has given to me and many of my peers the value system that we hold dear. Despite the decline of the socialist-Zionist movement, Habonim Dror’s ideals have remained eternal while ensuring they are constantly applicable to the modern world.

Socialism, which means different things to different people in the movement, needn’t be rooted in nationalisation, shared ownership, or high taxes. Rather, for me, it is about not exploiting people, treating them as equals and working towards a better society as a collective and not as individuals; providing everyone with an equal opportunity to prosper in life. It can be actualised in our everyday interactions, manifested through respect, acceptance and kindness. This does not mean a society where people get something for nothing.

It means accepting human beings as intrinsically equal and empowering them to be responsible members of humanity. Moreover, these values are tremendously Jewish ones.
Judaism in the movement enables many disenfranchised and alienated Jewish youth to reconnect to and find meaning in their culture and religion. It has given to me and many others an appreciation and comprehension of my Jewish identity and the opportunity to engage with and actualise the rich, inspirational and revolutionary values, teachings, texts and traditions of our people.

Our Zionism is nuanced but unconditional. Like all youth movements, we have a vision for how the state should look and want to take an active role in building that state. Aliya is the aim of the movement, a journey that many have actualised; historically building kibbutzim and today engaging with all sections of Israeli society (for example our connection to Kibbutz Eshbal that Ambassador Matthew Gould has spoken so highly of.)

Israel advocacy for the movement is not just waving a flag and screaming at the television when Israel gets unfairly criticised and demonised but pro-actively doing something about it; we aren’t armchair Zionists. Our vision is that of the founders of the state and that most wonderful text, the Declaration of Independence. To build an Israel where all its inhabitants are treated as equals, not exploited or alienated, not discriminated or stereotyped but viewed as partners in the creation of a new society, even more a Jewish society, one that is a moral example to the world. This is our raison d’etre.

The ideology is the core of the movement and our activities but its manifestation is what is truly unique. As any member of any youth movement will tell you, the sheer unadulterated and innocent fun they have during their years on camps, seminars, Israel tour and their gap year is unparalleled and unique. The endless laughter, the newfound confidence that radiates from previously meek characters, the licence to be oneself and the urgency to create, lead and empower. These are my memories.

This is without even mentioning the priceless tools that being an empowered movement member gives you to be a role model, a leader and an all-round better human being.

This is why as a community we ought to support, sustain and advance our youth movements to unprecedented levels.

Youth movements are one of the pearls of the global Jewish community. Take a look at any sector of society, be it show business, journalism, politics, cinema, community leadership and beyond, and you will find it littered with graduates of these counter-cultural, value based, talent factories that bring together different characters and empower them to lead their lives on similar paths, paths which cross regardless of their location on the globe.

Darren Cohen is an Philosophy and Spanish student at King's College London. He is a member of Habonim Dror, co-president and founder of the Israeli Palestinian Forum, and the treasurer of KCL JSoc. Follow him on Twitter here.

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Last updated: 10:13am, January 12 2012