Youth Movements & Jew Camp

Alright, I can guess that you are already slightly bamboozled by the idea of (a) A youth movement – I’m sure you’re imagining a weird Christian worship group where we sing Jesus rock numbers and stuff. If this is the first thing that came to mind. I’m sorry, but you are completely incorrect. If (b) the idea of a Jew Camp is slightly perplexing considering the violent history of the Jewish people. You have all the right to think that, in fact, when trying to explain this weird three week camp I have been going since I was eleven where there are only Jews the entire time and we have intellectual activities and copious amounts of fun, the usual reaction is something along the lines, “Okay, you have got to be kidding me.”

But here I am trying to reassure you that this is not the case. Well, the case is that it is a three week camp, with only Jewish children and we do have intellectual activities and we do have copious amounts of fun. But it is a lot more than that.

From when I was very young and when most Jewish children are very young, they are introduced to the idea of a youth movement. These youth movements are international non-profit organisations that function as active voices in the Jewish and broader communities and activists in the society that they might find themselves in. There are two major youth movements that are currently active in South Africa, Habonim Dror (the one I am/was apart of) and Bnei Akiva. Habonim is the less religious one, the very secular and more politically active one. It strives to be a left wing movement in a very right winged South African community. Bnei Akiva is a lot more religious, it advertises itself as a-political, however, they are definitely in line with the South African Jewish community at the moment.

At the end of each year, flocks of Jewish children from Cape Town and Jo’burg jump onto buses, trains and planes and arrive in Onrus (just outside Hermanus), Habonim’s very own campsite. Habonim has owned this enormous plot, literally on the beach, for decades. Each age group has a specific name, colour and educational project that hopes to be achieved by the end of that particular year. Once you are of age and have “finished” being a chanich (child/learner) you then become a madrich (teacher/councillor). Each day is completely structured with three activities per day with an educational aim. The activities are informal in style and are aimed to teach young Jewish children about topics they otherwise would never be exposed to. This incredible journey creates life-long friendships and relationships. It teaches you so much about life and people and although you are staying in a filthy tent with eight other people. This experience is invaluable.

I sat down with the S’gan Mazkirah Klalit (Deputy Head of Habonim Dror Southern Africa) who chatted to me about the history of Habonim and although I learnt about it during the summer camps I attended, I seemed to have forgot just how powerful the fore-runners of this movement was.

Habonim Dror Southern Africa was first founded in 1930. Initially the movement was called Ichud Habonim meaning “Union of the Builders”. The movement was originally a scouting movement for young South African to prepare them from Chalutzic Aliyah (collective settlement in Israel). In the 1980’s Ichud Habonim merged with a movement that came out of Poland called Dror which means “Freedom”, thus giving us the well-known name “Habonim Dror”, “The Builders of Freedom”. Dror was a youth movement which originated in Poland and was active at the height of the Holocaust. Members of the movement were pivotal to the Warsaw Ghetto uprisings and many Jewish lives were saved because of the actions of Jewish youth who belonged to Dror.

The history of Habonim is very interesting, it is goes far beyond Jewish children attending a fun camp at the end of year. It’s a lot more than highly average food and living in the schmutz (mess) for three weeks. Its members strive to make active change in the Jewish community, both in South Africa and Israel. It’s ideology is a malleable one, every two years the constitution is consulted and changed by the members who opt-in to change it; a democratic vote is held when all major decisions are made. The educational value and life-long lessons about people, ideology and democracy have made me a conscientised  individual and an individual that challenges the status quo. Although I have distanced myself from the movement for personal reasons, Habonim will always be a steering factor in life.

Take a look at the few pictures of my friends and I over the years on the magical campsite!


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