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Habonim Reunion at Onrus Machaneh Camp site 2-4th January 2008

Neville Sweijd reports back on the fantastic reunion of ex chaverim held on the Habonim Campsite in January 2008.

Uploaded by Gilad Isaacs, Jan 23, 2008

I was in two minds about going – it was either gonna be excruciating (if we
tried to re-enact the ruach and play “habo habo”) or it was going to be painful
and difficult. It turned out to be more of the latter although I would add, very
meaningful, very important, very significant (to many), very serious and
poignant. It was also very beautiful and happy and optimistic and fun. I am
very glad that I went.

I must note that I didn’t stay till the end and I didn’t participate in what
promised to be important and fascinating pe’ulot on the last day.
Nevertheless, I think I got what I came for and this is what I want to relate.
Probably the main event was a spontaneous sichah where we went around
the group of 100 or so people, and each gave their personal perspective on
their experiences in Habonim and life thereafter. This lasted some five hours
and it was riveting.

This was not a reunion of chanichim, but rather of madrichim and senior tafkid
holders, olim, and a variety of others. I think retrospectively this will be
remembered as an analysis of aliyah and specifically of the garinim to Nir
Eliyahu. I would say that the core of the reunion were the chevra from the 60’s
and 70’s and the rest of us (Tuval garinim and others), who contributed
significantly, were spectators to some very significant catharses.
I think what was abundantly clear was that the power of the influence that the
movement had on all of our lives was enormous and almost universal,
independent of the generation that we emanated from. While this was a subsample
of people (who elected to attend the event) I believe that the
sentiment expressed in general -that Habonim shaped our values, that it
manifests every day in our lives, that we continue to do hadracha in our
professional lives and that we are all critical thinkers – that this is a
widespread phenomenon. Another universal item is that the relationships
formed in Habonim have continued to transcend distances and decades and
that for many it represents an extended family and not just a set of
acquaintances.

For some, the Habonim experience was probably too powerful in that it
created an identity crisis for people who where ironically not able to deal with
the peer pressure to join garinim / make aliyah / reject their South African
identity (during the apartheid era). These people claim that in the end they
were left hanging and struggled to find a place – being uprooted and
disorientated by the strong social forces of the movement. Conversely, some
saw the movement as a saviour, being rescued from psychological pain that
the movement compensated for. Some saw it as the sole expression of their
Judaism.

The two most significant items that I came away with were these: Zionism is
no longer a key driver of the movement which is explained by the fact that the
reality has moved on. The post-war influence on Jewish youth has diminished
and the world has become more global. The religious movement has taken
the Zionist highground and the values of Habonim are equally well served
where universally applied. This has manifested in two ways. Most of the
people at the reunion had either left Israel (after a variety of periods of aliyah)
or not made aliyah at all - and still claim their rightful place as legitimate
graduates of the movement. Simply put, Zionism / Israel is less relevant in the
current Jewish South African (and SA expat) society. Most people at the
reunion are struggling with their relationship with Israel (politically and
ideologically) and what I described as a loose cannon ball rolling around in
me, was cited by many others a similar problem. Another manifestation is that
the movement today does not define Habonim as a zionist youth movement. It
is a Jewish youth movement whose purpose is to develop values that should
be applied universally, with Israel as competing focus – the others being
poverty alleviation, social justice, AIDS, the environment and other very
relevant South African and global issues.

The other take home message was that the chevra of today (and their
parents) see the religious right (-wing) as a real threat to the soul of Judaism
in South Africa (and beyond). We are told that the dossim have “taken over”
and are stifling debate in the schools and federation and SAJBD. Habonim is
under siege. The fact that the shlichim structure has changed completely
means that the youth of the movement has no depth of experience to draw on
and no “established” voice to counter what is perceived to be a real enemy in
our midst – they have appealed for help. One idea is to re-incorporate exchevra
and create a post-movement shichvah of chevra who could play some
of the role the shlichim did.

Just a couple more thoughts….the generational gap was very clear – in terms
of the language and humour (which you would not have seen in our day) and
also (more importantly) in the experience of the chevra. The 60s and 70s
were a transition between the post-war and the youth revolution eras. Kibbutz
and Aliyah were societally still novel and morally attractive. The 80s were antiapartheid
days and the start of the transition in South Africa. The moral highground
of Israel and Zionism had started to slip. The 80s saw the new more
locally politicized movement emerge. The 90s saw a post-apartheid Habonim
dealing with the collapse of two pillars of chinuch (apartheid & socialism/
kibbutz) and the zeros is the movement of today. Thus, the people present at
the reunion all had a very different experience of the movement in a different
social and political context. This influenced how the movement shaped their
lives.

Nir Eliyahu is a fascinating study and an example of this. Many of the chevra
have left the kibbutz. I did not participate in any analysis of this, but my
observation is that this has been incredibly traumatic and terrible for them.
There was a huge amount of pain in the demise of the kibbutz (movement)
and the loss is like that of siblings and parents. Although this is obviously not
exclusive (and maybe its only because I view them as my mentors) I think that
on the whole, the 60s/ 70s generation made enormous commitments that I
don’t think we saw later on – they had choices, unlike the preceding
generations who emerged in the critical era either side of the war, and unlike
the choices of later generations who arrived in a modern Israel. They made
relatively big sacrifices and thus had lots more to lose. They saw out their
youth and early parenting years on kibbutz. Perhaps its only now that they are
at a stage where they can see more of their lives (in retrospect) – that made
this reunion so powerful for them. I still have enormous admiration for them
and even a little envy of the intensity of their experience.

Finally, the machaneh site is just the same, bar the solelim and shtilim chadre
ochel which have been magnificently upgraded. It is magnificent and beautiful
and it echos of the thousands of voices of love, emotion, joy and learning. The
mitbach canisters are the same. The mitbach smells the same. The beach
and lagoon are just as beautiful. The wooden stages that we built 25 years
ago on A-guard are still being used (but only for a little while longer). The
Swerdlows and Lucas’ are still the same fantastic people they always were
and I publicly thanked them on my chevra’s behalf.

All in all, the reunion has reminded me of the depth and richness of my
experience in Habonim – it was not so much nostalgic as it was an
acknowledgement of the achievements of the movement and the amazing
people it can quite legitimately claim to have produced.

Neville Sweijd
05/12/08

If you were logged in you could comment on this article.

Past comments:

Submitted by Dov Randel on Jan 26, 2008
I loved your article Neil, made one almost feel as if he/she was there in the discussions. request, please put captions on the photos. People change a lot in 35+ years. Good to be able to put name and nic to face.

I would have loved to have been there and participated, being part of the 60's generation and aliya in 1970 albeit not to Nir Eliyahu Tzora or Yizrael but straight into israeli life without the cushion of the garin structure. Habonim played a majoir role in our make up.

Many of my contemporaries were kibbutz aliya proponents and sad to see the demise of this once high held ideology. But that's the case of israel generally and those of us who've stuck it out notwithstanding all the difficulties, I think are happy or at least accepting of their decision.

2010 Onrust is something to plan for. Hope we'll still be aliver and well by then. 75th anniv so ably organised and arranged by Dave Kaplan, Bloom and the Yizrael guys was stupendous and i hope that there will be a repeat.
Dov Bernard Randel, TelAviv
Habo Pretoria 1959-1969
Machon lemadrichim 1969-70
Aliya 70 till today.......
Submitted by Moira Benigson on Jan 24, 2008
This is a fantastic summary of the weekend and describes it exactly. The weekend has really connected me with my past and my roots for the first time in a very meaningful way without being only nostalgic.


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