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Habonim yellow ribbons shed light in dark times



As the year begins, Jewish university students are bracing themselves for sight of the flags of terrorist organisations flown on campus. Kids at school are greeted in the morning by armed men, with whispers of “shutdown” and “protest”. In non-Jewish spaces, speaking about one of the worst terror campaigns in history is “controversial”, and shied away from.

The world right now is topsy-turvy. Not that this craziness is a recent phenomenon. But it feels like this moment is the culmination of what would be a great piece of absurdist theatre if it wasn’t so real and hurtful.

It has taken only four-and-a-half months to enter this new reality – our own Bizarro World. Of course, nothing comes from nowhere. Antisemitism is a hate which hides in the dark, always there, never visible. Until suddenly, its attack is overt and all-encompassing. It takes only a quick Twitter excursion to understand that many have given up on the subtle forms of antisemitism we’ve grown accustomed to, feeling comfortable now putting their names next to old tropes wrapped in shiny new contexts.

Yet, in spite of the hurt of denial and feeling of endangerment, we cannot accept this reality.

One of our Habo principles is to be people of conviction and action, and that’s exactly what this time calls for. We feel the need as Jewish youth to act against the “black and white” framing of Hamas terror as anything but. We believe that 134 Israelis kidnapped and held hostage isn’t normal and should never be normal. Yet the world turns a blind eye to this injustice, maybe even arguing in defence of what’s framed as “freedom fighting”.

Inspired by former Habo campaigns throughout our history – involvement in the Black Sash organisation or the fight for just access to HIV/AIDS treatments – we wanted to take action.

At 04:30 on Sunday, 18 February, madrichim from Johannesburg and Cape Town woke up, and in our respective cities, placed yellow ribbons in busy centres with chalk inscriptions saying, “Bring them home!” It felt freeing to take action, and in a very physical way show support for our chaverim in Israel who are grieving the unimaginable.

Once the sun began to rise on the Sea Point Promenade, and the James & Ethel Gray Park, people slowly trickled in. Though some eyes met us with unspoken hostility, the Jews walking past paused to speak to us. Coming from different ages, backgrounds, or political orientations, one fundamental is understood: that community is more important than ever right now. And that a show of visibility is necessary. Our togetherness and solidarity against the extremist anti-Israel rhetoric which has entered the mainstream can be the light in an incredibly dark time, just like the yellow ribbons.

We shouldn’t have to feel “othered” in our own country, especially one which has been built on values of inclusivity, freedom of speech, and coexistence. The African National Congress government discarding the values it once fought for isn’t a reflection on the rest of the country. As South Africans, because of our history and values, we’re in a unique position to form bridges and we cannot let the actions of a few take this away.

Habonim has been reeling from the 7 October attacks because they targeted the core of our movement – kibbutzim. Communities that we once contributed to building were reduced to nothing in the span of a few hours. Slowly throughout the day, we heard names familiar to the Habonim family in the context of the unfolding plot.

Ofir Libstein, the chairperson of Habonim Dror Olami, was killed while defending his community against attackers. Vivian Silver, a Habonim olah to Kibbutz Be’eri and unyielding peace activist, was missing until her remains were found in the place she gave so much to. Our own shaliach’s brother-in-law in Sderot fell as a victim of Hamas terror.

Our community’s response to the project has been touching and shows the power of strength in unity. We cannot lose hope. Although the dust is far from settling and every day is uncertain, we’ll continue to speak out against Bizarro World until there’s an end to this war and our hostages are returned.

Peace will never be achieved through terror and violence, but only when there’s belief in the potential of trust and partnership.

Aleh ve’hagshem! (Rise up and fulfil)

  • Brad Gottschalk is Habonim Dror S’gan Mazkira (deputy head).

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Brad

    Feb 22, 2024 at 12:21 pm

    Great Job Habo!!

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