Habonim alumni who have changed the world

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What do Dr Stanley Hirsch, Stanley Fischer, Stanley Bergman, Morris Kahn, and Professor Michael Hayden have in common? They are just a handful of the many Habonim Dror Southern Africa alumni who have made their mark across the globe.
by TALI FEINBERG | Dec 05, 2019

In fact, some say that the methods they use to run their companies and manage hundreds of thousands of employees are influenced by their time as Habonim madrichim (counsellors/leaders). They also say that they use the hadracha (leadership) techniques learned in the movement.

As Habonim gears up to celebrate its 90th anniversary in 2020, it looks back at an extraordinary number of past members who have made a major impact on the world.

Hirsch, currently chief executive of FuturaGene, says, “My experience at Habonim taught me certain fundamental values that have served as a foundation for me in my career and in the development of my management style. The dignity of work, and of every person, no matter what their background, imbues respect and balance that allows one to progress.”

Hirsch has played a crucial role in the healthcare, diagnostic, agricultural, and biotech industries. His company is a leader in genetic research and development for the global sustainable industrial-forest sector. FuturaGene obtained the first ever commercial approval for yield enhanced, genetically modified eucalyptus. Early in his career, Hirsch was involved in the development of automated systems for plant tissue culture.

Fischer, probably Habonim’s most famous export, was deputy chairperson of the United States Federal Reserve, and before that, he was the governor of the Bank of Israel. “He is the embodiment of the old-school global leader,” wrote Sam Fleming in the Financial Times in 2017.

“In his near-five-decade career, Fischer could lay claim to being one of the godfathers of modern economic policy. It was Fischer who helped set the direction of central banking practice as an academic in the 1970s. Then, as first deputy managing director at the International Monetary Fund, he played a leading role in the response to the Asian and Russian crises of the late 1990s. He went on to steer Israel through the global meltdown of 2007-2009 as governor of the country’s central bank,” Fleming wrote.

To complete a trio of Stanleys, Bergman won Chief Executive of the Year in 2017. He has been chief executive and chairperson of the board for Henry Schein since 1989, the largest provider of products and services for the dental and veterinary industries. He has grown the company to exist in 33 countries and employ more than 21 000 people.

Bergman told the SA Jewish Report, “Participating in Habonim from an early age reinforced the values of tikkun olam [healing the world], and was a strong complement to my parent’s values, while at the same time providing an excellent leadership-development platform. I always remind our young managers that those who are good at ‘running a summer camp’ make excellent future leaders in business, or, in fact, any walk of life. A great camp counsellor knows how to get the entire team engaged in the mission.”

He has received numerous awards and titles, and he and his wife, Marion, actively support several organisations that foster the arts, cultural diversity, grassroots healthcare, higher education, and sustainable entrepreneurial economic development initiatives.

Kahn was the man behind Israel’s mission to the moon in the form of Beresheet, the first privately-funded moon-lander that crashed into the lunar surface. Kahn, who is said to be preparing for Beresheet 2, is considered Israel’s wealthiest high-tech mogul.

“Unlike others who achieved what they did thanks to an inheritance that provided seed money or a swift exit, Kahn created his capital with his own two hands,” wrote Anat Georgi and Guy Grimland in Ha’aretz in 2011.

The billionaire Israeli entrepreneur joined Habonim in 1948. He wanted to go to Israel, but was encouraged to wait since he was still young. After getting married, he made aliyah with his family.

He founded Amdocs, one of Israel’s largest, most established high-tech companies with 26 000 employees worldwide, and Coral World, which operates an underwater observatory in Eilat. A major donor to the Weizmann Institute of Science, Kahn helped launch the field of systems biology.

The institute quickly became a world leader in this nascent field, which fuses physics and biology to create a holistic understanding of how the structure of our biology is closely intertwined with its function. Recently, he established the Morris Kahn Institute for Human Immunology at the institute, which will fund the work of a range of studies in this field.

‘’I balance between business and philanthropy,’’ he told Ha’aretz. “Many of my businesses have a philanthropic angle. I want to change a lot of things, not only in Israel, but all over the world.”

Hayden, best known for his research into Huntington’s Disease (HD), was recently named one of the 50 Canadians born in the 20th century who have changed the world, but he was born in Cape Town.

With numerous titles and awards, he has identified 10 disease-causing genes and developed gene therapy approaches – the first approved gene therapy in the Western world.

He also spearheaded the development of a youth-friendly recreation, counselling, and learning centre in partnership with the township of Masiphumelele in Cape Town. This centre aims to promote responsible sexual behaviour among at-risk youth, empower HIV/AIDS-affected youth, and build a sense of self and community-participation within the township.

Other well-known alumni of Habonim Dror Southern Africa are Maxine Fassberg, the chief executive of one of Israel’s largest companies, INTEL Israel; Alan Hoffmann, former director general of the Jewish Agency; Alan Swerdlow, a top stage director and film maker in South Africa; anti-apartheid advocate, the late Jules Browde; businessman and trade union founder Johnny Copelyn; Israeli psychiatrist Jonni Benjamin; Moira Benigson, a top head-hunter in London; and Stephen Pincus, a Canadian lawyer and board member of the Jewish Agency.

And there are many more who may be joining Habonim to celebrate its 90th anniversary next year.


  1. 3 Freda sher 11 Dec
    i Would like to add Zeev (Wolfie) Mankowitz and Gideon shimoni
  2. 2 Brian Fredman 17 Dec
    When these bogrim belonged to Habonim they were part of a Jewish, Zionist and Socialist youth movement that cherished Jewish history, Aliyah and egalitarianism.
    The bogrim that we should be proud of are those who are Israeli citizens living with their families in Israel, paying their taxes, serving in the army and fighting for a just and fair egalitarian society as well as those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their beliefs.
  3. 1 Meyer Jaffe 21 Jun
    Shalom!The years 1950-1960 saw Habonim at its peak!
    4,500 members from 8-18 scattered in 20 branches!
    1956 we were involved in the Volunteer Movement prir to the SinaiCampaign and 150 memberswere among the Volunteers.Re Israel and Chaluziut Garin Neot joined Kibbutz Tsora in1955.Garin Gimmel joined Yizreelin 1958.In the Apartheid South Africa in1952
    Habonim Western Province refused to participate in the 300 Years of Van Riebeek Celebrations! In1956 Alexandra BUS Boycott the National Misrad transported the strikers from Jhb City to thetownship for the whole month of the succesfull strike!
    Chazak Vematz-Meyer Jaffe Mazkir Clali 1955-56-57.


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