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No ‘camplaining’ as channies embrace machaneh experience

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Jewish youth from around the country and a smattering of those from abroad who chose to go to Habonim Dror or Bnei Akiva camp in December 2023 left the troubles of the world behind as they headed for three weeks of good-old fashioned fun in the sun.

Although it was a smaller, more intimate machaneh, there “was a great Habo magic feel on machaneh this year”, Lula Pencharz, the new Mazkira Klalit for Habonim Dror told the SA Jewish Report, “It felt like a proper camp experience. There was always something happening on the campsite.”

The Habonim tradition of having a music-filled, fun havdalah ceremony certainly continued, and campers enjoyed being together with their friends on Shabbat.

Bnei Akiva made some small adjustments to the schedule so that every channie could get the most out of their experience. There were more educational activities, and some that included chanichim helping the community of Mossel Bay.

“On 7 December, to mark two months since the 7 October massacre, we had a sandwich-making day in which 1 400 sandwiches were made in honour of all of those who were killed on the day of the massacre. The sandwiches were then given to members of the community in need,” said Saul Joseph, the new national chairperson for Bnei Akiva.

Bnei Akiva’s clinic system was also completely overhauled. According to Joseph, “We have a full clinic booking system, so if someone wanted to see a doctor or a medic they had to book an appointment and show up at that particular time slot. It was great because we could track health trends for the campsite and stop things in their tracks.”

“Our speakers spoke about what it means to be Jewish after the events of 7 October,” Ava Cohen, a part of the Habonim mazkirut, said. “We also had a lot of Israelis joining us on site, so what’s going on in Israel was on top of people’s minds. It was a great opportunity for us to gain knowledge and expertise.”

Said Pencharz, “There were a lot of discussions on Israel and South Africa, and how as Habonim and as individuals, we can relate to what’s going on.”

“People were grateful to have a space where they could talk freely,” Cohen said. “We have a lot of kids from non-Jewish schools, and they said it was refreshing for them to talk openly about what it meant to be Jewish, where it’s safe to be Jewish.”

Joseph said machaneh this past year was “infused with a lot of meaning, given the context we find ourselves in with Israel. We had amazing events and programmes run around Israel, Israel education, and caring for our brothers and sisters in Israel”.

Pencharz and Cohen said the mood of the campsite was more gratifying than sombre, as chanichim were desperate to have a space where they could celebrate their Jewish identity without fear of exclusion, and to feel a sense of community.

At Bnei Akiva, Joseph said, “Whether the kids were sick or tired, they always had a smile on their faces. Our chanichim were excited to be there, excited to get involved, and excited to grow and learn together. The culture has shifted into a new era in which we focus on each other’s growth so that we can foster a community of continuity.”

Habonim has continued to have smaller-sized machanehs compared to pre-COVID-19 pandemic years. “It’s a different generation,” Pencharz and Cohen said. “We found that a lot of channies weren’t as eager and comfortable with sleeping out as they were before the pandemic.”

In spite of this, for Habonim Dror, the 2023 machaneh will serve as a springboard for future machanot, “Since this was such an intimate environment, it allows for channies to share their experience with their friends and tell them to come on camp with them in December and why it’s so amazing,” said Pencharz.

Habonim already has big things planned for the rest of 2024. Shorashim – its July Israel trip – has already been planned, and it’s making an effort to showcase the relationships it has created with channies to the smaller age groups so they can be involved in the movement in the future.

“We have an exciting year planned after an extremely successful machaneh,” Joseph said. “We’re ramping up our engagement with chanichim, and are creating more opportunities to gather and grow together because, at the end of the day, we’re one big family in maintaining Jewish Life in South Africa and the ideologies of Bnei Akiva in all chanichim and madrichim.

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