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The Jewish Report Editorial

Tie a ribbon around our youth movements

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On Sunday, I happened to stumble on yellow ribbons on a fence in the James & Ethel Gray Park in Johannesburg, and I immediately recognised that it was a reminder of the 134 hostages from the south of Israel who are still being held by Hamas in Gaza.

I smiled, and felt such a kinship with Israel and our local Jewish community, and wondered who had created this campaign and when the ribbons were tied.

I then went about my day, not forgetting about it, but not seeing anything obvious that could enlighten me as to who was behind this. I was however proud and grateful to whoever did it.

Little did I know that in Sea Point, yellow ribbons had also been tied wherever there was space and they were visible to people walking on the beachfront promenade. “Bring them home” was also painted large in yellow on the seafront wall.

On Sunday evening, I found out that it was Habonim Dror madrichim who launched this campaign in Johannesburg and Cape Town. I was even more impressed because the source of it was a Jewish youth movement, and it was young people who had given of their time early on Sunday morning to do this. Kol Hakavod to them!

Only, why did no other communal organisation initially promote it? And when they did, they didn’t give credit to Habonim.

This made me very sad because, as with some of the Bnei Akiva leaders, I know some of the Habonim leaders and how passionate they are about their organisation. They are passionate about Israel, devastated by the war, and they feel much like the rest of us.

But I’m also not blind or deaf to the anti-Habonim sentiment out there in our community, which frankly sickens me.

Open cards here: I started out as a child at Bnei Akiva, and later moved over to Habonim, which was more suited to me. Many members of my family are deeply involved in Bnei Akiva, but my children have chosen to be members of Habonim.

This is as it should be. Both are phenomenal Jewish youth movements, as is Netzer for progressive Jewish children. All three have an incredible ethos, and add such an amazing element to a child or young adult’s life. They give something you can get nowhere else.

They create leaders and people who become independently thinking youngsters, as well as people who operate well in groups. Youth-movement children set up bonds for life with like-minded Jews from all over the country and the world.

However, children aren’t the same just as families aren’t the same. And so, those children who are naturally drawn to Bnei Akiva aren’t the same children drawn to Habonim or Netzer. That’s the way it is.

Now remember, not long ago, there was also Betar, a proud and strong right-wing Zionist youth movement. Betaris were proud of their movement, and held phenomenal camps in December that people still rave about.

But there’s no long a Betar youth movement in South Africa. This seems so strange to me, considering how strong the right-wing is in Israel. But this is a fact. And once a youth movement is gone, it’s not easy to revive it.

Herein lies our problem. There’s a serious anti-Habonim prejudice in our community that’s totally unfounded. Habonim is a genuine left-wing Zionist youth movement. Its values are the values of the founders of eretz Yisrael.

When you think of kibbutzim and the backbone of the growth of Israel, that’s Habonim Dror. When you think of the chalutzim – the people who made aliya in the early days of the country to build it agriculturally – that’s Habonim. The name itself, translated as “the builders”, explains exactly what the organisation represents.

When I hear adults from within the community – who should know better – running Habonim down and saying it isn’t even Jewish anymore, I get angry. This is a lie. There are also vicious rumours that Habonim is anti-Israel, which again is an out-and-out lie.

A large proportion of the kibbutz movement in Israel is made up of Habos. In fact, the 7 October attack hit Habonim hard because the biggest impact was on kibbutzim. To this day, there are still annual groups of young Habos making aliya or spending at least one year in Israel after school.

Habonim engenders a Zionist society that cares about equality, peace, and stability and building a nation that once didn’t exist. Habonim isn’t a religious youth movement although it ensures that those who are religious have a minyan and are able to fulfil their mitzvot. It’s kosher and as Jewish as Bnei Akiva, but it’s different and offers different things to different children. And we should be encouraging what’s different. We should be encouraging variety. We all need choices, as do our children. What’s good for me may not be good for you.

So, if I’m not a King David Linksfield kid, surely I should have the option of King David Victory Park, or Torah Academy, or Hirsch Lyons? Each offers its own benefits, much like Habonim, Bnei Akiva, and Netzer.

Look around you at our communal leaders. How many of them come from youth movements? Most. Do they all come from Bnei Akiva? No. Do they all come from Habonim? No.

They are from four different Jewish youth movements, and they bring with them the incredible grounding that only the youth movements provide. It’s unique and special.

So, let’s not try and destroy one of them by badmouthing it and furthering ugly rumours. Let’s keep them all afloat for the different children they will provide a phenomenal base for.

We need Habonim! We need Bnei Akiva! We need Netzer! We needed Betar, but it’s gone for us now. Let’s encourage and hold high our youth movements. Let’s do all we can to hold them all afloat for our children and our future.

Shabbat Shalom!

Peta Krost


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