Praise for Habonim Dror
Peter Beinart, founder of Open Zion and author of The Crisis of Zionism attended Habonim Dror Melbourne's Tikkun Leil Shavuot, and the following is an excerpt from what he wrote in Haaretz following his experience.
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"I’m writing this column from Melbourne, Australia, where last Tuesday I watched hundreds of teenagers from various Jewish youth movements—most of them not strictly observant--stay up deep into the night on Shavuot learning and arguing. They had named the rooms in which they held their study sessions after Jewish thinkers: Rosenzweig, Buber, Spinoza. Watching it all, I kept thinking: How many American Jewish eighteen year olds could identify those names, or, for that matter, identify Shavuot? What is Australia doing right that we’re doing wrong?"
Julian Resnick, former Mazkir of Habonim Dror Olami attended our Yom Kippur service in Melbourne in 2014. The following is what he wrote on his blog about his experience:
And where did you spend your Yom Kippur, funders of the Jewish People?
Mine was extraordinary and I need to say something to you, in a very clear voice so that there can be no misunderstanding of what I am saying:
If you care about an option for young Jewish people to be Jewish if their choice is a progressive, authentic, people and not God centered Judaism (and you might not like it, but that is the choice of the majority of young Jews today), look no further than what Habonim Dror is doing in Melbourne.
There is a group here of young Jews in their early twenties who understand something: someone has to take responsibility for creating a moving, committed, serious, fun, engaging, knowledgeable Judaism which is able to grapple with the identity options on the table for young people. And they have stepped up to the plate.
If Franz Kafka had been in the congregation yesterday in the Kadimah hall on Selwyn Street in Caulfield Melbourne, he would have found the answer to the misery he experienced accompanying his father to the Yom Kippur service in early twentieth century Prague. Here was a service filled with meaning, clearly drawing from our shared sources in a way both respectful and challenging. Hypocrisy was not in the room. His awful experience of being with a father who was paying lip service to an identity not really his left a powerful imprint on young Franz and was one of the reasons he basically opted out of any serious engagement with Jewish life. The Yom Kippur service I was part of was the first for a long time where the Kavanna (the intention, focus or purpose) was powerful enough for me to honestly say that I had tears running down my cheeks many times during the service. The innovative Yizkor(remembrance) service which was so inclusive, the beautiful use of music, the extraordinary moment of Chazzanut (cantorial singing) by one of the 20 year olds, the fact that the service, even though it was run by young people and was ostensibly a youth movement service, brought in tens of adults, some even older than me (!), made this one of those rare moments in my life where I felt so totally proud to be doing what I do.
(Add to this that the Kadimah Hall is filled with the nostalgia of an age which is fast slipping away as the remnants of the Yiddish speaking world slip away, and you get the potential of this space which resonates history as it tells the story of a moment in the Jewish world when we still believed that history would deal us the good cards.)
After the service we, around 100 of us, walked the few miles to Caulfield Park for an afternoon of study. There were nine workshops in all and for around two hours, in two sessions, we sat in cirlces and learned and talked of things which a day like Yom Kippur encourages us to do. We talked about the issue of Judgment and the Shoah; we talked about change and the taking of responsibility; we talked about intersecting cultures (how yoga exercises can impact on change processes); we talked about how to grow this community; we talked about whether what was happening in Caulfield Park was relevant to the Israeli reality. We talked and we talked, and it felt so good. It felt so real. It actually felt like a solution.
I am not apocalyptic by nature, but I want to suggest something; young Jewish people everywhere are saying in the clearest voice possible, "Offer me a range of identity choices. If you tell me it is your way or the highway, we are out of here!" Do not allow this to happen. What we have to too special to lose. Let us broaden the possibilities. Let us invite people in and meet them where they are. Let us pull up another chair next to that of the "Judge". I am sure "He" can cope.
A last word to Rapha one of the really special young people here in Habonim Dror Melbourne. "We do not want to be coerced into Judaism. It must be something which attracts us, allows us to choose it." (If it were appropriate here, I would add Ken Yehiyeh Ratzon (may it be His will).
But then, who said it all has to make perfect sense. Is there no place for Mystery?
Julian also visited Habonim Dror in 2013.
The following is what he wrote about the ken
I am so proud. I have only ever spent one Thursday evening in Melbourne Australia and I have no idea whether I will ever spend another Thursday evening in Melbourne (it is so far away from where I live and the jet lag has been so hard to deal with). and in truth, this past Thursday evening had such a special moment in it that it is probably a good thing that I might never spend another Thursday evening in Melbourne. But let me explain.
I am here in Australia as part of this new phase in my life as the head of World Habonim Dror. It is all about a learning curve, about reconnecting with a Youth Movement I grew up in all those years ago in South Africa. The youth movement which changed my life, which introduced me to the possibility of life in Israel (which I took up and since 1976 has become my home), which introduced me to the notion of living one's life in solidarity with other people rather than in competition with them (which I hope has characterized my life since). But, I am no longer the 22 year old who said goodbye to South Africa. Many years have passed and the question which has confronted me ever since I began this new part of my life's journey has been: what will I find? Will it still be so moving, so impressive, so filled with the special spirit that persuaded me all those years ago that there is more to life than just earning a living? That there are values to work for, that we who believe in a better world have to take responsibility for it.
But, back to Thursday evening in Melbourne, Australia. I was asked to meet with parents who had entrusted their children to my organization, whose children are just a few weeks away from finishing a year in Israel. We talked and the conversation was a good one. Of course, as parents, they were both happy with who their children were becoming and not totally convinced that we were providing the perfect framework for this to happen. I listened carefully, acknowledged some of the points they made, challenged them at times and assured them that we would always do our best to provide the best possible educational frameworks to enable their children to learn and grow. It was a positive evening, but not an inspiring one. It was very like many evenings I spend with either parents or young people, important, but not necessarily unforgettable.
Neta, our wonderful shlicha (emissary) suggested I follow her to the room down the corridor. I followed her and that is when the special part of Thursday evening in Melbourne was revealed to me. Over 20 young Habonim Dror bogrim (college students) sitting in a circle and studying together. Really studying, not for their college exams, but to enable them to be better educators at the upcoming summer camp they are running for young Jewish people. There are not many young people of this age in the world who take a Thursday evening to study the following lines:
"The Child has the right to live in the present: Children are not the people of tomorrow. They are people today".
When Janusz Korczak wrote these lines in the 1920s he had no idea that his life would end in Treblinka together with the children of the Jewish Orphanage in Warsaw. He could not imagine a Jewish Community in Melbourne or a group of young Jews in their early 20s spending their Thursday evening not in a cafe or a bar, but sitting in a circle in the Habonim Dror clubhouse and not just philosophizing about this idea, but getting ready to implement his ideas in our Habonim Dror summer camp. (From the page on which the Korczak quote is found: "Method: go through the initial pedagogy, say how Janusz (use of first name only, very familiar us Habo folks) would have tackled that, explain the system; ask what they think about the pedagogy; Begin with question relating to Habonim Dror Junior movement; Talk about potential structures or attitudes we could adopt").
When I get a little discouraged by the politics in the Jewish World, when I am tired out after a day of meetings, when I am saddened that donors do not understand what we are doing, I will think back to this Thursday evening in Melbourne, and I will remember why I am doing what I am doing. Thank you to the Bogrim body of Melbourne; you are a shining example of what we are about, of who we strive to be; Go up and be fulfilled.
Why not end with Janusz Korczak's beautiful words: "Let the children drink the joy of the morning. Show them love, kindness and understanding - set an example."