A letter for the NOAL mishlachat to HDNA

This piece was written for a delegation (mishlachat) from HaNoar HaOved v’HaLomed who visited North America for a 10 day intensive seminar about Habonim Dror North America. They visited New York City, Philadelphia and Machaneh Galil, Washington D.C. and Machaneh Moshava, and Vancouver. Through the course of the seminar, they met with ma’apilimot (college-aged movement members), nachshonimot (post MBI-aged movement members), Executive Directors of the machanot, the mazkirut artzit, shlichimot, and the mazkirut artzit, as well as members of synagogues, Hillels, Ameinu and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Please note that this piece contains a lot of Hebrew words and phrases from the movement! For explanations, see our Movement 101 page.

As a three-month old olah from Habonim Dror North America (HDNA) who is just starting her ongoing mifgash (meeting) with HaNoar HaOved v’HaLomed (NOAL) and Dror Yisrael, it feels more than fitting that a group of NOAL leadership should be meeting the youth movement I grew up in. Since I’ve been here, it’s become clearer to me how each movement has a fuzzy understanding of the other – we each know the other exists and that our ideology is linked, but the gap between us feels much farther than just the Atlantic Ocean.

In HDNA, our knowledge of the youth movement here in Israel had been fairly basic up until more recently. At machaneh, we ran peulot for kids about NOAL, but mainly along the lines of “and there is another youth movement that wears chultzot (movement shirts) just like us!” with very little understanding of how kenim (movement centers) work, or the wide diversity of activities the movement here includes. I only really started learning about Dror Yisrael toward the end of our shlav bet process, when aliyah was on the horizon and we wanted to find out exactly what we were getting ourselves into. I think the moment when aliyah first became a concrete reality for me was on Mifgash seminar here, when I saw with my own eyes what a movement life could look like, the range of possibilities it could include. It was suddenly clear to me that we had real partners here, partners who were actually building the vision of Israeli society that we so often talked and dreamed about in HDNA. Faith in that knowledge was one of the biggest things that kept me from feeling like aliyah was jumping off a cliff. I knew that there would be another youth movement here to catch me.

In the two months I’ve been here, I’ve understood so much more about the way NOAL and Dror Israel function in every interaction I have with them. I’ve also begun to understand how little awareness of Habonim exists here. Which makes sense, to some extent – people are doing messimah (movement work) constantly and living with their garinim (communes), so there isn’t a space or a need to think about another youth movement. But I certainly feel a tension, between being who I am (someone raised in the diaspora and in Habonim), and assimilating into Dror Yisrael. There are certain tension points where it’s unclear how much I need to take part and learn before I’m allowed to have an opinion. For example – how many Kabbalat Shabbats at Dror Israel seminars do I have to go to, to be able to shape a Shabbat that feels more Jewish to me? Why did ending the occupation feel so much more talked about and more urgent in HDNA than it does in this movement, on the ground in Israel? I often struggle with feeling like I just want to be a part of things as quickly as possible, but at the same time feeling frustrated that so few people share my history or my reasons for being here. It also has to do with leadership. How can it be that I was Rosh of a Habonim Dror machaneh, responsible for 200 campers and 50 tzevet members and a board of parents, and that I can come here and barely run activities for nine year olds in a ken? It’s important to note that most olim that come to Dror Israel have already taken responsibility over their own youth movements at the highest levels of leadership, and have much to bring from that experience. In general we have much to bring from our experiences in the diaspora, and it’s our messimah (mission) to bring those things: our experience running machanot, our skills building creative and vibrant Jewish communities, and our determination to end the occupation, among other things.

Something that I think is important, although a struggle for me to come to terms with, is that these two youth movements (NOAL and Habo) are fundamentally different. One is not better than the other, and each has a unique history and praxis. The role that Habonim has historically played for American and Canadian Jews is not the same as the role of the labor youth movements for Israeli Jews. The way we conceive of Zionism and Judaism have fundamental gaps, something I’ve begun to struggle with in the El HaMerchav process (the process of choosing to join the Tnuat HaBogrim, the graduate movement, along with our Israeli shichvah or age group). Our songs and our culture are different. Our idea of what being in a youth movement means is different. And that’s a good thing – we should be different because we come from different places and we meet different needs. But at the same time, our destiny is shared, because our vision is shared. We need shlichim from NOAL to come to HDNA, both to bring us the vibrancy of their youth movement, but also to understand us deeply. And we need Workshop and MBI and olim to come to Israel, to bring Habonim here and to know that we are not alone. HDNA cannot be seen here as a “side project” of NOAL, something peripheral and extra that sometimes sends a few people to live in garinim and work in kenim in Israel. It needs to be understood as a movement that has ownership over and a hardcore hitmodedut (struggle) with diaspora Jewry, things that play a vital role in Israeli society. HDNA, particularly now in a crisis point, needs to be seen clearly and validated for the power it holds in its members and communities. At the same time, HDNA has so much learning, cheshbon (accounting) and inspiration to draw from the ways NOAL has failed and succeeded, grown and shifted, and ultimately put itself at the center of Israeli society.

The diaspora movement needs the Israeli movement, and the Israeli movement needs the diaspora movement. There has to be a brit (a pact) – one that’s intentional, explicit and actively shaped on both sides. Each youth movement should have a clear vision of the other, and should be able to approve and demand. We should be able to share our strengths with each other, because I believe we both have so much to give. This shlichut can and should be the start of an ongoing process of deep mifgash (meeting), where we build up our shared ideological center and find strength in the tensions and differences. HDNA has no center and no direction without Dror Israel and NOAL – the movements here give HDNA’s Zionism a concrete shape. And vice versa, Dror Israel and NOAL need to see and value HDNA if they truly want to see themselves as taking responsibility over the Jewish people, not just Israel.

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