Reflections on El HaMerchav

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This post is made up of many different thoughts and reflections on the El HaMerchav seminar and process we finished two weeks ago. We’ve written about realizations and dilemmas with the movement that have emerged from El HaMerchav, and that we are continuing to grapple with moving forward. Here are reflections from Jarred, Ziv, and Gabe.

What is El HaMerchav??

by Jarred Abrahams (Garin Techina.) Excerpted from a letter to Garin Mafteach, HD Australia. 

At the Aliyah Tekkes (ceremony).

At the Aliyah Tekkes (ceremony).

First, a brief overview of El HaMerchav. ‘HaMerchav’ is an alternative name for the Tnuat Bogrim of Dror Israel, and is an acronym for the ‘Renewers of the Idea of Hechalutz in the Land of Israel’ (ישראל בארץ החלוץ רעיון מחדשי .) The content of this seminar was therefore surrounding the stage of life that my shichva (Shin Yud) and the two shchavot below us (Shin Lamed and Na’an) are in the process of joining and shaping. Over the past few months, representatives from each Garin, as well as our madrichim, have been building this seminar, which ran for a whole week in mixed groups. We were put in ‘English Friendly’ groups, and navigated the tension between pragmatism and Zionism with every word that was spoken, in both English and Hebrew. Some elements of the seminar included exploring the ye’ud (core mission) of the Jewish People, building an adult life based on an informal code, and what does it mean to be part of Dror Israel. The movement is changing rapidly. This is only the third time that this seminar has taken place, and it is the first time to have included olim from Habonim Dror. Not only were we included, but our dilemmas, our youth movement and our aliyot were central to the seminar, climaxing with a Tekkes (ceremony) Aliya. Without doubt, this was a highlight of the seminar.

On the Goals of El HaMerchav

by Ziv Bar-El 

Garin Silan at El HaMerchav

Garin Silan at El HaMerchav

El HaMerchav was beyond what I thought it would be. I can’t remember the last time I was at a seminar that touched so many parts of my life and created a vision for a better society in a tangible way. I felt the historical importance of this seminar for the future of the Socialist-Zionist revolution, and between the two movements (Habonim Dror and HaNoar HaOved v’HaLomed). At the same time I felt that the seminar didn’t have me within this moment of history as an object, but a subject within it. I found support and partnership with members of my chug (conversation group). I related to the struggles of others around me and didn’t feel alone. People were able to bring struggles and dreams into our conversations. It was hard for me to speak all the time in the peulot, but I felt comfortable to share things I hadn’t shared with many others. The content of the seminar felt really relevant to my life individually and as a part of something larger.

El HaMerchav either achieved its goals, or started the process that can lead to the goals of El HaMerchav. I think it did create a forum for dialogical democracy, in which shared discussions could lead to a common goal. It’s hard to know what each chug thought or left the seminar with from my knowledge. I can assume that we think similarly, but the conversations about these topics certainly aren’t just over. Maybe people came to different conclusions, despite conversations I had between people about other chuggim. I thought that the sicha about drugs was the most tangible example of a decision that came out of El HaMerchav that everyone agreed to. I trust that people will take it seriously, but that was just a starting point reaching into a discussion of how people use substances in society, and I, along with others, will still need to see how that plays out.

I also thought El HaMerchav mixed in the different schavot  in a really positive way. It helped a lot to have in discussions with people from many different schavot in my chug. Also I connected with people from the Mechadshim ma’agal (the group of people who works in the Mechadshim, or the working youth) during breaks and other Tnuat HaBogrim doing messima in HaNoar HaOved. I was part of the Kvutzat Avodah (work group), a short hitnasut and lemida (hands-on learning experience) on the working world and how we relate labor to our lives. It really touched me in a personal way because I identify with doing physical labor in a movement setting from HDNA. It would have been awesome to go through more of a lemida process around labor specifically within my tafkid. That’s something that could change at the machanot for the future. It was also fun to sing with people who I didn’t really know in the makaela (choir), as well as with Gabe, Adi, and Abra. I don’t necessarily feel comfortable calling up some of these people I just met because I still don’t really know them, but I see them as having a shared vision for an alternative society. I could see that in the future maybe I’ll depend on them more.

The Makela (choir) performing

The Makela (choir) performing

I also found a lot of value in having the tochnit (content) run by ourselves, and I think I might have taken that for granted a little. I could tell it was very challenging for the people on the tzevet (staff), both because a lot of responsibility rested on them to create an environment none of us had ever experienced before, and it touched their lives on a lot of different levels. It definitely felt like the seminar was peer led. It was important that our madrichim were there, but it definitely was our peers leading the seminar. Especially Lily, Ellie, and Adi who I have much admiration and respect for leading peulot that are not in our first language.

El HaMerchav started to tell us what Dror Israel is, but there’s still a lot I don’t know and things I don’t understand about it. We went really fast through the bilti formali (Informal Codes) part of the seminar and I feel like it would do be good to relearn those concepts and develop a greater understanding about them. I feel like the only real way I’ll really understand more about the movement is to live in it.

Hitnasut and Hitmodedut at El HaMerchav

by Gabe Katzman

Gabe at Kibbutz Ravid!

Gabe at Kibbutz Ravid!

What does it mean to be in a movement? What does it mean to intentionally choose to surround yourself with partners and support structures? What does it mean to shape your life?

El HaMerchav was—in a nutshell—revolutionary for me. I am leaving the seminar feeling like I have the tools and partners to shape the wider movement that I am a part of, Israeli society, and my life. How did it get to this?

For five days, more than 300 movement members converged on Kibbutz Ravid (a movement kibbutz next to the Kinneret). We are Shin Yud, the oldest shichvah (age level). We were joined by Shin Lamed (the year below us) and Na’an (two below us). The names of the shichvot come from the army; there are three different groups that join each year in the army.

Kibbutz Ravid is a beautiful place

Kibbutz Ravid is a beautiful place

El HaMerchav was a robust seminar. The schedule was packed with a wide assortment of activities. The seminar was divided into three “content worlds”: Informal Code, the Individual and the Collective, and Judaism and Zionism. These three content worlds came from a seminar more than six months ago where representatives from each shichvah brainstormed relevant challenges in their lives.

Informal Code refers to the informal code of life that we live in the movement. We had conversations about what it means to live an “informal life.” More specifically, how can we live a life that is both free from societal norms and expectations that is also safe and secure? One thing that I really took away from this is talking about what is “normal” in society and life. Are we living an abnormal life because living collectively and as a part of a movement is so different from the wider Western world? Or conversely, is the “typical life” of individuality and capitalist codes actually what is not normal? As with many parts of this seminar, I didn’t walk away with answers; however, I really felt empowered to keep asking these questions.

Hanging out on a break

Hanging out on a break

One thing that is really relevant to my life is the idea of “hitnasut.” There isn’t a direct translation to English, but hitnasut is roughly a combination of “experimentation” and “experience”. This was a huge basis for my decision to move to Israel and engage with my life in this meaningful way. I am experimenting with the concept of testing out what I want in my life, and I think I can only figure that out by trying new things. I feel that I have control over my life and that’s really comforting; I think the hitnasut of an informal life plays a big role in that.

One thing that really stuck out from the Individual and the Collective portion was that many people in the movement hold personal desires that may exist outside of the movement. How much room is there in the movement for someone who wants to be a lawyer, for example? What I took away from this was that we shouldn’t be feeling restricted from doing things we want, but instead we should be bringing our tensions to our partners in the movement. In this way, we will be able to make our personal aspirations and dilemmas more collective.

Possibly the most interesting content world was the one about Judaism and Zionism. It’s really interesting how different the perspective is for tzabarim (native-born Israelis) in comparison to olim (immigrants). Some of the tzabarim told me that for much of their life a “Jewish” person was just someone like an Ultra-Orthodox settler in Hebron. Some feel more “Israeli” than “Jewish.”  For those coming from the Diaspora, Judaism has become such a central part of our lives; it defines us and is one of our most important identities. Another big gap is the perception of Zionism. For many of the olim, we chose Israel because Zionism is important to us (for most of us, Zionism is still complicated and simultaneously a challenge and admiration). On the other hand, for many Israelis born here, Israel is simply their home country; their passion for Israel comes from familiarity as opposed to ideology. We, as the olim, really wanted to bring our perspective but also find a shared ideology and direction together.

Chug 1 (Group 1)!

Chug 1 (Group 1)!

One of the biggest highlights of the seminar was Erev Aliyah (Aliyah Evening). Each of the 16 chugim (groups that we were split into for the seminar) had an activity with actors telling stories of different Aliyah stories. In my group we each told a story of someone’s aliyah in our family. I realized that nearly everyone in Israel has someone in their family who made aliyah to Israel in the past generation or two, and that helped me connect to those who had not made aliyah to Israel.

We then gathered on the basketball court for a tekkes (ceremony). While there were some amazing songs, speeches, and videos, the biggest aspect of the tekkes was the impact it had on non-olim. For many in the movement, they understand that it might be hard to be far from family or speak Hebrew, but until now, it had been hard to understand struggles that we olim go through. During the tekkes, I truly felt valued and supported by everyone there.

The Aliyah Tekes (ceremony)

The Aliyah Tekes (ceremony)

For me now, it’s important to keep moving forward together. If we always hang the decision to move to Israel as the only ultimate hardcore decision, we can never be partners with tzabarim in the movement. We need to make “spiritual aliyah” together; this is something we talked about on the seminar. I think the role of olim is to push tzabarim to make more hardcore decisions with us.

Another big aspect of the seminar was the tarbut (culture). When I talk about culture, I don’t mean going to a movie or listening to music; rather, the culture created by every interaction between people. I was on tzevet tarbut, the group responsible for shaping the culture of the seminar. There was a lot of lead up to the seminar and the feedback was really rewarding for us. I feel that the interactions between people on the seminar was really good overall. Although it was overwhelming at first with so many participants, I saw so many positive interactions between new friends. I know personally that I met a ton of people and got a lot closer to those I already knew. These are the people who will be in my life and it was awesome to be interacting with them in such a nice way.

Anne, Rotem, and Gabe at the "Gender Bender" event for gender positivity

Anne, Rotem, and Gabe at the “Gender Bender” event for gender positivity

It wasn’t perfect, though. My experience was really tough early on. I spent a week and a half in America visiting my family before the seminar. My dad had surgery, so I really wanted to be home to support him. (To see how he is doing, check out my mom’s blog!) It was a really important trip and I’m really glad I went; however, because I missed the lead-up to the seminar, I felt pretty disconnected from my tzevet. That plus Hebrew meant that it was really hard to come back and feel as much ownership over the seminar as I wanted.

For the first two days, I felt like I was socially on the periphery and overwhelmed. I felt like I was not a leader. I felt that I wasn’t hardcore and that I was just doing this because I didn’t know what else to do in my life. I ended up having a big breakdown and cried a lot. After the tears, I went to the Aliyah tekes and had a truly amazing evening. From then on, the seminar was emotion, meaningful, and empowering.

I think the turning point was feeling a greater connection to everyone at the seminar. I just started feeling connected to everyone. For instance, we watched a video that a bunch of different people made at their messimah (movement mission). I really connected with the video; I felt that even though I wasn’t personally working with kids in places like Sderot, Petakh Tikva, and Kiryat Eliezer, I was still having an impact on those places by extension of my movement.

That is what it means to be in a movement: feeling a shared responsibility over all of society, and acting on that.

left the seminar to head back to Ulpan, and that’s really hard. I feel that my biggest struggle with Ulpan is that at home, I am responsible for other people. I share my money with my garin and I support people when they need someone there for them. At Ulpan, however, I am on my own; it’s a very personal experience. I’m learning hebrew for me to be functional in Israel. We have about a month and a half remaining and then we will move on to educating in the movement.

I also left the seminar feeling more ready to grapple with parts of my life and more ready to shape the movement going forward. I don’t know how exactly I can shape the movement, but I know that I now have the partners and the tools to do just that.


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