Dancing with Youngsters

Categories: Personal Stories of Zionism, Israel and Progressive Identity
By Yona Prital

It’s Saturday night, and a group of young people stand in a circle. Together they sing the mythological song of Biyalik and Minkovski : “Hachama me’rosh ha’ilanot nistalka…” (“The sun is disappearing on the treetop…”).

At Camp Moshava in Maryland, nature is our décor as we stand on the grass surrounded by forest, watching the fireworks explode from a distance to commemorate Memorial Day.

We close our eyes, imagining generations of youngsters standing on the same grass year after year singing and receiving Shabbat Hamalka.

This is the opening of Moetzet Machanot (Camps Conference) of the Youth Movement Habonim Dror North America. The annual assembly is a gathering of the movement leadership, which is responsible for the education of hundreds of kids and teenagers at the movement summer camps all over North America.

The educators at this conference are young adults in their early-twenties. They come here to escape the pressures of careerism and competition, as they choose to spend the best years of their lives as educators and leaders of a Zionist and Socialist Movement (God forbid!).

In the big dining hall, “the Hadar” (short for Hadar Ochel – the Kibbutz dinning hall), we bless the candles and challah. After this, we have a long discussion about leadership and teamwork, trying to understand their meaning on both general and personal levels and figuring out how we are going to use them to better the running of the camps.

At the Moetzet Machanot, the young adults speak English freely mixed with Hebrew words. As I listen, I think about Yehoshua’s assertion that there is no meaning for a cultural Jewish identity in the Diaspora. These young adults come from all over North America, but together they create a strong and meaningful Jewish community, with a language and culture of their own.

Before embarking on a “leisurely American summer,” these twenty-something’s have an intense weekend filled with profound discussions on Jewish and Zionist identity. They talk about what Israel means to them and what role it plays in their lives. This is a community created by a shared culture and passion, but filled with individual voices and opinions.

As an Israeli Shlicha, I get to be a part of the youngsters’ journey in thinking and questioning their identity and affiliation. They are confronted with heavy questions: Can you be Zionist in the Diaspora without making Aliyah? Can you be a cultural Jew in the Diaspora? What does it entail? They are presented with ideas more than 100 years apart, ideas from Ahad Ha’am and ideas from other campers who have just returned from leadership training programs in Israel.

While the thirty-fifth Zionist Congress opens its doors, the youth Movement summer camps embrace hundreds of kids and teens, connecting them to a vibrant young Jewish community. They will experience their Jewish identity through ball games, swimming, Israeli dances and songs, trips, and intellectual and social activities.

Nine year-olds admire their nineteen year-old counselors while they dream at night about their own Shivat Zion (return to Zion).

Many of these dreamers will make Aliyah, live on kibbutzim and dedicate their lives to social justice. Several will continue to ask questions and debate. Many more will return every as educators to give “their kids” this experience.

The Zionist Congress won’t have a high rating amongst many youngsters, neither in Israel nor in North America but – in spite of its anachronistic image— the Zionist Congress is where crucial decisions will be made for the future of the next generations.

The Zionist Congress is the place to relocate the Zionists Youth Movements to the center of the Jewish world arena.

When the Zionist Congress ends and its delegates return home, the sun will again disappear on the treetop and kids, counselors and shlichim will sing together : ”Bo’ee Bo’ee Hamalka…Shalom Aleichem Mal’achei Hashalom…”

About Yona Prital

Yona Prital, a past recipient of the Excellency Award from the Jewish Agency, was the Central Shlicha for Habonim Dror North America. Yona holds a Masters degree in Education from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and is a graduate of the Mandel Institute for Leadership in Education. For twelve years, Yona was the Head of the Kibbutz Movement Education Department where she was the Kibbutz representative for the Israel Labor Party. Yona has returned to Israel and is living on Kibbutz Maale Hachamisha.
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