To Inspire and Require
By Shawn Guttman
(Speech delivered at the Ameinu event honoring 75 years of North American Habonim in November 2009 in New York City.)
To inspire and require. A few months ago I was told that was the purpose of a youth movement. Since being presented with the concept, it has become my unofficial mantra and a barometer by which to gauge where we’re at as a movement.
So, is Habonim Dror inspiring its members? I realized I should first ask myself that question. I remember a moment in my second year of university while I was struggling with my studies in computer engineering. I found I had this nagging feeling that something wasn’t right with the path I had laid out for myself. I kept looking at what I was studying and was failing to see how I would feel fulfilled by it. This concept of fulfillment seemed to be linked to all this chinuch I had grown up with in the movement and the idea of doing something positive for the world…you know, tikkun olam, social justice… all of that! And then it struck me; another path for me to take that interested me and was providing me with that feeling of fulfillment. So I followed it. I switched my major to Cultural Anthropology and Peace Studies, set my sights on mediation and negotiation and, hopefully, will one day put those skills to use in Israel. All of this came out of the movement inspiring me to reach for more; to do good in the world.
So the movement inspired me, but what about everyone else? Leading up to this event my thoughts strayed to the bogrim of the movement. Have they been inspired by Habonim? To that I can only respond yes! The number of bogrim who go on from the movement to become teachers, rabbis, doctors, journalists, social workers; or who work for social justice organizations or take on positions in their Jewish community or Zionist organizations or made aliyah to be a part of building Israel. It simply astounds me! All of these people are going out into the world, trying to change it, to make it better. I’d like to think that, like myself, the life path they chose were inspired by the passion and values they experienced while in Habonim. And this is besides all of those bogrim who choose to bring their children into the Habonim family; there must be some lingering inspiration there!
Inspiration checklist: me, yep! Bogrim, check! What about the current chevrei t’nua? For this one I had to think a little more. Looking at those in college and university and seeing what they’ve chosen to study and the paths they’re setting themselves on, it seems that, yes, they are being inspired in that same way. But that alone didn’t seem enough to answer the question, so my thoughts roved to machaneh. I thought about all of those madrichim who work at our machanot and on our Israel programs, who give up their summers, who get paid so little and constantly face that tirade from their parents to get a real job, who put up with whiny kids and helicopter parents, late nights and early mornings and all of those other things that I’m sure all of you remember so well. What makes them return every year? What makes them spend so much of their free time thinking up those new and fantastic ideas to make machaneh better; ways to ensure that their machaneh provides chanichim with amazing experiences year after year; and to make sure their machaneh is around when they have children? It must be the movement that inspires them to want to return; to educate and be a part of their chanichim’s lives, to share their lives with their machaneh community. Again, this didn’t seem enough to deserve a resounding yes. So I turned to the year-round. I looked at the kenim across the U.S. and Canada and saw the amount of time and energy ma’apilim and nachshonim were putting into them. I saw new kenim in cities like Boston, Palo Alto, Irvine and Cleveland. In Toronto I saw a ken that had grown to the point where it split into two kenim. In Philadelphia I saw a year-round service learning program for post-bar mitzvah aged youth being developed into an alternative Jewish education program for all ages. And in D.C. I saw educational modules based in Habonim chinuch being created to bring to schools and synagogues. And on top of all of this I saw ma’apilim living communally in kvutsot in Montreal, Vancouver, New York and Ann Arbor. At the end of all of this pondering the only possible answer I could give was yes! The movement is inspiring its members.
So inspiration is taken care of, but what about the require part? Well… we’re getting better at that. As each year passes it becomes easier to set requirements of movement members to step up into all of the tafkidim needed to run the movement; to devote their time during the year to growing their ken, their machaneh and the movement; to take responsibility for their Jewish community and their wider community; and to undertake the unfinished project that is Israel. So by my barometer, there’s still work to be done. But then again, we wouldn’t be a movement if we didn’t still have something left to do!
As for me, well the movement required me to stand here and make this speech. We’ll see what it requires of me when I get into the office on Monday!
For you though, the bogrim of HDNA… what does the movement require of you? I’ll leave the first thought that comes to mind to someone who can channel Jewish guilt better than I. But, there is something else that we require of you, the missing link in this circle. We require inspiration from you. We want to hear about the amazing things you are doing and hear those fantastic stories from you glory days in the movement. I can’t describe how energized it can make us. All I can say is WE NEED MORE!!! Go visit your machaneh, your local ken, a group of ma’apilim or chanichim who live in your city, seek out the workshoppers in Israel; do whatever you can think of! This is your role in the movement today, the end of your circle and the beginning of ours. I’m confident that you will rise to the task.