Recalling Movement’s Roots, Labor Zionists to Form an “Urban Kibbutz”
Defying the image of American aliyah as reserved for the politically conservative, a group of 12 liberal young Jews from the Habonim Dror North America movement will move to Israel this September to form an urban kibbutz.
“This is one of the most exciting developments in Labor-Zionist aliyah in the past two decades,” says Talia Spear, the national director of Habonim Dror. “While individuals from Habonim Dror have been immigrating to Israel for many years, this is the first time in decades that activists are making aliyah together as a group. Their decision is stirring up a lot of energy across the movement. We’re hoping that this group will be the first in a new wave of young, progressive North Americans moving to Israel.”
The group is made up of recent college graduates who are dedicated to a progressive Zionist vision that seeks to promote a just peace, to advance Jewish culture, to create a society rooted in value-based education, to fight racism and to combat threats to Israeli democracy. “We’re moving to Israel because we care deeply about the people of Israel and because we have faith in the progressive Zionist dream of Herzl, Ben Gurion, A.D. Gordon and others” says group member George Stevens, originally of Philadelphia. “We see rising tensions between Jews and Arabs and the erosion of the social safety net, and we want to work toward a society based on cooperation and mutual responsibility instead.”
The members of this group are: Adam Levi (Victoria, BC); Avital Oretsky (Toronto, ON); Bria Gray (Silver Spring, MD); Brianna Fowler (Chicago, IL); Carmi Tint (Vancouver, BC); George Stevens (Philadelphia, PA); Hyla Kemeny (Ancaster, ON); Leah Silverberg (Toronto, ON); Niki Egar (Los Angeles, CA); Yali Lamm (Ann Arbor, MI); Yonah Meiselman (Bethesda, MD); and Zak Greenwald (Los, Angeles, CA).
The young people grew up attending Habonim Dror summer camps across North America and many had their first significant group experience in Israel on Habonim Dror’s teen summer program, Machaneh Bonim Israel. The group attributes its most defining experience to be participating in Habonim Dror’s gap year Workshop program in Israel (a program supported by both MASA and Repair the World), where they learned about Israeli culture and volunteered in educational settings in under-served communities. This formative experience led them to choose paths in college that allowed them to contribute to their Jewish communities and to principals of social justice. Their Jewish identity was further shaped throughout their college years by continuing reflection and discussion on the nature of Judaism and their personal responsibility to the Jewish people.
George Stevens, originally of Philadelphia, chose to make his new home in Vancouver, “where I could live collectively with other members of Habonim Dror, while making a difference in a wonderful Jewish community.” He sped up his graduation from Stanford University so that he could live in a collective with his Habonim friends. Taking a different approach, Yonah Meiselman lived for a year in the University of Maryland Hebrew House. In the Hebrew House, Yonah said, “I forced myself to speak only Hebrew, both in our apartment and whenever I was speaking with anyone living there. It’s the kind of challenge that I hope will make moving to Israel a more manageable endeavor.”
As seniors in college, they held an aliyah pilot trip to Israel, and decided to move to Israel as a collective. While most of them intend to work at first in Habonim educational settings, helping to facilitate the learning and community service of others, some will begin working immediately within Israeli society.
Founded in 1935, Habonim Dror (the Builders of Freedom) is a Progressive Labor-Zionist Youth movement whose mission is:
- To build a personal bond and commitment between North American Jewish youth and the State of Israel.
- To create Jewish leaders who will actualize the principles of social justice, equality, peace and coexistence in Israel and North America.
Habonim Dror runs 7 machanot (summer camps) across Canada and the United States, an Israel summer program, and a year-long Israel program based on the pillars of Progressive Labor Zionism, Cultural Judaism, Socialism, Social Justice and Hagshama (actualization of values).