Habonim Was Inaugurated

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Buffalo, 1935: “Habonim Was Inaugurated”
Nahum Guttman

New York, 1935

Excerpt from the book Builders and Dreamers: Habonim Labor Zionist Youth in North America
Utilizing every means of locomotion at the disposal of impecunious but determined youth – truck, flivver, and thumb – delegates to the thirteenth convention of the Young Poale Zion Alliance descended upon Buffalo in October for four days of sessions, strikingly characterized by a lack of mere verbosity and an abundance of toil. For the first time, YPZA found itself without the need for prolonged ideological clarification. The delegates knew what they wanted – and what they wanted was action!

Why has Socialist-Zionism hitherto been slow to appeal to American Jewish youth? What are the plans that emerge from Buffalo which open the way to wider circles? Two major pre-convention developments must be considered.

The metamorphosis of our youth organization from a Yiddish speaking, foreign-born group to an indigenous American movement is completed… Most of the delegates to this year’s convention were themselves born and raised on this continent and contrasted sharply with the types more common at earlier gatherings. Buffalo, 1935 marks the completion of the adaptation of Socialist Zionism to American Jewish youth.

The second of the factors setting the tone of the movement have been developments in Zionist and international affairs. The youth movement, while propounding the ideas of Socialist Zionism and leading a relatively large number of its members to the realization of its philosophy through chalutziut, pioneering in Palestine, is only now able to approach the wider mass of Jewish youth. The Buffalo delegates became aware of the fact that what once was clear to a limited number of devoted comrades is now, thanks to the crisis in Jewish life and the disintegration of the accepted social order, becoming intelligible to others. Crisis is whipping recalcitrants into line.

An ideological war was declared on Jewish youth as yet outside our ranks. Every session was devoted to strategy… The ideological war manifesto, should it be codified, would read: “Better chalutzim from America! More chalutziut for America!”

The second line of our attack is fronted against radical youth “of Jewish origin, indifferent to Jewish problems.” Jewish institutions of learning must be stormed by young Labor Zionists... The embodiment of the Zionist philosophy in Jewish education has become imperative, both because of the weak content of our curricula and because Zionism must begin its training at an early age…

The convention approved the plan of the National Executive for its children’s educational organization – the Zionist Pioneer Youth Habonim. Work among children has heretofore been carried on unsystematically. In January of this year, the first steps were taken towards the introduction of a planned program for children, and Habonim was inaugurated as a chalutz scouting movement. To it, the chalutz is the man of productive labor, the socialized being, and the standard-bearer of national renaissance. Habonim is patterned after the Labor settlements in Palestine, and its Hebrew terminology serves to enhance the Labor Zionist environment of the child. Recognizing chalutziut as the spearhead of its educational program, Habonim also incorporates social and cultural elements that provide for a purposeful life in the American Jewish community. It will eventually assist in precipitating Socialism in America.

The successful summer camps of the YPZA have reached the stage where the organization looks forward to having all its members attend next summer. Summer Kvutzot (named after the collective colonies in Palestine, which they emulate) are scheduled to be established in various parts of the country. These kvutzot enrich the social and cultural life of our youth. The Kvutza, which is operated by its members, has given them their first taste of communal living, and will eventually introduce agriculture as one of their major activities, thus increasing the similarity between the camping experiences and a life of cooperative labor. The singing and dancing, the hauling of wood, the peeling of potatoes, and the construction of a house in the fastness of the Catskills are rehearsals for pioneer life in Palestine.

Excerpts from "Habonim in Britain: Origins and Early Years"

From the book Habonim Great Britain 1929-1955

At this stage [1930], it would have been inaccurate to have called Habonim a youth movement because ideological and administrative decisions were taken by a Council of patrons many years older than the leaders and members of the Movement. The Council was self-elected and centred around those who had been involved in the critical initial stages of establishing the organisation, but representatives of the Rashei Gedudim and members of sympathetic organisations also attended Council meetings. At one such meeting, in October 1930, the ratio between patrons, leaders and observers was nine, four and two respectively, pointing to the dominance of the older generation of patrons over the younger Rashei Gedudim.
Such a situation inevitably led to friction, for which the debate over Zionism provided the ideological expression... [The patron's] Zionism did not lead to personal Aliya, but was based on strengthening Jewish identity in the Diaspora through understanding and appreciation of the regeneration taking place in Palestine. The patrons of Habonim were clearly concerned that Habonim might become a narrow, sectoral Zionist organisation, while the Rashei Gedudim were in favour of making Palestine and Zionism more explicit elements in the Habonim programme. The early history of Habonim is thus one of continuing friction between the patrons on the one hand and gedud leaders on the other, illustrating not only the tendency to move towards explicit Zionism, but also the beginning of the evolutionary transformation of Habonim from youth organisation to youth movement.
... In December 1932 at a conference of group leaders, the desire to give a more explicit expression of the organisation's Zionism was supported by a majority. A recommendation was passed on to the Council that the constitution be amended to reflect this decision. The Council, certainly the majority of the patrons, was uncomfortable about such changes but decided that a mild statement mentioning interest in Palestine was within the limits of acceptability and the constitution was thereby amended. The important clause was:
"The aim of the Movement is to stimulate Jewish boys and girls to a realisation of their heritage as Jews and their responsibilities, in particular those relating to the upbuilding of Eretz Yisrael."
A clause was nevertheless retained reminding all concerned that this work would be carried on "in accordance with the principle that it is the duty of every Jew to be a loyal citizen of the country in which he lives."
An accommodation was thereby found, at least for the time being, between patrons and leaders, Zionists and non-Zionists.
From time to time friction between these groups on the Council would come to a head…
At a conference of Habonim in February 1935, Abe Herman, brother of Phil, presented a paper on the re-organisation of the Movement. He took this opportunity to criticise the Council system by claiming that it was inappropriate to the current needs of Habonim. Firstly, because the Council members were out of touch with developments within the organisation because none of them were actively working with the children... Herman therefore proposed the replacement of the twenty-five man Council by a Mercaz elected and responsible to the annual conference of the organisation. The Mercaz should meet not less than once every six weeks and determine the 'rules and regulations concerning the policy and conduct of the Movement'.
Such a 'revolutionary' programme was bound to meet with the opposition of the patrons. But a year later, the Council was forced to acquiesce to the' general body of the Rashim' who sent it a memorandum more in the tone of an ultimatum. The signatories of this document threatened that 'they are only prepared to continue their work in the Movement if the new scheme be adopted'. The Council had little choice but to acquiesce.
At the fifth annual conference of the 'Gedud shel Rashei Gedudim', held on Boxing Day 1935, Abe Herman's proposals were duly adopted and the Council system was swept away. The 'revolution' had been achieved and Habonim could argue that it had become a genuine youth movement six years after its creation.

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