12496307_1678035079119035_1344865459609009536_oIt’s no secret the Habonim Dror aims to provide a safe space for New Zealand’s Jewish Youth. With a dedicated house in Auckland we can call our home, and yearly camps put together all for our chanichim, the safe space we envisage takes them away from the pressures of school and city life, and puts them in an environment where they share a culture and history with the others, and can build leadership and social skills in their own way.

With such a small population of us spread across the country, it’s a high possibility that, unless you go to Kadimah, you’re the only Jewish or Israeli kid in your class, or likely even your entire school. I was lucky enough to share my last two years of high school with Tomer Simhony, but for the majority of my former years my brother would have been the only other student at school with whom I share that history. The stories from our madrichim regarding the antisemitism we faced as small children are endless, from being told that Israel is to blame for 9/11, to being asked why we don’t own banks, or that as a 14 year old, I’m to blame for the global financial crisis. Young children in primary school aren’t aware of the impact they make when they are repeating what they’ve heard from vocal political channels or family members, but there’s no mistaking that the candid nature of children leads to alienation when you have no support. To a lesser extent than antisemitism, the lack of understanding that most children have does play a role in the upbringing of any minority group, and it’s so subtle that most people don’t even notice until their entry into our safe space.

At Habo, nobody asks why you don’t eat certain things, why you prefer to reserve Friday evenings for family, or “where is Israel I’ve never heard of it before oh is it the one with all the wars?” As chanichim of Habonim Dror, we share a culture and a history that predates the modern world. The stories that are shared with us and the occasions that we celebrate, if only sporadically, come from a long, rich history, and having that shared background with someone goes deeper than coming from the same hometown or being in the same class at school. It’s an unspoken bond that draws our chanichim closer to one another and it’s a space where nobody feels as if they have to explain themselves, their upbringing or answer for any part of themselves.

Machane Bonim and Shnat Sem
Machane Bonim and Shnat Sem

This year has seen an explosion to our madatzim program, with Adi Rothman Berman freshly returned from Shnat forging the way toward creating a new generation of madrichim and community leaders. From day one, chanichim are encouraged to take responsibility and ownership for everything they do in Habo, and no age is too young to start thinking about the place you occupy on Earth and how you can lead the way. Because all kids are different, we take an individualised approach with all of them; no two human beings can ever be led the same. In doing so, we encourage them to create their own leadership style. Camps are a great place for this, as they are away from their parents and given the time and space to develop their own independence. Every year each child makes amazing strides, from deciding not to climb out a window and using a front door instead, to leading a peulah for their entire shichva. To encourage this, we want to provide more and more platforms for our youth to explore their leadership potential.

As well as leadership, and perhaps a little lighter in context, are the opportunities we provide for social interaction. At our camps in particular, our chanichim have the opportunity to see each other and show themselves at their best and at their worst, at the early start and the late end of the day, clean after a river bath and filthy after a mud fight, refreshed after a bonding peulah and frazzled after team challenges. There is nowhere to hide and so chanichim are forced to be their true selves; friendships are built on realness, rather than the projected selves we lean towards at school. The bonds that are built through the openness Habo encourages helps the kids build life-long friendships that are more profound than the connections you make at the end of the cul-de-sac, which we believe is an important factor in building adjusted young adults who will contribute to their community and the entire world.

Unspoken bonds have true strength that hold a group of people together, and it is this environment we want to foster for generations to come. In providing a safe space and endless opportunities for leadership and self improvement, we are encouraging our Jewish youth to be the best versions of themselves they can be. They engage with each other, challenge each other and lead each other, and it is from this interaction that our community is built and strengthened.

Jess Furmanski