A reminder of just how awesome machaneh can be.
Warning: may induce nostalgia attacks
Adam Ognall, CEO of the New Israel Fund and former Habonim Movement worker, shares his thoughts.
I am sure many of you have over the years had this reaction from work colleagues, friends and others when describing your formative years in Habo and how it helped shape your world view and values (if not described as an addiction, maybe cult or fetish with a response of “you just don’t understand”?)
I had this conversation about a year ago with a former colleague. She followed her quizzical look with the obvious follow on questions of whether I am still connected to the organisation and the issues it introduced me to. I found myself giving the same confused answer I had been using for about 10 years which can be boiled down to a simple no.
Her questions came at a time when I had started to think about how this happened and what I could do about it. Why I went from being a proper Habo obsessive - 2 years movement work, shnat madrich, aliyah and even meeting my life partner who was mazkira of Habo in Melbourne – to going ‘cold turkey’ and being unengaged with Israel and Jewish life for 10 years*
Earlier this year I ditched the cold turkey and returned to full immersion. In doing so, I have had the opportunity to discuss with some former chevrei why so few of us in the UK have an active engagement with Israel, Zionism and the other issues we spent hours passionately arguing over. Between us we gave many reasons; from apathy, different priorities and feeling like we had somehow moved on from that stage of our life, to deeper questions about how we can relate to the Israel of today.
What become clear is that for many of us there is a feeling that there is no accessible and attractive way to engage. In part this is to do with the disconnect between how Israel is spoken about in the media and in the Jewish community, and the Israel we grew up with and know today. Where the options have been presented as being an uncritical either ‘with’ or ‘anti’ Israel, many of us chose to opt out. This over simplistic approach understandably does not sit right with many - if Habo taught us anything it is that complexity is ok. Or to put it in movement terms, you can be a Zionist even if you don’t like everything that goes on in Israel.
My immersion is my recent career shift. Earlier this year I became chief executive of New Israel Fund in the UK. It is a charity that supports those in Israel who are working to ensure its prosperity for all of its citizens and connect those in the community here to them. Selfishly what my job does is allow me to connect to “My Israel” - the Israel of inspiring people working towards a society at peace with itself and its neighbours.
I am keen to speak to those who want to co-create a space where we can explore meaningfully and honestly our relationship with Israel in our own terms; whether this is because we want to engage in the debate about the future direction of Israel or simply because Israel is an important part of our identity. Do please be in touch.
*(for movement history buffs - my biggest claim to fame is being the last rosh ken at Sinclair Drive)
Deborah Rothenberg was a madricha at Habonim Dror from 1990 to 1995. She was joint Rosh Ken in Manchester in 1993 amongst other things….
I have just returned from a days training in Tottenham. I was providing guidance to a team of volunteers at the disabilities charity – Kith and Kids. As I sat in a circle, surrounded by a mix of faces from Ghana, Romania, Tottenham and Crouch End, I wondered to myself – have I ever really left being a madricha?
Being a committed member of Habonim Dror for thirteen formative years had a profound affect on everything I have done since. Habonim Dror’s socialist values have helped to guide many of the choices that I have made as an adult.
In 2003 I left a career in radio production to retrain as a Drama and Movement therapist at Central School of Speech of Drama. My first ‘job’ once qualified was in Romania. I was part of a team of professional volunteers whose aim was to help the Roma Gypsies integrate into Romanian society. A task bigger than the scope of the project but we made a start.
Working in two villages we developed class-based activities. Our soundtrack was the cluck-clucking of the wild chickens that wondered through the dusty street. Our hope was that a summer of indoor based activities could accelerate the children’s integration into school in September. Ceausescu’s Romania dictated that Roma Gypsies started school a year after Romanians thus creating an Educational divide at the start of the Roma’s educational journey.
In the afternoons I also made regular visits to a ‘Psychiatric’ institution. A building with 150 residents and two members of staff. The doctor only came to visit once a week. Most of the ‘patients’ were in fact adults with learning difficulties who had been ostracized during Ceausescu’s political reign. I will never forget the wondering men in their pyjamas and how, after just a week of visiting with my team of dramatherapists, the vacant vacuums of their gazes grew into smiles of recognition. Simple acts such as throwing a ball again, and again and again changed their human experience.
On returning to the UK I developed my professional practice at the Birmingham Priory where I pioneered dramatherapy as a treatment option and was rewarded with a Radio 4 documentary of my work with eating disorders. But my sense of socialism – to give according to need felt misplaced in a private institution and so I left the sunny soils of Britain to work in India and Sri Lanka.
First to create theatre shows in orphanages in India and then moving onto Sri Lanka. I worked for the Women’s Development Centre in Kandy and provided in-house training for eight schools. My home for that time was a house at the top of a hill in a Women’s Refuge. Daisy, the cow as my closest nieghbour. There I directed a play with the young girls and shared some of my dramatherapy techniques with support workers in the refuge.
I spent a lot of time during this year abroad exploring the causes of poverty and hardship from the ground and developed ways to use my dramatherapy techniques in a less ‘confidential’ yet supportive environment.
On returning home to the UK I discovered that there were a large number of community organisations that did exactly that such as Rewrite and The London Bubble Theatre Company. These all went under the banner of ‘Applied Theatre’. A topic that is discussed at an academic level across a number of Universities from Goldsmith’s in London to the Steinhardt School of Education, New York.
I have often mused that much of the ‘Hadracha’ that we, at Habonim Dror use as peulot are also all aspects of this academically recognized discipline. One in which,
“Individuals connect with and support one another and where opportunities are provided for groups to voice who they are and they aspire to become” (Taylor, Applied Theatre, 2003).
Was this not what we, at Habonim Dror, during our heated discussions and debate were trying to achieve on our exploration of our Jewish cultural journies?
I made a clear decision to work with the organizations that were trying to make a difference within the UK with regards to poverty and the causes of poverty – but specifically by helping to develop language and communication through drama. I have been privileged to be employed by some of the best- from Rewrite a young people charity for teenage refugees and asylum seekers to the London Bubble Theatre Company.
As I write this however, I am aware that these community arts charities are losing their funding due to Arts Council budget cuts and thus important projects that help to empower future generations are having to end.
And so, with that sense of Chutzpah that comes from being a madricha for five years – I have made it a small mission of mine to raise the £2,000 that it will cost to run just one of these projects for the year.
And how? – Through doing what an ex Habo person knows best – by making people laugh.
For the past two years I have been producing my own comedy night – Bard and Roses. Our tagline is Lyrical Comedy with a Twist in its tale.
I only allow the most talented writers and performers on the stage and the show is now recognised on the comedy scene as one with a warm audience and a touch of unpredictable reverie.
The next show is
Wednesday May 18th
The Shaftsbury Tavern, 534 Hornsey Road, N19 3QN
7pm for 8pm start
So far confirmed are;
Diane Morgan (Two Episodes of Mash)
Ruth Bratt (Showstopper the Improvised Musical)
Ben Target (2011 Leicester Mercury Comedian Of The Year title)
Bard and Roses is worth getting a baby sitter for, so come on down…
Adele Stowe-Linder, former movement worker and erstwhile director of JCORE, reflects upon her new work with the Citizens Advice Bureau.
In the week leading to Purim I was speaking with my children about giving Matanot Le’Evionim, gifts of food to people less fortunate than ourselves which, in my three year old’s understanding, translates to children who have not got any toys.
My professional life, as project manager for the Barnet Citizens Advice Bureau, is about working to ensure that when people in our society are vulnerable they have access to the welfare benefits and support that will help and protect them.
My specific programme is targeted at people affected by cancer but the CAB, which opened in 1939 in response to impending war, exists to offer free and impartial advice, responding to problems including employment, debt, immigration, bill payments, housing and many more.
Welfare benefits exist to help society’s more vulnerable members. While this is often understood to mean people who are less fortunate, welfare benefits can actually help many people who consider themselves financially comfortable at specific times of vulnerability. This includes statutory paid maternity leave for women with children under 9 months who are not working and a range of benefits to support all of us if we suddenly fall ill for a period of time, such as a diagnosis of cancer which means we cannot work. This week, this particular issue has had prominence in then news because 30 cancer charities have highlighted that a"significant number of people with cancer will be left without vital financial support at a time when they need it the most”. (Guardian 9/03/11)
The welfare benefits that are available in people are important but so is the existence of an organisation such as the Citizens Advice Bureau that can help people to navigate what they are eligible for and to advocate for people who are not in a position to do so for themselves.
In my experience, the Citizens Advice Bureau stands out regarding its use of volunteers. Volunteers undertake a year’s worth of training and commit to two days of voluntary work per week, advising clients or working on the reception desk. It gives individuals who are committed to helping other people solve problems in their own lives an opportunity to do so whole-heartedly but without the terms and conditions of paid employment. It brings people together to discuss problems who would not usually have a conversation. Conversely, the Citizens Advice Bureau could not have helped the huge numbers that have come asking for advice since war broke out in 1939 if it was not for volunteers.
As Purim ends and we set our sights on Pesach, I consider, as a parent, what values and ideas I would like my children to take note of. When I think of the simple explanation we tell our children at Pesach, “we were slaves and now we are free”, the Jewish imperative to volunteer and to ensure the vulnerable amongst us have access to a good quality of life is clear.
…the Board of Deputies of British Jews…supports Israel’s efforts to seek a lasting negotiated peace with the Palestinians based on a two-state solution ensuring Israel’s security and respect for the welfare of all of the people in the region.
Or does it?
Last night, over 100 people gathered at the London Jewish Cultural Centre to ask President of the Board of Deputies Vivian Wineman, and Vice-President Jonathan Arkush, exactly what the Board’s position is on Israel, in light of the above resolution being voted out several months ago. The people in the room were those that signed the open letter to Vivian Wineman asking for the Board to reconsider its’ position in light of the vote.
I opened the meeting by suggesting that due to the unfolding events in the region – a total stalemate in the peace negotiations, and over the past week the heinous murder of the Fogel family in Itamar, and the Israeli government decision to respond to the attacks by building 500 new homes (not to mention the events unfolding in the wider region) – mean that many of us feel that now, more than ever, is the moment in history that we must be sending a clear message to our own community, to Israel, and to the world at large, that as supporters of Israel, we believe that a two-state solution is in the best interests of Israel and her long-term security. Instead, the signal that was sent by the Board of Deputies was that we, the British Jewish community, does not support a two state solution (or we are not sure if we do).
There was a real sense from those in the room that diaspora Jewish communities have a role to play in relation to Israel and therefore it matters enormously what the Board of Deputies says and does. The issue of representation at the Board dominated the discussion – how is it that 78% of this community back a two-state solution and yet, those who purport to represent us, say something different? How was the Board seeking to include younger voices, different political options and those who are not members of synagogues in the debate? By his own admission, Jonathan Arkush stated that he was the youngest member of the executive committee of the Board, and Vivian suggested that that the right-wing was much more vocal, and that the pro two-state camp needed to mobilise to ensure their voices were heard.
In answer to the question as to why we apparently don’t support a two-state solution, a multitude of answers were given. There was not a homogenous no vote – some deputies felt it inappropriate for the Board to have a political position on the resolution to the conflict; the wording was not strong enough; the wording was too strong; what would happen if a future Israeli government did not support a two-state solution – we the British Jewish community would be at odds with them (this was not an argument that washed with this audience). A question was asked how the Board could issue the following statement in response to a Palestinian Tourism advert: The Board of Deputies, like all people and institutions of goodwill, supports the efforts to achieve a lasting peace through a two state solution recognising the aspirations of all peoples in the region. Answer: the Board does in fact support a two-state solution – it just didn’t feel it appropriate to pass a resolution about it, and if large numbers of deputies were against a two-state solution, a fuss would have been made over the statement, which it wasn’t. Another question was asked on what basis a decision was made to release a statement about the upgrade of the Palestinian delegation to a mission, and whether this too had to be agreed by the deputies. Answer: the President of the Board would be questioned and held to account at the next plenary meeting if deputies didn’t like it (note: held to account after the statement had been made). Many of the comments and questions are well documented on this twitter feed if you want to read more: #boardisrael. Personally my favourite tweet is from @hannahadler: What we learned tonight: everyone supports 2 states, in private at least #boardisrael
No doubt the opportunity for people to air their perspectives and opinions was greatly appreciated, and there was a huge amount of goodwill and positive exchange of ideas in the room. In terms of outcomes: there will be no re-vote of the resolution and therefore, we the people who believe we should be advocating a pro-Israel two-state position, and shouting about it from the rooftops, will need to find another way to ensure the British Jewish community shows the world this is what large numbers of us believe. Very positively, as a result of the meeting, Vivian and Jonathan have welcomed the opportunity to engage with the voices in the audience asking to be better represented at the Board – watch this space for how we move that conversation forward.
Most of all I take heart from the following: There was an impassioned plea from the floor for an organisation that could represent a strong pro-Israel pro-peace voice on the basis that the Board of Deputies was clearly not the place to do this. If we had any doubts (which we didn’t) we were on right track, the energy, enthusiasm and frustration displayed last night confirms that there are large numbers of people in our community desperate for their voice to be represented by an organisation with a vision for Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, living in safety and security alongside a Palestinian state.
Hannah Weisfeld is a former movement worker and erstwhile Chairman of the Jewish Social Action forum. She now leads a new ‘pro-Israel, pro-peace’ Israel advocacy group.
So it’s been a little while since i last wrote. My how things have changed!
With camp brochures out this week as well as Madrichim Forms and applications for Spring Seminar, both offices are a little crazy. The real focus of all our daydreams recently though has been the soothing tones of the Saturday Night Live artists. Some fine fine voices to be heard there that’s for sure.
If you don’t believe me, see the recent album entitled ‘SNL 2010’ - see all the joyous, happy folk with smiles on their faces?? That could be you…
You know where the tickets are by now…go and get them!
Well, almost a week has passed since Winter Sem and maybe i’m on my own, but i’m still ‘buzz-ing’ about the seminar that almost wasn’t.
Perhaps it was the inspiring discussions, the inspiration peula that left everybody rather emotional, the speed dating led by our 9 committed Lomdim…or maybe it was the colour war & the filming of the promo video.
Whatever it was - it worked! On behalf of the movement workers I’d like to thank those who came, learnt something about themselves & the movement, and helped to create an amazing & inclusive atmosphere! Bring on Spring Seminar!!
In the meantime, we invite our Bogrim to the hypnotist event tomorrow night. It’s going to be bloody marvelous. Contact for details/tickets!