Friday, August 16, 2013

4 Wonderful Days at the Bronx Zoo

"May we have your attention please? We are now entering Israeli air space." Yedid had finally arrived. At last, the opportunity to travel in the country of my people with my closest friends was not just something to look forward to this summer; it was real. To much of the relief of my mother, the airplane landed in Ben Gurion airport, and I viewed the Holy Land for the first time. After going through customs, I fell asleep on the bus, the usual result from about 36 hours without sleep and a very uncomfortable aisle seat on the 12 hour flight. Therefore, my first view of Israel other than the airport was the Shomria, the 100th anniversary celebration of Hashomer Hatzair. The Shomria was located in the hills of Israel's wilderness, otherwise known as the middle of nowhere. We arrived at about 6:00pm, just in time for the opening ceremony of the Shomria. Taking a turn to the festivities, we suddenly found ourselves in a crowd of 3,000 people! All I can say about my first experience in Israel is that it felt like the olympics. People on the stage spoke to us in Hebrew, and I could hear all around me English, French, Italian, and Spanish. The whole world movement had gathered in the middle of nowhere, like us, and actually being among that crowd was breathtaking. During the day, the festivities consisted of mixers between countries, scouting obstacle courses, and learning about the history of Hashomer Hatzair. We nicknamed the camp site the Bronx Zoo, noting how the dust in Israel in conjunction with its foliage made us feel like an exhibit at our campsite. Dirt aside, it was an incredible experience. The most Shomrim I had ever seen at one time was 150 prior to these four days. While the Shomria overwhelmed all us jetlagged travelers quite a bit, it reshaped how each of us saw the movement and reenforced in our minds forever that Hashomer Hatzair's existence in about twenty countries actually means that people fighting for the same ideals participate in similar activities all over the world. The difference between hearing a statistic and experiencing it is astounding.

In addition, the Shomria was my first endeavour into international travel and interacting with people from all over the world. I quickly and sadly learned to what degree the world views America as an embarassment. While all the other countries were represented by their flags at the Shomria, our nameplate consisted of a hamburger and the McDonald's arches. I learned for the first time what it meant to be prejudged when telling someone, "I am an American citizen." The first response was usually, "But you are not fat?" or "Oh, stupid?" I share their reaction not to recall a negative part of my experience. On the contrary, I simply never understood until that point what it meant to be outside of my own country, to defy stereotypes, and to prove to the world that not all American citizens are those joked about on late night television. Now, not all the world movement was so quick to judge us. To feel close and know people from Austria, the Netherlands, Argentina, Australia, and more is an incredible sensation. In one instance, I learned just how similar people can be. Certain ethics and similarities transcend borders, allowing for these bonds to quickly form. Culturally though, I felt immersed in a new element. Culture extends beyond the music, food, or holidays of a people; I discovered culture affects how people interact and see the world. Though difficult at times, the process of making friends from outside my country was enlightening and entertaining. More than anything, my time at the Shomria was empowering. Leaving with the knowledge that 3,000 people share the same ideals and fight for them in their native countries was inspiration, especially when the bogrim (older members of the movement) concluded our festivities with a new stance on activisim. In their time together, the world bogrim concluded that Hashomer Hatzair would no longer simply educate their members about the problems of our world but take the proper steps to produce actual change. I know that my own and many other young Americans' criticism of the movement is that it talks a lot about world issues and then never acts upon the ideals we teach. This decision, I believe, marks an extraordinary turning point in the movement. Although our time was quite short in the woods there, I left incredibly enriched and fulfilled with the joy of knowing people from Canada to Belarus experience the same wonder of Hashomer Hatzair that I do.

That wonder is more than games and activities for six weeks at a summer camp too! Hashomer Hatzair is a powerful institution that reinvigorates the lives of Jewish youth. The movement emphasizes that the path from high school to college to wage employment and a property based family is not the sole way to live. Hashomer Hatzair introduces the ideas of communal living and acting based on conviction rather than necessity. In teaching about socialism and kibbutzim, the movement exposes the flaws in the capitalist systems and enables the shomer or shomeret to make the proper choices within their own corrupt world. Will Hashomer Hatzair ever lead the charge in a global socialist revolution? Most likely not. However, its education of young children about practical alternatives to capitalism (i.e. communal apartments-"urban kibbutzim", universal health care) and its ability to spread awareness about certain corruption is equally influential and remarkable. Its special brand of Zionism also promotes young children in the diaspora to support Israel with incredible vigor while criticizing the country for its shortcomings. In my opinion, Hashomer Hatzair's view of Zionism, to above anything else maintain Israel as both a Jewish and democratic state, appears to be the most sensible way for an American (or Australian, Canadian, Italian) Jew to adequately support the state. Although the movement's humanist view of Judaism not as a religion but rather the culture of a nation opposes my own outlook, I feel proud to be part of something that instills Jewish identity in youth where they would otherwise refute religion entirely. Wherever I see members of my generation proud to be Jewish in a way that works for them, my arguments against an opposite view fall silent. Finally, the most significant impact that Hashomer Hatzair has on any kid's life is the power of kvutzah. Whether one goes to the ken in Brussels or Budapest or Barkai, the kvutzah is the center of shomeric life. The kvutzah is the age group to which one belongs, and although the movement never forces the members of one to foster friendships, the collective is compelled to cooperate when presented with tasks and respect each other. After a few weeks and then a few years, those friendships come naturally. Provided they lived in Hopkinton, certain members of my kvutzah and I would never ever talk, yet we share such a special friendship. After four fantastic years, I place these people in such a fine place in my heart, not only hoping for but determinedly putting in the effort all year round to maintain a friendship.  Although we so often focus on the high ideals of Hashomer Hatzair, one of its most powerful traits is taking some of that "ickiness" out of adolescence. The might of the movement lies in taking youth, sometimes lost in the midst of adolescence, and showing them somewhere to belong, and for that reason, I could genuinely celebrate among the dust and the mountains of canned corn the 100th anniversary of Hashomer Hatzair.

Hashomer Hatzair (meaning the young guard in Hebrew)- a youth movement that strives to teach and act upon the pillars of Socialism, Zionism, and Judaism.  The movement educates kids from ages 8 to 15 and then instills the task of educating on 16 to 30 year olds.

Ken-The place for weekly activities in Hashomer Hatzair. For example, you would say, "I am going to the Manhattan ken for a discussion about Yitzack Rabin."

Shomria-the site of the 100th year anniversary

Zionism-the belief that the Jewish people deserve the right to self-determination. defense and support for the state of Israel

Socialism-a system that empowers humans to develop themselves to their fullest potential as complete social, economic, and political equality are provided

Diaspora-Jews living outside the land of Israel

Kvutza-group/age group

Shomer/Shomeret-member of the youth movement