Youth Movement SeminarBBeing Jewish and belonging to a youth moment does not mean sharing ideals, views and political affinities - especially if you grew up in either Israel or South Africa. 


There are few better ways to bond, create unity and co-operation between young leaders than getting them together to debate and share ideas.

Last month (October) The Israel Centre – through the Jewish Agency's Partnership2gether Peoplehood Platform – launched such an initiative to foster co-operation between South African and Israeli youth movements in Beit Shemesh Mate Yehuda.

Eighty-five participants from Habonim Dror and Bnei Akiva in South Africa and Bnei Akiva, Tzofim, Betar, Ezra and Diller in Israel, got together for the inaugural Inter-Youth Movement Gap Year Seminar.

They had a unique opportunity to discuss and debate their personal views on aspects of Judaism, Jewish peoplehood, Israel and Zionism. The aim was to learn from and about each other in a constructive forum, with a desired outcome to establish a platform of tolerance and understanding through religious and political differences, where common values form the basis of future co-operation in strengthening local communities and Am Yisrael.

“This seminar was the perfect platform to connect all of our up-and- coming leadership from various youth movements currently on gap year in Israel, promoted learning and growth together, both with the South Africans and the Israeli participants from the Beit Shemesh/Mate Yehuda region.” according to the South African Zionist Youth Council.

Avraham Infeld – who teaches that there are five components or legs to a strong and stable Jewish identity – addressed the seminar, giving insight into each aspect of his Five Legged Table; Family, Memory, Language (Hebrew), Covenant, and Israel.

The participants held interactive sessions before and after his presentation that stimulated conversation and explored different views.

The participants discussed family and how similar and different we are, how this shapes us as people.

They debated whether we are one family as a Jewish nation and what this means practically to Diaspora Jews and Israelis. It became quite clear that how Israeli youth relate to Diaspora Jewry differs immensely to Diaspora Jewry’s relationship with Israel.

Some of the most interesting and emotional debate topics, however, came out of exploring memory. Participants shared their greatest meaningful personal memories, argued over what constituted the most important events in their country’s history and sought to find common
ground on what were the defining events in Jewish history.

Discussions focused on collective memory, how this is passed through generations and how this influences our personal and national identity. This was followed by a debate looking at the connection between language and culture and Hebrew as a unifying factor among Jews worldwide.

Heated debates arose about the importance of Hebrew in the Diaspora and whether English should be offered as a mainstream medium of education in Israel. Differing views were shared about prayer in Hebrew and English and if translating texts would result in a decline in the use of the Hebrew language.

Finally, groups explored their personal and family’s relationship with Israel and debated different Zionist texts to contextualise Zionist philosophy and thought throughout history.

Participants were challenged to identify the source of their Zionism and why Israel is so important to them, aside from being a safe haven. Stories of parents, siblings and grandparents fighting in wars, volunteering and making aliya, were shared.

First and second generation Israelis communicated their experiences about growing up in Israel and their feelings about life as a young Israeli.

Many shared their strong sense of cultural and religious connection to Israel. And even though religious practice and political opinion differed, all expressed the view that Israel plays an important part in both their Jewish identity and their connection to the entire Jewish Nation.

When asked who saw themselves making aliya, the majority of the South African group raised their hands.

Infeld’s closing message to the group, was that if we as Jews can find meaning in at least three of the legs, we will find that we all have at least one thing in common that we can share.

This was definitely experienced by participants by the end of the seminar and a commitment was made to work on inter-movement and South Africa-Israel relationships, moving forward.

At a time where existential threats to Israel and Diaspora Jewry are on a rapid incline, it is critical that we are united as a nation, find strength and support in our diversity, and learn to focus on what we have in common, rather than fighting about our differences.

“Being our first year, we were nervous about how the idea of this seminar would be received by the movements and what level of interaction and participation we would get.

Having now completed the seminar, I can proudly say that this has potential to transform the manner in which South African and Israeli youth movements interact with each other, both within their respective communities and across countries”.

This is the dialogue we need to strengthen Jewish peoplehood.

When challenged on the question of co-operation, participants’ responses included:

“It is important for all the youth movements to understand that they have different opinions, but a common goal and should therefore work together.” – Habonim Dror participant.

“Youth are the future of the community. A community needs unity, tolerance and an understanding of various opinions.” – Bnei Akiva participant.

The Partnership2gether youth seminar was initiated by the Israel Centre and supported by the South African Zionist Federation and the Israel Centre and is the latest in a long list of co-operative projects run by the Partnership teams in South Africa and Israel, including Diller Teen Fellows, The School Twinning Programme, The Poland Experience, Tanach Tashach Marathon, Cyclalive, Shlichim, Shinshinim and more.

All of these aim to connect the South African Jewish community with the Israeli community in the Partnership region, Beit Shemesh Mate-Yehuda.

* Anthony Rosmarin is chairperson of the Jewish Agency's Partnership2gether Peoplehood Platform in Gauteng.