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Running, Ruach and Rivalry

April 25, 2010 – 1:57 pm2 Comments

Sacha Baron Cohen, one of Habonim Dror's most famous graduates

Sacha Baron Cohen, one of Habonim Dror's most famous graduates

By Sophie Hoffman

Jeering comments were flying back and forth faster than the ball at the Frank Stein soccer tournament between the six Zionist Youth Movements that form the Zionist Youth Council. The tournament, played on 4th April at Caulfield Park, presented more than just an opportunity to show off some of the superstars of Jewish sport. It was a chance for the movements to once again let off some of that infamous inter-movement rivalry.

As a result of each of the movements’ varying religious and ideological viewpoints, long standing, albeit light and humorous, competition has formed over the years. As Asher Rubenstein, head of Betar Melbourne, describes it, ‘the rivalry is more like competition between siblings rather than a siege between rival camps’. The tension continued after the soccer match when, despite B’nei Akiva taking home the Frank Stein Shield for winning the most games during the round robin tournament, members of Betar reported to the Australian Jewish News that they had in fact won.

Certain events throughout the year allow these rivalries to surface, including the Jamboree weekend camp where the movements discuss their beliefs and get to know one another. Rubenstein notes that the camp ‘always involves much debate as to which movement is more authentic’ or has ‘a superior ideology’. In a much less intellectual forum, at the Yom Ha’atzmaut concert, hundreds of young people express this rivalry by trying to out-sing or ‘out-Ruach’ each other as they sit side by side.

In order to taunt a fellow movement, its ‘personality’ and beliefs are often reduced to a trope, such as Netzer, whose focus on environmentalism and Tikkun Olam, leads them to be labelled as tree-hugging hippies. Hashomer Hatzair for example uses the Yom Ha’atzmaut concert as an opportunity to chant ‘And you’ll never get to Heaven’, a ditty that explains why each other movement won’t make it to heaven, based on a reduction of the other movements to a stereotype. This was also evident at the soccer match when the limit on players on the field meant that witty quips such as ‘Hashy, you’re socialist, share the ball’ and ‘B’nei Akiva are cheating – they’re only winning because of divine intervention!’ could be heard from supporters on the sidelines.

Member of B’nei Akiva, Jacob Wytwornik, notes that rivalry has manifested itself in the long-standing ‘flag stealing’ stunts. Recently, Hashomer Hatzair in particular has attempted to steal a flag representing each movement at events where all movements are present, an activity inevitably followed by their counterparts trying to steal back their flags. Upon completing their quest to gain possession of all six flags, Hashomer members took ‘ransom’ photos to display their conquest.

Most often this sparring is only playful as many of the different members, especially the Madrachim (leaders), are in fact close friends with each other, having shared experiences on their Shnat year in Israel. The rivalry is often based on a sense of pride and loyalty to a movement. The tension works to create togetherness and helps members to feel a sense of belonging and identity.

On the other hand, real competition is present between the movements with the battle to recruit as many children as possible to their camps and weekly programs. The atmosphere at a youth movement generally improves when more children attend, as it allows children a chance to make and develop friendships.  This competition is most pertinent between movements with similar beliefs that would appeal to the same group of chanichim, such as Habonim Dror and Hashomer Hatzair.

Nevertheless, in most cases each movement generally has its own personality that appeals to different parts of the community. In fact Asher Rubenstein argues that the movements rarely extend beyond facilitating interactions between different niches of the community and that the inter-movement pride demonstrated is perhaps defensive rather than healthy. He observes that those who attend B’nei Akiva are generally from Leibler Yavneh College and those from Netzer usually go to the King David School, which indicates that rather than mixing with others, the movement environment simply maintains connections between people who would generally know each other anyway.

This defensiveness is apparent especially when a whole form of Judaism or political paradigm on Zionism is reduced to a single (perhaps misunderstood) slogan. When this happens it makes it easier to see the differences between us rather than the similarities.

However, most inter-movement activities are positive opportunities. Jamboree, Shnat and events such as the Great Debate also act as fora for the different members of each movement to gain a deep understanding of one another’s ideologies so that many of these playful myths can be dispelled. With a greater understanding of nuances of different political and religious or cultural views members are more likely to see many more similarities. It also provides a chance for people to break out of their defined niches.

Events like the Frank Stein Shield allow children and teenagers from different backgrounds to meet, and the playful competition helps to give chanichim a sense of camaraderie within their own movement. But more than this, it gives those who aren’t so flash at playing soccer something to do from the sidelines.

*Image from www.accesshollywood.com

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  • ariel says:

    Kol hakavod to all these initiatives to bring the movements together!

    Unfortunately, the entrenched system is outdated and frankly, unhealthy. Before the age of 16, there should be one, amalgamated Zionist youth movement, fostering social cohesion and friendships (with a love of Israel) and only at the age of 14 should politics be presented to the kids with the different ideologies presented to them. Then in year 10, they should decide which branch to break off to.
    After all, most kids will not have formed an objective poltical opinion until then anyway.
    Also, this amalgamation of youth movements until year 10 would save the community much money and resources.

  • frosh says:

    Hi Ariel,

    Well one movement for all children is a nice idea in theory, I think in practice it probably would not work that well.

    It might be too difficult to get such a large and diverse community to agree on content issues, as well as issues of religious observance. In the end, many parents would not allow their children to attend because they would feel that this single universal organization is consistent with their values.

    I am speaking for communities as large as Melbourne and Sydney, which afford us enough people to have a diversity of movements. In far smaller communities, I would agree that a single highly pluralistic organization is preferable. A week ago I was in Napoli where there are only a few hundred Jews. In a community of that size, it would be madness to split up into different groups.

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