Habonim Dror: A Recipe For Engagement

Girls at camp Moshava celebrate Shabbat.

Girls at camp Moshava celebrate Shabbat.

When asked to summarize the 78-year-old Habonim Dror Progressive Zionist movement, Camp Moshava executive director Jen Silber is understandably overwhelmed.

“It’s a kibbutz-like environment dedicated to inclusion and social justice; campers are challenged to develop a strong and personal connection to Israel and the Jewish people and in doing so gain leadership skills and form friendships that last a lifetime,” she says, adding memories that take her back to her first summer at Habonim Dror camp at age 11. Since then, Silber has been a camper, counselor-in-training, counselor, unit head, kitchen manager and an alumni representative on the board of directors. But Silber’s story of successful Jewish engagement through Habonim Dror is just one of many.

Habonim Dror North America, with its local affiliate Camp Moshava, recently conducted an in-depth alumni study, Building Progressive Zionist Activists: Exploring the Impact of Habonim Dror, which asked 2,000 alumni of all ages and generations whether the Habonim Dror movement and its camps are truly effective in fulfilling the goals of its mission.

The study was conducted by Steven M. Cohen, research professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College, and Steven Fink, a local survey and evaluation specialist and sociology teacher at Montgomery College in Rockville. Fink is also a Camp Moshava alum and the parent of a current camper.

Some of the most impressive statistics concern Israel: The study found that 97 percent have visited Israel, and 44 percent have lived there for five months or longer. Thirty-one percent give to their local federation; 49 percent contribute to Jewish and Israel-related social-change organizations; and 64 percent contribute to nondenominational social change organizations.

Abby Levine, a Camp Moshava alumni and director of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, says, “The greatest thing to come out of the study is evidence of the source and persistence of the pride in being Jewish, which the [recent] Pew survey [of American Jews] highlighted.”

Beyond the philanthropy-related data, Habonim Dror Jewish marriage rates are unusually high with 78 percent of respondents married to a Jewish spouse. This clearly surpasses the intermarriage rates released in the Pew survey.

Based on the results of the study, Levine believes that Camp Moshava and all of the Habonim Dror camps in North America are “factories for Jews with strong values and passions for critical thinking and social engagement.”

Hadar Susskind, a Camp Moshava alum who serves as director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, shares Susskind’s sentiments.

“[Camp Moshava] creates a community based on independent and critical thinking. It’s a youth movement that is youth led, and it teaches campers how to be engaged members of their community,” she says.

The study also shows that with regard to developments in Israel, Habonim Dror alumni are especially engaged. Sixty-six percent of respondents “agree to a great extent” that Israel should freeze the expansion of settlements on the West Bank, and 62 percent of alumni respondents disapprove of the way Benjamin Netanyahu is handling his job as prime minister; 8 percent approve, and 30 percent are not sure.

“These results excite me, both personally and professionally,” says Levine. “I am thrilled to see the enduring commitment to social justice that the study found among Habonim Dror alumni.”

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