November 23, 2013 by jewish journeys
I am so proud. I have only ever spent one Thursday evening in Melbourne, Australia and I have no idea whether I will ever spend another Thursday evening in Melbourne (it is so far away from where I live and the jet lag has been so hard to deal with) and in truth, this past Thursday evening had such a special moment in it that it is probably a good thing that I might never spend another Thursday evening in Melbourne. But let me explain.
I am here in Australia as part of this new phase in my life as the head of World Habonim Dror. It is all about a learning curve, about reconnecting with a Youth Movement I grew up in all those years ago in South Africa. The youth movement which changed my life, which introduced me to the possibility of life in Israel (which I took up and since 1976 has become my home), which introduced me to the notion of living one’s life in solidarity with other people rather than in competition with them (which I hope has characterized my life since). But, I am no longer the 22 year old who said goodbye to South Africa. Many years have passed and the question which has confronted me ever since I began this new part of my life’s journey has been: what will I find? Will it still be so moving, so impressive, so filled with the special spirit that persuaded me all those years ago that there is more to life than just earning a living? That there are values to work for, that we who believe in a better world have to take responsibility for it.
But, back to Thursday evening in Melbourne, Australia. I was asked to meet with parents who had entrusted their children to my organization and whose children are just a few weeks away from finishing a year in Israel. We talked and the conversation was a good one. Of course, as parents, they were both happy with who their children were becoming and not totally convinced that we were providing the perfect framework for this to happen. I listened carefully, acknowledged some of the points they made, challenged them at times and assured them that we would always do our best to provide the best possible educational frameworks to enable their children to learn and grow. It was a positive evening, but not an inspiring one. It was very like many evenings I spend with either parents or young people: important, but not necessarily unforgettable.
Neta, our wonderful shlicha (emissary) suggested I follow her to the room down the corridor. I followed her and that is when the special part of Thursday evening in Melbourne was revealed to me. Over 20 young Habonim Dror bogrim (college students) sitting in a circle and studying together. Really studying, not for their college exams, but to enable them to be better educators at the upcoming summer camp they are running for young Jewish people. There are not many young people of this age in the world who take a Thursday evening to study the following lines:
“The Child has the right to live in the present: Children are not the people of tomorrow. They are people today”.
When Janusz Korczak wrote these lines in the 1920s he had no idea that his life would end in Treblinka together with the children of the Jewish Orphanage in Warsaw. He could not imagine a Jewish Community in Melbourne or a group of young Jews in their early 20s spending their Thursday evening not in a cafe or a bar, but sitting in a circle in the Habonim Dror clubhouse and not just philosophizing about this idea, but getting ready to implement his ideas in our Habonim Dror summer camp. (From the page on which the Korczak quote is found: “Method: go through the initial pedagogy, say how Janusz (use of first name only, very familiar us Habo folks) would have tackled that, explain the system; ask what they think about the pedagogy; Begin with question relating to Habonim Dror Junior movement; Talk about potential structures or attitudes we could adopt”).
When I get a little discouraged by the politics in the Jewish World, when I am tired out after a day of meetings, when I am saddened that donors do not understand what we are doing, I will think back to this Thursday evening in Melbourne, and I will remember why I am doing what I am doing. Thank you to the Bogrim body of Melbourne: you are a shining example of what we are about, of who we strive to be. Go up and be fulfilled.
Why not end with Janusz Korczak’s beautiful words:
“Let the children drink the joy of the morning. Show them love, kindness and understanding – set an example.”