Study puts Habonim Dror to the test


When asked to summarize the almost 79-year-old Habonim Dror Progressive Zionist movement, Camp Moshava executive director Jen Silber is rightfully overwhelmed. “A kibbutz-like environment dedicated to inclusion and social justice, campers are challenged to develop a strong and personal connection to Israel, the Jewish people, and in doing so gain leadership skills and form friendships that last a lifetime,” she says breathlessly while simultaneously recounting memories leading all the way back to her first semester at an HD camp at the ripe age of 11.

Since then, Silber has been a counselor-in-training, counselor, unit head, kitchen manager and an alumni representative on the board of directors. But, Silber’s story, though one of successful Jewish engagement for Habonim Dror, is just one of many.
Habonim Dror North America, with its local affiliate Camp Moshava, recently conducted an in-depth and dense alumni study, Building Progressive Zionist Activists: Exploring the Impact of Habonim Dror.

The study dared to ask 2,000 alumni respondents of all different ages and varying generations questions that would act as the test of whether the greater Habonim movement is truly effective in its overarching mission of building personal bonds between North American youth and Israel and creating Jewish leaders who will actualize the principles of social justice, equality, peace and coexistence in Israel and North America.

The study was conducted by Steven M. Cohen, research professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College and Steven Fink, local survey and evaluation specialist as well as a sociology teacher at Montgomery College. Some of the most impressive statistics lie within respondents’ visits to Israel spanning Israel’s 65 years of statehood.

The study found that 97 percent have visited Israel in some capacity, with an astounding 44 percent having lived in Israel for a long-term, five-month-or-more experience.

With the recent release of the Pew study and with the Jewish future constantly being debated and questioned with tinkering anxiety, the study found that 31 percent of alumni contribute to their local Jewish federation, 49 percent contribute to Jewish/Israel related social change organization and 64 percent contribute to nondenominational social change organizations.

Abby Levine, a Camp Moshava alumna and the current director of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, says that “the greatest thing to come out of the survey is evidence of the source and persistence of the pride in being Jewish which the Pew study highlighted and this excites me, both personally and professionally. I am thrilled to see the enduring commitment to social justice that the study found among Habonim Dror Alumni.”

Yet beyond the philanthropy-related data, Habonim Dror Jewish marriage rates are unusually high, with 78 percent of alumni married to a Jewish spouse, which clearly surpasses the intermarriage rates released in the recent Pew Study of American Jews.
After reading the study, Levine notes that Camp Moshava and all of the Habonim Dror camps throughout North America are “factories for Jews with strong values and a passion for critical thinking and social engagement.”

Hadar Susskind, a venerable Camp Moshava camper and counselor who holds the professional position of director at the Bend the Arc Jewish Action, echoed similar sentiments, saying “They [Camp Moshava] create community based on independent and critical thinking. Camp Moshava is a youth movement, which is youth led and teaches campers how to be engaged members of their community.”

With overwhelming interest and involvement in the conversation regarding developments in Israel, progressive Zionist values shine. Within the realm of issues surrounding Israel, an astounding 66 percent of alumni respondents “agree to a great extent” that Israel should freeze the expansion of settlements on the West Bank.
Based on that data, 62 percent of alumni respondents disapprove of the way Benjamin Netanyahu is handling his job as prime minister, along with 8 percent who approve and 30 percent of respondents who are not sure.

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