THE FOUNDING CONVENTION (1935)
The following report on Habonim was given by Nachum Guttman, New York:
For many years, the Labor Zionist movement has tried to penetrate American Jewish life. The first Labor Zionist elements came from Europe and it was many years before American youth began to participation in our work. The Americanization of the Young Poale Zion Alliance occurred in 1930. A few years earlier the movement began to face the problem of organizing children as well as youth. The work m this field suffered from lack of a systematic program suitable for American Jewish children. Seven or eight years of work have resulted in a loosely knit series of clubs, lacking in stability and effectiveness.
At the quarterly national executive committee meeting, held in New York, in December, 1934, steps were taken to place our children's movement on a more solid foundation. The national executive committee proclaimed chalutziut as the central point of the educational program for children, reinforced with a positive approach to the other elements of Labor Zionism. The national executive committee reaffirmed the previous convention decision to introduce scouting as the educational method. The organizational status of the children's movement, which was subsequently named Habonim, was that of an autonomous body.
A majority of the members of the merkaz of Habonim were to be members of the Young Poale Zion Alliance. It was hoped by this autonomous arrangement to interest all Labor Zionist forces in the development of a strong children's educational movement. Autonomy also implied more intensive specialization in children's work.
The constitutionality of the decision of the national executive committee to make Habonim an autonomous organization was challenged by several cities, particularly Montreal. At the second quarterly meeting held in Buffalo in April, 1935, the national executive committee reaffirmed its stand on the question and notified Montreal that the forthcoming convention would have the right to reaffirm or reject the existing arrangement. The merkaz of Habonim, meanwhile, did nothing that would in any way prevent the convention from reaching a free decision.
The merkaz, during the short period of its existence, outlined the organizational and educational program of Habonim. Hebrew terminology» symbolism, and other organizational forms were adopted. Two issues of the
Haboneh magazine together with the first of a series of pamphlets for our leaders were published. Habonim groups are now in existence, or contacts have been made for their formation, in twenty-six cities.
The following introductory paper against autonomy was delivered by Harry Spoon, Montreal:
The various attempts to organize socialist youth in countries with advanced socialist movements (Scandinavia, Austria, U.S.S.R.) lead to the recognition of the fact that the success of a youth movement hinges upon a systematized educational program for all age groups, commencing with the youngest. Education together with political activity have made the youth the main support of the socialist movement.
The realization of the necessity of introducing scouting as a method of education and chalutziut as one of the vital ideological elements has ended the long road of blundering and groping in the dark. All uncertainties have been eliminated by the successful adoption of these elements by our kindred organizations in Europe and Palestine.
On the other hand, our movement in America has plunged into a whirl of experiments imitating those of our chaverim abroad, yet not utilizing their foresight and experience. We regard the separation of our younger elements from the youth as one of the strongest obstacles in our path toward becoming a mass movement. If we declare ourselves an educational-political youth movement, it follows that we must prepare to become the movement of Jewish youth. Anything that binders our march towards this goal must be emphatically rejected.
The formation of a separate children's organization must inevitably result in a wedge between the Young Poale Zion Alliance and our so called "younger elements." We believe that the introduction of scouting and chalutziut can be effected within the framework of a unified organization, thereby assuring the future and the continuous growth of our movement. We emphasize continuity because we are convinced that Habonim as it has been formulated will instill in the minds of our youngsters a dualism to which they will react unfavorably when they reach the adolescent stage. An educational movement that expects its members to enter two organizations simultaneously (Young Poale Zion Alliance and Hechalutz) upon reaching the adolescent stage will have to compromise, choosing one path, or be doomed to total failure. We have always rejected dualism in our organization, for we believe our ideology to be a synthesis. Diaspora activity and chalutz self realization must not be regarded as two separate aims, but rather as complementary components of our ideology. If we repudiate either of these two vital elements, we are bound to become an isolated sect on the Jewish arena. Only a united movement embracing the synthesis of our main ideological aims can lead us from our narrow confines to a full realization of our tasks.
Concluding arguments were presented by Jacob Katzman and Jacob Lemberger:
Katzman: Two years ago we decided to introduce the system of Scouting for our Buds and Intermediates. It was realized that introducing a system might also necessitate a change in terminology. It never entered the minds of anyone that it would also necessitate the setting up of a separate organization.
Many questions have been raised as to the ideological orientation of Habonim. Our task in the Party and in the Young Poale Zion Alliance is to bring about a Socialist Zionist consciousness in the minds of the people we are approaching. There must be instilled an understanding of the abnormalities of Jewish life and a desire to make possible the maximum realization of our aim—chalutziut in Palestine. Activities in Habonim must be directed towards chalutziut in Eretz Israel. This does not mean merely holding up examples of chalutziut; to educate any person to chalutziut is to make him desire to change the conditions of life today. In Habonim our approach is to get Jewish boys and girls in the most impressionable stage and create an environment that will call forth the desire to live in Palestine. The hatred for capitalist society, the loathing for our present Jewish life, and the desire to become workers must be the result of indoctrination.
Habonim should be indoctrinated with a full consciousness of Poale Zionism and a full realization that the Party makes it possible to achieve this realization.
The autonomy question allows a difference of opinion. I am willing to admit that I do not know whether Habonim should or should not be autonomous. The influence of Young Poale Zion Alliance should be uppermost in our minds.
Our tragedy is that we have not developed more leaders. Everyone agrees with the Habonim program of education. Why cannot this program be introduced in our Buds and Intermediates, who through activity could approach many more hundreds? Let us prepare leaders for Habonim and, when we have had a few years of experience, then decide about autonomy.
The example of the Folk Shulen convince us to be against autonomy. Where are the hundreds and hundreds of children who have been graduated from these schools—are they with us? We must prevent this situation in Habonim.
We must present a program to satisfy the emotional needs of the child. The Habonim program appears now to have met this need. The organizational question may develop into a stumbling block; therefore we should not decide about the question of autonomy until we have amassed experience.
Lemberger: A leader of Habonim must be a member of the Socialist Zionist movement. This includes not only the Young Poale Zion Alliance members, but also Hechalutz, who must be influenced towards class consciousness. We must have an independent organization with certain guarantees: i.e., that the leader must belong to some socialist Zionist organization and represent its approach in Habonim. Habonim will prevent the organization of other Labor Zionist youth groups by incorporating their positive elements. Diaspora activity is a part of Habonim education and will not be altered by the entrance of leaders from other organizations. There is no guarantee that bonim will enter the Young Poale Zion Alliance even if Habonim is not autonomous. Education is the only method—not compulsion. We must be ready to experiment. Habonim will become the example for a world-wide, united Labor Zionist movement.
At the conclusion of the discussion, the following resolution was adopted:
The Thirteenth Convention of the Young Poale Zion Alliance approves the setting up of Habonim as the children's organization of the Young Poale Zion Alliance. The governing body of Habonim shall be the Merkaz Habonim. The Merkaz Habonim shall be responsible to the National Executive of the Young Poale Zion Alliance, and the Mazkir Habonim shall be a member of the National Executive. The Merkaz Habonim shall be composed of members appointed by the National Executive.
The purpose of Habonim shall be to educate American boys and girls to the ideals of Socialist Zionism. Chalutziut shall be the central point, and a regard for Jewish and general socialist problems shall be vital portions of the program.
The Merkaz Habonim is empowered to continue the present organizational and educational set-up of Habonim and to make such modifications as may be necessary for the development of the organization.
From the MINUTES OF THE CONVENTION, 1935