Prof. David Mittelberg grew up in Habonim, made Aliyah, a sociologist and was the World Habonim Mazkir. A couple of months ago, we drove to his home at Kibbutz Yizrael, had a cup of coffee and talked about Habonim Dror, Israel and everything in between. We compiled the interview into a series of articles just for you!
David Mittelberg Part I
"The youth movement offered a modern interpretation of the Jewish history"…
Tell us a bit about yourself
I grew up in Melbourne Australia, my parents, like a lot of Melbourne's Jewish community, had immigrated there after surviving the Holocaust. My father survived the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and then was transferred to other concentration camps. The people of Melbourne's Jewish community were very much connected to their Jewish identity and to Zionism and created a very supportive Jewish community. 'Kol Israel Arevim Zalze' (All Jews are responsible to one another) was not a slogan to stick on the wall, it was a price that people paid. They paid it with their time, and those who could, paid it with their money.
They were responsible for the cultural revolution that the Jewish community went through in Australia, supported the State of Israel during and after the six day war and the struggle for Soviet Jewry. It was a continuation of the same struggle: There were Jews out there whom we didn't know personally but whom we were responsible for " Jewishly".
My parents were not religious but they were very traditional Jews, they broke Shabbat in order to make a living, yet sent me to Talmud Torah to learn about the Shabbat.
As for me, since the age of 9 I went both to Habonim and to Cheder (a Jewish Orthodox afternoon school). My father said that I need to learn everything and when I grow up I can decide what I want to do.
Why youth movement?
Youth movements were a place for people to meet and to build friendships and semi-family and it didn't matter what ideology you were part of, this movement created relationships and solidarity with the Jewish community and solidarity with the state of Israel and the Jewish people worldwide.
The movement concretizes the love of Israel, it was before the time of traveling to Israel, there were Shlichim and maybe a few Israeli immigrants that came to Australia. So the Israeli culture derives from the Zionist movement and the Jewish culture derives from the holocaust survivors and the Jewish education system. I guess that the youth movement offered a modern interpretation of the Jewish history in which the immigrants could find a narrative which made sense to them.
First Israeli experience:
I have been in Habonim since I was 9 years old until I was one of the 4 lucky people who could go to Machon in 1965. It was a life changing experience. It was the period of pre 67 war in Israel. In those days there was no Israel experience youth programs, no Shnat Hachshara, Jerusalem was divided and you couldn't get to the Kotel. One of the things that was most familiar to me was hearing Yiddish even in the Kibbutzim and certainly in the cities. So maybe the Zionist movement was not sympathetic to Yiddish, and it certainly was antipathetic to the holocaust survivors, but both Zionism and Yiddish survived those political offences.