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My 2020 Shnat Experience

Despite the ongoing unrest worldwide caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, Habonim Dror Southern Africa (HDSA) still has a shnat kvutsah (Hebrew for a group) in Israel.


When observing the experience of a shnat participant during 2020, many people would assume the worst, however, the ineffable effort put in by members of the shnat tsevet as well as Habonim Dror Olami has allowed a one of a kind shnat experience.


HDSA shnat participants have been able to fully immerse themselves in aspects that are fundamental to the movement back home. We have been able to explore the communal aspects of Kibbutz lifestyle twice during our shnat experience and have managed to explore the idea of kuppah.


Participants have also been allowed to further explore the pluralist nature of the Jewish people. During our Machon L’Madrichim experience, participants got to interact with members of many other youth movements from around the world, whose religious affiliation stretched from secular humanists, conservatives, reformists, as well as modern orthodox. The cultural and intellectual experiences we had here will be an essential part of what can be brought back to South Africa to further enrich the pluralism within HDSA.


While Shnat is creating the next generation of leaders of Habonim, we have also paid close attention to our past. Whether through Habonim, History and Hagshama seminar, the reading of ‘Like a Phoenix from the Ashes’, or further diving into the chukka (constitution) of HDSA. The participants are now not only connected to the movement in modernity but have also developed an understanding of the formation of Habonim Dror and furthered the subtle nuances which have shaped HDSA over time.


Shnat, although an experience which will be perceived differently by every participant, is structured to build a strong group made up of participants from our movement. The program will refer to this as a kvutsah. The development of a kvutsah is however something very much detached from reality. The concept of a kvutsah is one that is relatively easy to understand, it is a group for which you will experience the year and will act as a support system. This could not half describe the tightly-knit bonds formed by a kvutsah, as the group of participants you’re surrounded by turns into your second family. This leads to the formation of a strong kvutsah acting as one on the cornerstones of a successful shnat.


Shnat also promotes the building of independence amongst the participants. For the final stage of our program, we will be living in an apartment south of Tel Aviv as a kvutsah.

This experience will teach each participant a sense of responsibility, as we navigate using a stipend of money daily to be able to cook, clean, and prosper. A successful kaveret will mark the end of a shnat year, in which every participant will have grown exponentially, even if they don’t know it yet.


When I retrospectively look at my shnat year, I know I will be thinking of a year in which I became a more well-rounded human being.


Shnat is a rollercoaster, one where every thrill and spill has immensely affected each and every one of us. Now we just have to sit back and enjoy it, because before we even know it, we will open our eyes and find ourselves on our way back to South Africa.


Kerrin Baker




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