Southern Africa Jewish Genealogy SA-SIG
Facts and Figures of South African Zionist Youth Movements
by Beryl Baleson © 2005
Editor: Dr Saul Issroff
Copyright © 2005 Saul Issroff, Mike Getz, SAfrica SIG
and Jewishgen Inc.
Date: 27 February 2005
It is of the greatest significance that Jewish youth societies which arose in South Africa were all identified with the Zionist Movement. Indeed, Youth involvement as such was taken for granted as a Zionist monopoly.
Consequently, it must be noted that successive generations of Jewish youth were exposed exclusively, to a mode of Jewish identification determined by Zionism. In the early 1960's the Reform Synagogue started the "Maginim" youth movement. The name changed to "Netzer" in later years.
Before 1948 when the State of Israel was proclaimed, the following Youth Movements were active in South Africa: Betar, Habonim, Hashomer Hadati and Hashomer Hatzair.
In a 1966 survey by Professor Gideon Shimoni, who himself was a member of the Habonimin Youth Movement, estimated that there were a total of 6,800 registered members of Zionist movements, all affiliated to the South African Zionist Federation.
His facts and figures are as follows:
Habonim (later Habonim-Dror) 3,618 members;
Betar 1,483 members;
Bneir Akiva, formerly known as Hashomer Hadati 1478 members;
Hashomer Hatzair 221 members.
In 1969 Habonim accounted for 4,456 youth movement members out of a total of 8,535 youth movement members in South Africa an estimated 43 percent of the Jewish youth in South Africa.
In 1970 membership of other movements were as follows:
Bnei Akiva 1,730 members;
Betar 1,550 members;
Hashomer Hatzair 250 members;
Magen David Adom youth 445 members.
Based on the South African census of 1970 it is estimated that the Jewish population was 118,000; 17% were youth in the 10-19 age group making a Total of 20,800 youth.
In the 1971 Elections for the South African Zionist Counsil, Habonim entered for the first time and received 15.2% of votes, larger than the Socialist-Zionist Party, or the Religious Zionists.
Betar was founded in 1923 in Riga, Latvia as "Brit Joseph Trumpeldor" by Ze'ev Jabotinsky. While in Johannesburg during a visit to South Africa in 1930, he invited a small group to launch the movement there. Betar practiced the ideology of the Zionist Revisionist Movement.
Habonim Dror was founded in England and brought to South Africa by Norman and Nadia Lourie who started the movement in 1930 in Doornfonten, Johannesburg. Habonim started out as being apolitical and was run in the same manner as Baden-Powell's Scout movement. It then promoted Israel's Labour Party ideologies and linked themselves to this Party.
Until the 1990's Habonim had always been the largest Zionist Youth Group in South Africa. Bnei Akiva at that time became the strongest of all the Youth Movements.
Bnei Zion: The only youth movement founded in South Africa during the 1940's. They identified with the United Zionist Party, which supported a General Zionist view.
Hashomer Hadati Affiliated in the 1930's with Young Hapoel Hamizrachi. In later years they changed to Bnei Akiva and affiliated with Orthodox Judaism and religious parties in Israel, such as the National Religious Party (NRP) Zionists. To-day, 2005, Bnei Akiva is the largest Jewish Youth Movement in South Africa.
Hashomer Hatzair was one of the first Zionist Youth Groups in the world, formed just prior to WWI in Poland with a scouting orientation. It moved to strongly support a leftist programme. They were the first pioneering group to adopt "communal settlement on the land" in Israel.
Netzer (formerly known as Maginim) is unaffiliated to any political parties, but is connected to Reform or Progressive Judaism. It is the smallest of the four major youth groups.
The Machon Le'madrichei Chutz Le'aretz i.e. Institute for Youth Leaders from Abroad was started in Jerusalem in 1947. It attracted many of the youth from the above movements who came on a year's course learning Hebrew, History and Geography of Israel; Judaism, Zionism, arts and crafts; Israeli Folk dancing and scouting as well as touring the length and breadth of Israel.
This was during the first six months which was spent at the Institute's quarters in Jerusalem.
The following six months was spent by the students working on various Kibbutzim; Moshavim or in the development towns of Israel with the underprivileged population.
A three month programme from December - February took place each year for Youth Leaders who were unable to spend the year's programme in Israel.
Members of these courses were also trained to serve as Madrichim in their respective youth movements upon their return home. These students return to their home communities around the world as young educators, well equipped to make their contribution to the Jewish people.
Approximately one third of all Machon Le'madrichei graduates have made Aliyah, choosing to continue to make their contribution to the State of Israel. Thus, although the Machon believes in training its students as Madrichim in their home countries, they do at the same time "prime" them for Aliyah to Israel.