A Zionist youth movement (Hebrew: תנועות הנוער היהודיות הציוניות tnuot hanoar hayehudiot hatsioniot) is an organization formed for Jewish children and adolescents for educational, social, and ideological development, including a belief in Jewish nationalism as represented in the State of Israel. Youth leaders in modern youth movements use informal education approaches to educate toward the movement's ideological goals.
Most Zionist youth movements were established in Eastern Europe in the early twentieth century, desiring the national revival of the Jewish people in their own homeland, and soon formed an active and integral part of the Zionist movement. All emphasised aliyah (emigration to the Land of Israel) and community, with many also focussing on a return to nature.
Blau-Weiss is considered by some to have been the first Zionist youth movement. Established in Germany in 1912, its youth leaders were inspired by the culture of outings and hikes prevalent in the German youth movement. Adopting an official Zionist platform in 1922, the movement stressed an agricultural way of life, leading many of its members to the Kibbutz movement in Mandatory Palestine.
With the upsurge in European nationalism and anti-Semitism, pogroms in Eastern Europe and the barring of Jewish members from German youth groups incubated the Zionist national consciousness of the Jewish youth, appealing to their idealism.
Youth movements played a considerable role in politics, Jewish education, community organisation and Zionism, particularly between the two world wars. Within Europe, they were the nucleus of the Jewish resistance movements in the ghettos and camps of the Holocaust, and the partisans. They also led the escape (Beriha) from Europe following the war, particularly to Palestine, where most surviving members settled. According to the International School for Holocaust Studies, the stated aim was bringing Jews to Palestine, out of a sense of Zionism. Some also saw immigration to Palestine as a first step towards the survivors' recuperation and return to normal life.
Many of Eastern Europe's movements established themselves as worldwide organisations, although these were less influential. Alumni in Palestine organised their movements there from the 1920s, with an emphasis on pioneering and personal fulfillment (hagshama atzmit). There they strengthened the settlement organisations, particularly building the Kibbutz movement and most affiliated with or established Israel's political parties.
After Israel's establishment in 1948, some of the movements' roles, such as education, were taken on by the State. With the growth and development of the country, movements' aims have been adjusted, despite a lesser public interest in the pioneering ideals of earlier Zionism.
In the Jewish diaspora, the nature of Zionist youth movements has varied in time and place. During periods when the general Zionist movement has been strong, such as that preceding the Six-Day War, movements have been particularly active. As well as acting towards Zionist causes, the movements have been seen as an important Jewish education and socialisation when it has not been otherwise available. Hence, with the development of stronger community structures, youth movements have often played a lesser role. Many youths, particularly in the large Jewish population of North America, have opted for Jewish social groups without ideological pursuits.
Youth movements employ informal education methods to educate an ideology to their members. This is often achieved through regular meetings that socialise participants within their groups, as well as camps. Particularly on camps, but in all interactions movements create a counter-culture that produces a particular social environment where members can express themselves freely, although with an underlying focus towards the movement's ideology. Recently, there have been suggestion that youth movement counter-culture is waning, and needs to be revived.
Activities and camps are essentially peer-led, usually by youth leaders who are often a few years older than the participants. Because of this, a friendly relationship is created between leaders and participants that encourages leadership by personal example (dugma ishit), whereby a leader's method of education is by being a moral, active and ideological member of the movement themself.
Zionist youth movements, both in Israel and the diaspora, continue to play a large role in community organisation, Jewish education, welfare, politics and activism. While upholding and adjusting their individual movement ideologies, diaspora movements commonly idealise Jewish continuity and identity in opposition to cultural assimilation, and Zionism in the way of active community involvement while living in Israel (termed by some as aliyah nimshechet or continuing ascent), with importance placed upon leadership skills and personal development. In some countries, resistance in response to anti-Semitism is also a significant political focus.
Movements generally focus on education for school-age youths, who are known as chanichim (Hebrew for educatees; singular chanich/a), approximately aged 8 to 18. The nucleus of movement leaders (madrichim, singular madrich/a; literally guides) are graduates (bogrim, singular boger/et) of the movement, although it is popular for senior chanichim to also lead junior groups.
Much of a movement's activity is carried out through regular meetings or events, in many countries weekly, as well as camps one or more times a year. Leaders use methods of informal education to inspire and teach chanichim within a particular ideological framework or to induce discussion and thought. Such events are also highly social and often involve recreational activity., making the educational and ideological pursuits more enjoyable for participating youths.
Most diaspora movements organise programmes in Israel, aiming for personal and ideological development, experience and training, such that participants would either remain in Israel as a form of ideological fulfillment or return to their diaspora communities and movements in a leadership capacity. Many of these programs cover most of the year following one's graduation from high school and are known as shnat hachshara (year of preparation) like their predecessors. Most require of their programmes' participants a two-year commitment to their movement on return from the program in Israel.
Many such programmes are coordinated together with the Department for Jewish Zionist Education of the Jewish Agency for Israel, whose Machon L'Madrichei Chutz La'Aretz (Institute for Leaders from Abroad) has been a component in many movements' year programmes since 1946. Year programmes may also include:
As well as education, the movement experience is directed towards hagshama atzmit, or personal fulfillment of one's ideology, often closely aligned with that of their movement. Typically, for a diaspora movement member, this involves immigration to Israel, seen as an ultimate goal of Zionist ideals. Many movements organise groups of participants to take this difficult step together, forming a gar'in of olim (group of immigrants) who are prepared together for the process of aliyah.
Main article: Service Year
In Israel, it is common for active movement participants to commit a year of movement leadership between completing high-school and conscription into the Israel Defense Forces.
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