Chodesh Irgun. It’s upon us again, as it is every year, several weeks after Simchat Torah. Never heard of it? For those living outside of Israel, this is Chodesh Irgun in a nutshell:
Each year, about a month after the High Holidays, the Dati-Leumi youth movement Bnei Akiva runs a nearly month-long program for kids in 4th-9th grade. (In some chapters, 3rd graders participate as well). It is officially called “Chodesh Irgun” (literally translated as “Organization Month”). This is the time when all the Bnei Akiva “shvatim” (groups divided by grade) spend hours at their local snif (chapter), playing games and doing teamwork activities, preparing dances and skits and songs, painting their clubhouse, making videos, and having lots and lots of fun. Chodesh Irgun is also connected to a central theme across the country, and the dances/skits/songs all revolve around this theme. This year, we were just informed last night, the theme is Nefesh Yehudi Homiya (“A Jewish soul still yearns”) from our national anthem Hatikva. The month ends on a high note, with a festive Shabbat and Saturday night program where the kids perform and the parents (and the community) are invited to the snif to see the newly painted walls and decorations.
As my 15-year-old daughter (who is a madricha in Bnei Akiva) explains: The point of Chodesh Irgun is gibush– loosely translated as “togetherness”, as well as the “messer” (message), which is the theme. My 18-year-old son, who is also a former madrich and still actively participates in BA, adds that this is the time when the chanichim learn good values and the real meaning of Bnei Akiva. The kids all look forward to this month. Activities take place nearly every afternoon and evening, hours are spent on rehearsing performances, as well as nights at the snif cleaning (and somehow they enjoy this too) and painting, coming home drenched in water and covered in paint. Sounds great!
But there’s more. While all of the chanichim partake in the preparations, it is especially meaningful for Shevet Ha’roeh, (9th grade), who will be given the task this year of “Tasim“, which is an acronym for the Hebrew phrase Targilei Seder. (Who knew that it actually stood for something? I had to do a bit of research to find out). The Tasim is (or is it “are”?) the traditional Bnei Akiva flag dance, which culminates in Shevet Ha’roeh receiving their new Shevet name at the end of the dance, on the final night of Chodesh Irgun. This name is the same around the world for all of Shevet Haroeh everywhere. And each local chapter performs their tasim dance on the same day and at the same time, so that everyone hears their new name together. From there on in, this age group will forever be known as Shevet “XXXXX”, whatever their new name will be. Wherever they are around the globe, until 120, these kids and future adults will always be part of that “shevet”, or tribe.
On a side note, I myself am part of Shevet Yedidya (those who were in 9th grade in 1984-85), and while we didn’t have a Chodesh Irgun back in my day living in the U.S., we did have a big Simchat Torah Shabbaton each year where we were given our shevet name, but without the fanfare of a whole month of fun activities. Those kids who continued to be active in Bnei Akiva after 9th grade or who went to Camp Moshava would always be known by their shevet name. However, if you weren’t active in BA anymore, you probably forgot about your shevet altogether over the years.
But not so in Israel! Here it is a BIG deal and everyone continues to call themselves according to shevet name long after they have grown out of Bnei Akiva. Several years ago I discovered other members of Shevet Yedidya in my community, and one evening we joined the “youngsters” at the snif during Chodesh Irgun and painted a shevet wall just for us. (COVID put a stop to that for a few years but I expect to be back there with my “countrymen” this year on the layla lavan -white night, the final night of preparations where the kids stay in the snif literally all night until the morning).
My town of Tel Mond in the Sharon has a great Bnei Akiva sniff. It is on the small side (100+ chanichim), as compared to neighboring Ra’anana (well over 1000+ chanichim), but it is very active and the kids are all involved and enjoy participating. My own children have been and continue to be involved in Bnei Akiva, both as chanichim and madrichim, and even after, going weekly to Friday night sichot at the snif and joining the other kids during Chodesh Irgun.
From a parent’s perspective, this month can bring up mixed feelings. The kids have a great time, but they don’t get a lot of schoolwork done and are usually tired every day. The final week is intense, with even the younger children staying out late at the snif, and not getting enough sleep or eating proper meals. I’ve gotten used to it over the years that I have been here in Israel, and have become very easy-going about it. I look at it this way: I am grateful that my children enjoy Bnei Akiva and the gibush, and I know that they are in a safe place with friends and good role models. While they are staying up all night, I can sleep with the knowledge that I know where they are and feel comfortable that they aren’t getting into any trouble. Maybe not everyone feels the same way I do, but I’m rolling with it. This is one of those “Only In Israel” things, and in my opinion, it’s a good one.
That’s Chodesh Irgun 101. Wishing everyone a safe and fun month!