Hands Up Who Went To Habo

Hands up if you went to Habonim in the 70s. My hand is up. Hands up if your mum pronounced it HaBONim rather than HaboNIM. My hand is still up. I loved it, I would do anything to go back in time and re-live those days of heady, good old fashioned fun youth.

I started going by accident. Every Sunday afternoon my parents would host what we used to call The Glee Club. The attendees were my grandparents plus half the residents of the Leeds Jewish Old Aged Home. Good menschdik folk my mum and dad, but at 10 years old I couldn’t get out quick enough. I would kiss them hello, politely accept any donations, wipe the lipstick off my face and skip on out to the Moadon . I’d arrive back just after 5 o’clock as my dad would be piling them into his Volvo. I’d finish off all the Scotch Pancakes and Florentines while slowly helping my mum to clear up.

Youth groups were big in the Provinces in the 70s. Each had its own identity and agenda. Habonim was about jeans and Zionism. Ostensibly it didn’t matter what you wore – clothes weren’t important. Fashion was for BBYO. But turn up in C & A jeans for Habo and there’d inevitably be someone sniggering behind your back. (Usually me, I’m ashamed to say.) The hard core Habonimniks wore the uniform. In fairness it was available for us all, but I only progressed to the sweatshirt, or slopshirt as it was called then. I really fancied one of those blue shirts with the lace up necks, but I was only ten and it just would’ve been delusions of grandeur.

The meetings were great – well planned activities and lots of fun. We’d learn songs from ridiculously long rolls of paper that the tallest Madrich would Blu-Tac onto the wall. Sloop John B was my favourite, but I could never get on with the one about the Court of King Caractacus. Then there were the games – Machanayim was fun although there was always one kid who was a bit rough.

We learnt about sharing – each putting money into the “kuppah” or kitty for food. The premise was that you put in what you could afford, but everyone got the same amount out – Socialism at its cutest. Again, I probably wasn’t the most generous or honest of folk. Wow, Sunday afternoons sure were a sugar high. But G-d sees everything and I’ve suffered with a slow metabolism all of my adult life.

Sadly, I only went to Habonim for two years.  My friends all started going to BBYO and I, pathetically, followed them. I hated fashion, I hated make up, but still I went. Like Pam Ayres wished she’d looked after her teeth (seventies poetry People, stay with it), I wish I’d kept going to Habonim.

But let’s not get too maudlin. Let’s get back to the best part about Habo – the camps. As soon as I started attending Sunday afternoon meetings, the madrichim started asking me if I was going to WA. Who knew? I may have been. I eventually found out that WA stood for winter activities – winter camp. These camps were held in boarding schools and held over the New Year. They were fab. In fact they were better than fab, they reached the highest accolade – “aceoberream”. Having the most protective parents of any of my friends and in fact the whole world, I never thought that I’d be allowed to go. However, the Leeds madrichim visited my parents and assured them that it would be 100% kosher – food AND activities. I could go. As long as I called home every day and reversed the charges, I could go.

I hated the first day, I felt so lonely despite having my best friend there. The second day was a bit better, we met some boys from Manchester and the food was really good. By the third night we were playing Bed, Chair, Wardrobe with the Mancunians – they sure didn’t put that game in the brochures.

Summer camp was more hard core (meaning we slept under canvas, nothing rude.) It lasted for two weeks and I only had to call home every other day. In the middle of the fortnight was the tiyul – 3 days hiking (ok, so our rucksacks followed us in a van – Jewish hiking) and 3 days on a barge. Just writing about it makes me want to go back in time. At nights we would have a camp fire…more singing. If I ever got onto Mastermind, my specialist subject would be campfire songs – The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel and that one about the sad calf. At the end of the evening, the boys would wee on the bonfire to put it out. They were so macho.

My very favourite memory about Habonim camps is the rikudim. For the uninitiated, rikudim is folk dancing and singing in a circle. That fella with the mullet and his Achey Breaky Heart has tried to copy Habo style, but it’s not as good. The rikudim session started off quite tamely: a bit of “shafta mayim” then onto “The Hora.” Boys and girls held hands, it was nice. As the evening wore on, things got livelier. The penultimate song was a bit of a do-si-do affair and involved a lot of jigging around. You know how you can Google anything these days and always find the origin? Well I’ve just Googled the words to this song and nothing has come up. So if anyone knows anything about the song that goes “you stick a knife into his back and take him to a waiting taxi..” please let me know. And then the grand finale – The Scarf Dance. This is when, if you were very, very lucky you got a kiss from the boy you fancied. Here’s how it went. One scarf, one pre-teen. Pre-teen takes said scarf and dances around the inside of the circle while the group sings excitedly “ if it’s good enough for Angie, good enough for Angie, good enough for Angie, it’s good enough for me. Give me an old time religion, old time religion, old time religion, it’s good enough for me. If it’s good enough foooooooooooooooooor” (by this time the group has worked itself up into an absolute frenzy) then pre-teen finds a member of the opposite sex puts the scarf around his/her neck and gives them a big smacker. Then that person takes the scarf and on it goes. (I always fancied the madrichim. When you’re eleven and there’s a David Essex lookalike it’s only natural that you will chose him over a boy who is smaller and weighs less than you.)

Thirty odd years on and I have offspring of 14 and 11. We live in London and they go to a very large Jewish comprehensive. They don’t go to Habonim, boo hoo. In fact, they don’t go to any Jewish youth movements on a weekly basis. I’d love them to, but the fact is that they believe they have enough social and cultural (note which way around I used those words) interaction at school.

And what of Habonim in 2012? Well, for starters it’s now called Habonim-Dror. (I dread to think how my mother would intonate that one.) Its website describes it as still being a Socialist Zionist Culturally Jewish youth movement. The “Chultzah” now costs £16.50 including post and packaging. That’s about the same price as WA in 1975. The boys still have long hair and it still looks like fun for all. No mention of Bed, Chair, Wardrobe though. Shame. That could be the USP for my kids to go.

About the Author
Author of Two Kids One Bathroom for The Jewish News. (Oh and there's a husband too.)