The announcement that youth movement activity would be closed caught Chen, the director of a youth movement chapter in Rishon Letzion, at the height of final preparations for the junior counselor leadership course that was meant to begin tomorrow.
Because of the pandemic, instead of the traditional two-week seminar at the youth movement’s overnight camp in the north, it was decided to move the course to a building in the city, in compliance with the most stringent regulations: parent permission slips, groups of no more than 20, packed lunches, huge stock of hand soap and hand sanitizer, and colorful face masks with the movement’s logo.
The signs are already painted on the walls and the teaching materials are perfectly organized. Tomorrow dozens of 9th grade graduates will arrive and fulfill their dream of becoming junior counselors. One of the participants wrote to me excitedly, “the sessions in preparation for the course are making me forget all about the coronavirus!” But then came the announcement from Israel’s government: The activity is cancelled. The youth movement chapter is closed. The course will not start.
The mall? Open. McDonald’s? Open. The beach? Open. The youth movement? Closed. Chen calls me with a lump in her throat, “The participants were so disappointed that the course wouldn’t take place at the overnight camp this year, but I convinced them that this is what the movement is all about. We know how to change with the times. The most important thing is that we have each other – the group, the youth who just want to be junior counselors. What can I say to them now?”
And just as Chen said, her chapter didn’t take long to reorganize and adjust the activities to the lockdown and the pandemic: the activities will take place on Zoom; the counselors have already dropped off booklets and kits in the kids’ mailboxes. But most importantly, and just like so many times in the past – it was precisely the youth movements who were the first to report for duty to help people in the city and in the entire country. They called senior citizens, distributed food packages and cake for Shabbat, travelled to distant farms to volunteer in agricultural work, and on Memorial Day they brought wreaths to the cemeteries. And just like those in Rishon Letzion, there are so many more youth and counselors in the Federation of Working and Studying Youth movement (Dror Israel’s youth movement) doing the same throughout the country – in Beit Jan, Sderot, Hod Hasharon, Moshav Sde Eliezer and Rahat.
And just like the Federation of Working and Studying Youth, the other youth movements are doing the same, with about 5 million members throughout the country – Jews and Arabs, religious and secular. What does the Israeli government expect these teens to do instead of learning to be counselors? Instead of volunteering? Instead of having fun organized activities to help them forget about the difficult state of the world? What do these teens understand when the leaders of our country prefer that they wander the streets and the malls, instead of playing, talking, arguing, and guiding younger children?
Precisely during this time of turmoil and uncertainty – as recent and distant history have taught us – the youth need a positive and moral framework. The youth movements provide a feeling of belonging and purpose. They also demand of the youth action, volunteerism, and acceptance of others. Youth who feel essential, who take responsibility – exactly what our country needs right now. Israeli society is tired and afraid because of the pandemic, financial uncertainty, and changing reality. Unfortunately, the adult leadership does not inspire confidence or hope. And here the youth are standing up, as we have seen this week at hundreds of intersections and city squares, demanding, in their words, “We don’t want a pool, we want a leadership course!”
We, the adults, can ignore their demands and say, “With all due respect, there are more important things right now” or let their protest be swallowed up by the sea of protestors in the country right now. Or, we could remember that this country was built precisely by these kinds of youth – by the youth movements who established, built, fought and created – and let them do what they do best: create a better society.
Dafna Barchilon is the national educational coordinator for the Federation of Working and Studying Youth