Exploring the Impact of Habonim Dror

A Study by Steven M. Cohen & Steven Fink, 2013

Habonim Dror - From 1935 to Today

Founded in 1935, Habonim Dror in North America – with its network of summer camps, local programming and Israel-based activities -- has directly touched on the order of 40,000 Jewish young people. Anecdotal evidence points to significant number of “Habos” (the insider term for Habonim Dror alumni) who have made aliyah, assumed lay and professional leadership positions in Jewish life, and become active in socially progressive organizations – all consistent with the articulated educational objectives of this progressive Zionist youth movement, the largest such movement in North America.

While a small literature, almost all by alumni (or “bogrim,” the Hebrew term we use below), has provided historic context and impressionistic (and impressive) testimony to the impact of Habonim Dror, to date no social scientific survey has sought to understand the scope, depth and extent of its impact. This study, relying upon the responses of almost 2,000 Habonim Dror alumni, ages 18-83, represents a first attempt to assess the impact, and across a range of parameters. Such an enterprise will be of interest not only to passionate supporters of Habonim Dror, but also to all those with an interest in the impact of youth movements, Israel education and overnight Jewish summer camps. Indeed, this study comes at a moment in American Jewish history when interest in the study of “what works” in terms of Jewish education and commitment-building is especially critical, and when a mounting literature addresses such questions to a particularly attentive audience of policy makers, practitioners, and parents. In fact, the reasons for their attentiveness, and the context that has given rise to it, are important preliminary issues for the study of Habonim Dror, or any such Jewish educational endeavor in early 21st century North America.