Exploring the Impact of Habonim Dror

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

Israel Engagement – Many Current Olim, Former Olim, and Highly Attached

In numerous ways, these Habonim Dror alumni display unusually high engagement with Israel. Most significant are the number who have made aliyah (a total of23%, divided almost evenly between those who remain and those who have returned).  The direct link between the Habonim Dror experience and aliyah emerges in the comments of those who actually went on aliyah.

When asked to provide their thoughts and reflections about their experience with Habonim Dror, aliyah, a significant, life changing decision, was frequently mentioned.  Many bogrim believe that the movement played an important role in their decision, as illustrated by the following comments:

  • I currently live in Israel, and I highly doubt that I would have even considered making Aliyah without first taking part in Habonim Dror.
  • Habonim was the seminal experience of my high-school and early college years.  While I did not attend workshop, it was due to that [program] model that I went with a friend to a kibbutz ulpan program and subsequently made aliyah.
  • I went on to make aliyah after college, and my decision to do that was certainly based in my experiences and perception of Israel from Machaneh Galil.
  • After 4 years as an active ma'apila who took on many leadership roles at machaneh and in the ken, I made aliyah with several members from my workshop kvutza, and currently live in Haifa, Israel with my kvutza.  We're still active members of Habonim Dror (in Israel, not in North America) and play a crucial role in the running of Habonim Dror Israel programs, and work in a few sectors of Israeli society as well.
  • I am currently living in Israel with a kvutza of people I met in Habonim, part of a group of kvutzot who have made aliyah largely because of our growing up in the movement.

While close to a quarter made aliyah, almost all the others have not merely traveled to Israel but traveled there numerous times.  Table 9 shows the distribution along these lines.

Table 9.  Israel Visits and Aliyah

Habonim Activity Levels


Now lives in Israel


Former oleh


Lived in Israel
5+ months, but
not as oleh


Visited 2+ times


Visited once


Never in Israel




SOURCE: Habonim Dror Survey, 2013

Fully 97% have been to Israel, and 85% have been there two times or more (as almost all the current and former olim have been to Israel twice as have the long-term visitors of five months or more).  For the New York camper alumni comparison group, just 48% have ever been to Israel, and 29% have been there twice or more – far lower than among this sample of Habonim Dror alumni.

But more impressively, about two thirds of the Habos have lived in Israel for five months or more (44%) or as an oleh (23%).  In contrast, in the New York camper sub-segment, just 8% have ever lived in Israel.  Most of the sample has at one point lived on a kibbutz, and, of those who made aliyah or lived in Israel five months or more, about 2 out of 3 (64%)have at one point lived on a kibbutz, consistent with the strong educational messaging Habonim Dror imparts.

Among the 23% who ever made aliyah, just under half have returned and the remainder (12% of the entire sample) continue to live in Israel today.

Of those living in the United States, 56% feel very attached to Israel, slightly more than the 47% who feel likewise among the New York camper comparison group (see Table 10).

Table 10.  Emotional Attachment to Israel By Current Residence

Where do
you live now?
United States Canada Israel Other
Very attached 56 47 88 68 59
Somewhat attached 31 37 10 27 29
Not very attached 10 12 2 2 9
Not at all attached 3 4 0 2 3
Total 100 100 100 100 100

SOURCE: Habonim Dror Survey, 2013

Again, the verbatim comments provide some richness to our findings.  About 14 percent of bogrim mentioned the impact of Habonim Dror on learning about Israel and Zionism.  Whether these topics were discussed during camp, overnights, or seminars, many bogrim feel a strong attachment to Israel and attribute it to their experience at Habonim Dror.  While there is no way to prove this cause-effect relationship, some bogrim believe belonging to Habonim Dror was very influential in learning about Israel and they would not have gained this knowledge anywhere else.  Some of this sentiment is presented below.

  • Habonim has been a strong influence on my Zionist outlook and relationship to Israel and my lifelong study of Hebrew.  I have visited  Israel many times, worked for three months in a volunteer program during the summer while I was in college, taken Hebrew in college and continued to study once a week with a private tutor for the past 22 years
  • My attachment and commitment to Israel was deeply influenced by the Habonim experience.
  • It was my only real exposure to Zionism, both the political and social/societal dimensions.  As such, very important, for a city-born and bred youth with only limited religious connection and not much study of Israel and its history at my synagogue.
  • It gave me a great social experience and a wonderful grounding in Zionism.
  • Greatest influence on formation of my Judaism and Zionism
  • Habonim was my entire life as a teenager.  I learned about socialism and Zionism and a deep connection to Israel.