Leadership Lessons from hairy chicken in the dust

Over 1000 kids having Shabbat supper together last Friday night

Over 1000 kids having Shabbat supper together last Friday night

As my children experience the Habonim campsite that I loved as a teenager, I realize that there is an aspect of this organization that I can grasp only now that I’m not allowed on any more.

When we visited the campsite for DIGS day a few years ago it was quite surreal to see the stark difference between how our kids live in JHB and what the Onrust campsite has to offer.  And even though I’ve been there so many times before, experiencing it through the eyes of a parent gives a very different perspective.

Instead of Blackberries and iPads our spoilt city kids are united in their dustiness. The beach is their mall. Most of them look like they could do with a good scrub. Essentially it’s a village of 1000 run by kids and to the untrained eye it could look a bit like a (harmonious) scene from Lord of the Flies.

But that’s only what you can see on the outside. It’s only many years later that I am fully aware of how a Habonim education has shaped my life –as a channie, later as a maddie and many years later as a Mom and someone who works in leadership and organizational education.

The peer to peer learning; the dedication of the madrichim who work late into the night refining unforgettable learning programs when their channichim have gone to bed; the dynamic methods of teaching which could (and should) inform teaching methods at schools around the country – are all part of the fabric which make up a very unique learning environment.

But there are other more profound influences that are more subtle and harder to articulate. There’s the backdrop of honest and tolerant but rigorous questioning and challenging of ideas you don’t agree with; (more valuable than any debating training) a sensitivity and respect for human rights around the world while creating a sense of pride in who we are and where we come from and an unspoken commitment to paying it forward once you’ve had the benefit of being taught.

And typically enough, the lessons from Habonim are not static. This is the kind of education that keeps on giving and my most recent lesson as an over-protective Jewish Mom has been to learn to trust that my children are strong, competent and resilient and can do just fine without me for three weeks.

But oh boy I can’t wait to have them home

channie/abbreviation for channichim – students
maddie/abbreviation for madrichim  – teachers or leaders
DIGS – dignitaries day – when past Habonim madrichim are invited on to the campsite
hairy chicken – famous Habonim Friday night kosher chicken