Monday, October 12, 2009

What Garin Tzabar is All About: Garin Hineini Tries Some Maoist Self-Criticism

Preparing for our hachzarat garin --our garin's coming out party to the larger kibbutz community--has not been a pretty process. So when Chovav, one of the garin's kibbutz staff members, mentioned at the tail end of a recap meeting that we had much to learn from all the preshow anxiety (and obnoxiousness!), I was surprised as anyone at the passionate discussion that followed. That meeting and another one the following night saw the floodgates open. For the first time, members of my garin spoke honestly about what their expectations were of our program and what (and even who) has disappointed them over the last two months. These two meetings were more Maoist self-criticism sessions than anything else. And while I mostly listened, the following are some remarks I shared at the meetings that bear repeating.

The simple way to see Garin Tzabar is that it is the most effective program for new immigrants enlisting in the Israeli army. The program takes care of all bureaucratic issues, provides lone soldiers with friends, a host family and a home on kibbutz, and even has the protekzia to ensure nearly everyone gets into the unit of their choice. Plus garin members draft only four months after arriving in the country rather than waiting eight months like most immigrants. What else could one ask for?

If you are like everyone else in Garin Tzabar, the program's ability to assist you with the army is why you first considered going with the Garin. But if that, and that alone, is the reason you eventually decide on Garin Tzabar, then someone has made a major mistake.

Garin Tzabar has a purpose above and beyond supporting lone soldiers in the IDF. Like the Zionists of old, the program expects participants to take advantage of the opportunity to build a garin, a cohesive community of like-minded peers at a critical stage in our lives. In today's world the idea of building a shared community seems quaint, something out of the history books or what the Amish practice in rural Pennsylvania.

But the idea that a small group of idealists can fashion a community that will change the wider world is the very lifeblood of Judaism. One only has to look back to earlier eras in Jewish history, like the Talmudic sages of Yavneh (Ben Zakai knew what he was asking for!), the Kabbalists of Safed, or the Hassidic communities of Eastern Europe. In the nineteenth century, socialist reformers of all stripes understood this organizing credo, including Zionist pioneers to whom the necessity of a stable garin was basic to their ideology. I tapped the same sentiment when I explained the central motivation behind my aliyah as "faith in the vision of crafting a society at the meeting point of western and eastern civilizations. One that strives to fulfill the dream of social justice envisioned by the prophets and sages of Judaism. One tempered by two thousand years of painful yet fruitful cross-cultural exchange."

What members of Garin Tzabar choose do with their community is ultimately up to them. It comes down to a question of prioritizing and assigning value to a commodity that is all the more valuable for its scarcity in today's society. Serving in the army is the challenge of a lifetime and it is the opportunity that receives all the attention. But the chance to fashion a truly vibrant community with one's peers is no less critical to our personal development, not to mention the future of Israeli society.

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