Whether they knew one another or not, the 500 adults, teens and toddlers who gathered recently in Ramat Efal to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Habonim UK & Ireland all had something in common: They were either part of the past or living the present history of a movement that chartered, and continues to charter, the lives of thousands.
Representatives of the extended family of Habonim bogrim (graduates), from kibbutzim in the farthest North to the Negev, from towns, cities, moshavim and everything in between, plus a few dozen members of the Irgun Vatikei Habonim in the UK and the present gap-year youth of the movement, mingled on the lawn of the Ramat Efal educational center.
British Ambassador Tom Phillips and entertainer David Broza, the grandson of movement founder Wellesey Aron, were among the guests of honor.
Aron, who was born in 1900 and died in 1987, was a graduate of Cambridge University who made aliya in 1926. However, he returned to Britain two years later after Chaim Weizmann persuaded him to become his political secretary. He founded Habonim - "The Builders" - in 1929.
"Habonim incorporated all of Aron's personal beliefs," explained Frank Farbenbloom, a former Irishman and one of the Habonim veterans who organized the event. "Self-reliance, independence of spirit, readiness to question convention, ability to overcome obstacles, integrity in his dealing, and above all ahavat Zion [love for Zion] were all part of this outstanding man."
Aron returned to Palestine in 1933, founding a highly successful advertising agency. In World War II he joined the Jewish Brigade, rising to become the highest-ranking Jewish officer and earning an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire). In 1947 he organized the Mahal office in New York before returning to live in Israel.
"My grandfather was a unique person. He held strong beliefs, and the last years of his life [he] lived on a windy hilltop among the Jewish and Arab Israeli families at Neveh Shalom," explained Broza, who, upon learning of the plans to hold the 80th anniversary event, immediately said, "Count me in."
The popular singer performed for the enthusiastic, multigenerational crowd, which included folks well into their 80s alongside children and babies - the latter wearing mini versions of the red-laced blue shirts of the movement.
"I am honored to bring greetings on behalf of the British government and embassy on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of Habonim," Phillips told the crowd. He spoke of his friendship with stalwart Habonimnikim Yigal and Linda Levine, a friendship that had begun when he was first serving at the embassy in the 1990s.
"At that time, Yigal Levine was working for the British Olim Society, and had I been Jewish, no doubt he would have encouraged me to make aliya, but I went to Washington instead," quipped the ambassador. "However, now that I am the British ambassador here, one could say I claimed the Right of Return!"