What It's Like to Be a Socialist Zionist in the U.S.

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: A group of young Diaspora Jews talk about what Zionism means to them; an Israeli tour guide recalls how a busload of Jews and Arabs in Slovenia realized they weren't so different

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From left, Josh Davis, Ian Ploser Rich, Gavriella Troper-Hochstein, Mimi, Dan Reshef, Eran Winter, Omer Gigi and J.G. De Varti.
From left, Josh Davis, Ian Ploser Rich, Gavriella Troper-Hochstein, Mimi, Dan Reshef, Eran Winter, Omer Gigi and J.G. De Varti. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

From left, Josh Davis, 24, from Haifa; Ian Ploser Rich, 18, from Libertyville, Ill.; Gavriella Troper-Hochstein, 18, from Portland, Or.; Mimi, 17, from Seattle, Wash.; Dan Reshef, 18, from Vancouver, B.C.; Eran Winter, 30, from Sderot; Omer Gigi, 24, from Be’er Sheva; and J.G. De Varti, 24, from Haifa; arriving from North America

Hello, friends. What’s the meaning of your shirts?

Gavriella: We’re here for an 8-month program with Habonim Dror [Labor Zionist youth movement]. We’ve all been in the movement for seven or eight years and we go to its summer camps in North America. This is part of our leadership training, it’s a progressive socialist program. Zionist work, but with equality.

Omer: But not the Zionism of 100 years ago. These guys will be training with [Habonim’s sister movement in Israel] Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed. They’ll go to a kibbutz in the Jezreel Valley and learn Hebrew.

How do North Americans hear about Habonim?

Ian: My parents and my grandmother were involved. We have to keep training because we also run camps abroad. I’m in Chicago. It’s a community thing.

Gavriella: Those camps are critical: There aren’t many Jews, so it’s important for parents to send their kids there. My parents are socialists and Zionists; that’s how I was raised.

Ian: It helps to have a broad view of social justice, not just the Israeli one.

Did you know each other beforehand?

Ian: We’ve met briefly.

Gavriella: At an annual movement conference. I went for the first time, and we proposed creating new kenim [branches] and it was approved, which is amazing!

What’s it feel like to be a socialist Zionist in the U.S.?

Ian: Those two words scare people in America. At college, liberals are afraid of “Zionist,” and Republicans are afraid of “socialist.”

Gavriella: I’m from a really liberal area; my friends belong to anarchist groups. If you talk about Israel, they get furious.

What does “Zionism” mean in 2018?

Ian: Responsibility for the State of Israel, but not militant responsibility ...

Gavriella: I like the old idea of Zionism as protecting Jews, that there’s a place where you can belong. People from my liberal hometown talk about how America belongs to the native-born. We Jews came there as refugees. For me, Zionism is understanding that Israel is the only place I can call home. If North America isn’t the place, then at least there is a place where Jews definitely do belong.

Josh: Like them, I was also in Habonim Dror, but in Britain. I came to Israel a while ago with Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans, to join a group in Haifa. Right now I am a counselor at the Ramat David vocational school. I wanted to do all this in order to take responsibility, as a Diaspora Jew, for Israeli society.

We’ve met people at the airport who have come with Taglit-Birthright, where the goal is to have them make aliyah. What’s your goal at Habonim?

Gavriella: The ultimate actualization [of the movement’s values] is aliyah, but I don’t feel I’m being pushed in that direction.

Ian: We didn’t come for that. We came to achieve other things.

Gavriella: My brother came to Israel with Taglit, and he was disappointed. He became sharply aware of the degree to which the counselors were telling a one-sided story. He tried to talk with people, but did not succeed, because only one narrative was presented. We’ve come here so that we’ll be able to show that Israeli society is more complex than people think; my friends and I are choosing to take responsibility. We are not coming to be cops and to wag our fingers at the country and say: Shame on you. It isn’t that. In my opinion, at least, there is a lot of complexity here that may be hard to see sometimes from within. Jews in the Diaspora have responsibility, just as Israelis do, for the Land of Israel.

Inbar Haskin.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Inbar Haskin, 25, from Pardes Hanna; flying to Austria

Hello, hello. What are you doing at Ben-Gurion Airport?

I am flying to Austria as the guide of an organized tour. Just yesterday I returned from a five-day trip to Greece, with a group of managers from Bank Hapoalim. We visited monasteries and we climbed Mount Olympus.

Was there any action?

It depends on the group. The directors were cool guys, not suckers. They wanted a pub. I arranged for an entire pub to be closed for them.

You’re the son of Gili Haskin, right? The fellow who writes guide books. How is it to work with your father in the same business?

It’s nice. He helps me come up with ideas and teaches me the history of certain places. My twin brother is also in the same line. So is my grandfather. I always knew that I would be a tour guide.

Aside from this, what else do you do?

I am studying psychobiology at Ben-Gurion University. It’s part brain science, part understanding of emotions, and also part biology, which I’ve always loved. I was looking for something beyond all that. And it’s also good for my work, because a guide has to have a broad understanding of biology and an understanding of people.

What have you come to understand about people?

On an organized trip, it doesn’t matter how old the people are, they revert to the dynamics of an annual school trip. There’s the back of the bus, with the troublemakers, folks laughing. You get these 70-year-olds pulling out bags of Bamba and Bisli.

Is that surprising?

Normally, they’d never eat that stuff. And also an in-crowd forms, and you have bachelors who are trying to find out which women on the tour are single. The social dynamics are fascinating.

Tell us more.

For instance, I led a trip to Slovenia and Croatia, half Jews and half Arabs. On the face of it, a potentially explosive situation. First they split up into Jews and Arabs, and also according to where they live and what they do for a living. Everyone sat next to someone similar to him or herself. But the moment that broke down, they re-divided based on areas of interest and age. As soon as they opened up, everyone began singing in Arabic on the bus.

How did that happen?

One guy wanted to get up to sing, and sang in Arabic, and the Jews joined in, too. Against the background of the cold Slovenian landscape, we realized how much we were really like one another. In Israel, the differences between Jews and Arabs seem to be big, but when we’re somewhere else, we understand how we are all just Middle East. Just now we were in Greece. They are just like us. A tour like this involves getting outside yourself; it opens you up to new ideas.

You seem like a level-headed and serious person for someone who’s 25.

On the contrary. I have lots of ideas of things I want to do running around in my head. I am at an crossroads, and I don’t know which road to take. I want to move ahead in my studies, finish my degree and keep learning. On the other hand, the temptation to travel and explore is always there. For example, Indonesia has just opened up to Israelis. Maybe I’ll fly there. The dilemma has become one between the desire to travel and experience things, and that of developing myself professionally.

But that is pretty much what happens when you guide tours, or am I wrong?

Being a tour guide as a primary profession is not easy. It has its advantages and its disadvantages. In general, you aren’t at home. If you are in a relationship, and you head out for two weeks with one day’s notice, it’s not easy.

You basically grew up in a household like that.

Yes. On the one hand there were always trips with my father all over the world; I traveled a lot. But on the other hand, when you have a birthday and your father isn’t there, it’s not so easy. And that is why I want to have some other profession as my main livelihood. Also, as opposed to what people think, it’s hard to make it in tourism. It is among the least profitable professions there are. Let’s say a person who owns a factory earns 70 percent profit on a product. A tourism company makes 10 percent at best. There are trips that they lose money on. And Israeli tourists can be very demanding.