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Zionist youth movement attempts revival in Montreal

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Hashomer Hatzair kids take part in a recent activity in Montreal.

MONTREAL — After being dormant for more than 25 years in Montreal, the Hashomer Hatzair Zionist youth movement has been trying over the last few months to stage a local comeback – with encouraging signs of success.

“The timing is perfect,” said Toronto shaliach Carmi Daniel. “We are about to celebrate our 100th anniversary, and several events in Montreal so far have been very successful.”

Still secular humanist, progressive and socialist to the core, Hashomer Hatzair is Israel’s oldest existing Zionist youth movement, its origins dating back to 1913 Galicia.

In North America, the movement has been active for 90 years, and it continues to function in 21 countries. In Canada that includes its popular Camp Shomria in Perth, Ont.

But like other Zionist youth movements that once flourished in Montreal, ranging from Habonim Dror on the left and Betar on the right, activities in Montreal effectively vanished over time as younger Jews departed for other parts – mostly Toronto – after the Parti Québécois first came to power in 1976.

But now the situation for Hashomer Hatzair in Montreal, where the movement once had the most popular branch – or “ken” – in Canada, appears to be changing for the better, Daniel said. That, he suggested, is due to the influx to Montreal over recent years of Jews from South American countries like Brazil and Argentina, where Hashomer Hatzair remains active, claiming 10,000 members worldwide.

In fact, Daniel said, it was an Argentine-Jewish immigrant to Montreal, Norberto Burle, who first approached Daniel in Toronto late in 2012 and “pushed us,” he said, to examine the possibility of reviving activities in Montreal.

“In that sense, this is really a grassroots thing,” he said.

Daniel also was in contact with Sefi Melchior, who is active with Habait Ha’Israeli, a social group for Israelis living outside Israel that is collaborating in the effort to revive Hashomer Hatzair locally.

“If the movement can be active in South America, Israel, and so many other countries and cities, why not Montreal?,” Daniel said.

Since March, the group has held four events in Hampstead and Dollard des Ormeaux for Passover, Yom Ha’atzmaut, with a strong component of historical context, such as the fact that Mordechai Anielewicz, the leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, was part of Hashomer Hatzair.

Hashomer Hatzair was present this year at Jewish People’s and Peretz School for an “Israeli Day” that showcased Israel’s scientific and technological ingenuity.

The promotion of Jewish values, Daniel said, in a secular humanist and socialist context, remains an intrinsic part of the Hashomer Hatzair philosophy, as well as allowing its teenage counsellors to lead and develop programming. Kids as young as 11 years old take part. Counsellors came from Ontario for the initial local programs, and “that is why we are looking for Montreal counsellors,” Daniel said.

Montreal teens recently attended a special “Activities Day” event at Camp Shomria, and the camp is holding a major reunion July 27 and 28 as part of the movement’s centennial.

“Our three pillars are the same as they have always been,” Daniel said, “Zionism, Judaism and socialism.”

For more information about Hashomer Hatzair, visit www.hashomerhatzair.ca, email, mail@campshomria.ca or call 416-816-5437.

The CJN print edition returns August 1.

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