Zionist Youth Movement - History

History

Most Zionist youth movements were established in Eastern Europe in the early twentieth century, desiring the national revival of the Jewish people in their own homeland, and soon formed an active and integral part of the Zionist movement. All emphasised aliyah (emigration to the Land of Israel) and community, with many also focussing on a return to nature.

Blau-Weiss is considered to have been the first Zionist youth movement, established in Germany in 1912, and were inspired by the culture of outings and hikes prevalent in the German youth movement. Adopting an official Zionist platform in 1922, the movement stressed an agricultural way of life, leading many of its members to the Kibbutz movement in Mandatory Palestine.

With the upsurge in European nationalism and anti-Semitism, pogroms in Eastern Europe and the barring of Jewish members from German youth groups incubated the Zionist national consciousness of the Jewish youth, appealing to their idealism.

Youth movements played a considerable role in politics, Jewish education, community organisation and Zionism, particularly between the two world wars. Within Europe, they were the nucleus of the Jewish resistance movements in the ghettos and camps of the Holocaust. They also led the escape (Beriha) from Europe following the war, particularly to Palestine, where most surviving members settled.

Many of Eastern Europe's movements established themselves as worldwide organisations, although these were less influential. Alumni in Palestine organised their movements there from the 1920s, with an emphasis on pioneering and personal fulfillment (hagshama atzmit). There they strengthened the settlement organisations, particularly building the Kibbutz movement and most affiliated with or established Israel's political parties.

After Israel's establishment in 1948, some of the movements' roles, such as education, were taken on by the State. With the growth and development of the country, movements' aims have been adjusted, despite a lesser public interest in the pioneering ideals of earlier Zionism.

In the Jewish diaspora, the nature of Zionist youth movements has varied in time and place. During periods when the general Zionist movement has been strong, such as that preceding the Six-Day War, movements have been particularly active. As well as acting towards Zionist causes, the movements have been seen as an important Jewish education and socialisation when it has not been otherwise available. Hence, with the development of stronger community structures, youth movements have often played a lesser role. Many youth, particularly in the large Jewish population of North America, have opted for Jewish social groups without ideological pursuits.

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