BUENOS AIRES (Nov. 10)
Elderly people, seeing each other for the first time in 50 years, guessed who was behind the wrinkled faces across from them, and then hugged.
Former girlfriends and boyfriends introduced their families to one another.
Old friends linked arms and sang Hebrew songs, swaying as if they were at a campfire instead of in an auditorium.
As the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement celebrates its 90th anniversary this year, the group’s Argentine branch hosted a party of 700 people at the Tzavta Jewish community center recently to celebrate the leftist Zionist movement’s 75 years in Argentina.
“Argentina is one of the world’s leaders” of Hashomer, says Dany Nakash, an emissary from Israel and a former member of Hashomer who made aliyah.
Born in 1966, Nakash immigrated to Israel when he was 21 with a group that went to Kibbutz Keren Shalom, where he lived until he came to Argentina last year for his emissary work.
“I was raised in Argentina under the hard years of the military government,” which ruled the country from 1976 to 1983. “So I thought it was the perfect circle to come back to Argentina at a difficult time,” says Nakash, who came with his wife, Mariela, another Hashomer graduate, and their two Israeli daughters.
Nakash was referring to Argentina’s ongoing economic woes.
He is proud that after a period of 13 years when no Hashomer groups have made aliyah from Argentina, a new group is preparing to depart for Israel next year.
The ideological youth movement plays an important role, says Valeria Zapesochny, director of culture for Tzavta.
“We want to be the alternative for the Jewish progressivism in today’s society. We want to recover the strength we used to have,” Zapesochny says.
Founded in 1913 in Vienna, Hashomer Hatzair — its name is Hebrew for “the young watchman”– fused its Zionism with a socialist ideology that placed it on the left end of the Zionist spectrum.
Its kibbutzim in Israel, which were affiliated with the old Kibbutz Artzi movement, were more stridently ideological about such things as communal child-rearing than their counterparts in the United Kibbutz Movement. The movements merged several years ago.
Hashomer also was closer to Soviet ideology than were other forms of Zionism.
“I recall the passion we felt with Soviet books we would probably hate today,” says former member Abrasha Rotenberg, 77, a writer and economist.
The kibbutz movement has weakened considerably over the past two decades, but many former Hashomer members remain devoted to their movement’s icon.
“We really believe that the kibbutz appears to be the most fair society,” says Enrique Cwik, 74.
Nowadays, Hashomer is one of 10 ideological Jewish youth movements functioning in Argentina. Two of them have grown remarkably in recent years: Hejalutz, a general Zionist group, and Habonim Dror, which follows a moderate, left-wing Zionist ideology.
Hashomer says it has about 250 members in Argentina.
During the last Argentine military government, Hashomer members suffered persecution and had to go underground. Some of its members were among the thousands of Argentines who “disappeared” during the dark days of the Argentine junta.
At that time, “it was dangerous to be so clearly and ideologically noticed. Many Jews, as everyone did, moved to the side and took their children out of the movement,” Nakash says.
Hashomer members have played an active role in Argentine affairs.
Although Cwik now focuses mainly on his three grandchildren, for 45 years he was a dedicated employee at the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Cwik was involved in founding the leftist Nueva Sion Jewish newspaper along with two people formerly active at Hashomer: Rotenberg and the journalist Jacobo Timerman, who died in 1999.
Timerman, who was arrested and tortured by the military regime — and became famous for his memoir, “Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number” — also was the founder of La Opinion, a national newspaper.
Hashomer gave generations of Argentine Jews the idea that “we could change the world and the Jews,” Rotenberg says. “I always thank the enriching vision of life Hashomer gave to its members.”
Rotenberg says his young years in Hashomer were his initiation to reading and music.
Jose Adaszko, president of the left-wing Meretz Party’s Argentine affiliate, was very active in Hashomer during the 1950s.
“I am amazed that four generations are meeting together at this anniversary celebration,” Adaszko says as he walks into a ground floor room where, he says, all the “Jurassic Park Hashomer members” were chatting.
Israel had a central presence to the celebration.
Along with 100 companions, Pesaj Zaskin made aliyah in 1953 and founded Kibbutz Metzer. Zaskin said he is still proud of Metzer and its relations with neighboring Arabs.
The kibbutz suffered a devastating terrorist attack last November when an Arab infiltrated the kibbutz and murdered five people, including a mother and two young children who were cowering in a bedroom.
Another Hashomer graduate, Dvora Schechner, wrote to JTA from Kibbutz Gazit.
Schechner, an educator, history researcher and writer, made aliyah in 1952 and for the first three years was a tractor driver, removing stones and plowing the land.
“We made a park,” she wrote. “To me, Hashomer was THE event that marked my life.”