As of this moment, I am sitting on a computer wondering how to summarise the craziest three weeks of my life into three paragraphs, but I think its best to start at the beginning – which, in our case, was the thirteenth of September. 

Shnat officially started at a crisp summers morning at Manchester airport’s terminal one. All the shnatties who didn’t live in South Manchester (which is ironically half of us) stayed in the village the night before, apprehensive about their next stage of travel. You can probably imagine the rough mix of emotions, crying, paparazzi, baggage problems and excited teenagers which set the scene, but what you are probably surprised by is that the airport pilgrimage actually ran quite smoothly, Until we got on the plane that is. For anybody who’s been on an England to Tel Aviv flight, you can immediately picture the scenes. The flight included the usual: millions of children, davening in the aisle and general noise level which is far above where it should be. But after an ‘interesting’ five hours, us fresh shnatties landed in Ben Gurion airport, and after being intimately questioned by a shadow Mossad-like figure, we were off through security to do our covid tests. This mostly occurred without a hitch, except of course for some of us having the wrong test booked and a too-close-to-comfort encounter with some violent anti-vaxxers. 

‘Now’, we ignorantly thought, ‘Now is where the shnat journey starts’. Of course we were wrong, again, because it was already 1am and by the time we got off the two hour coach ride to Kibbutz Ravid we were immediately showed to our isolation “rooms”. I say rooms in speech marks because they were not really what one would call rooms (I hope that was clear). They were two refurbished shipping containers, complete with an outside area, consisting of a concrete bench. Perhaps I’m being too harsh, that bench symbolises our first connection as a kvutsah. We ate on that bench, we sang, laughed, and talked to the Australians through a metal gate from that bench (not that we had much choice). 

Usually shnatties begin their educational odyssey with an introduction seminar, ours was no different, except the peulot were run exclusively outside in 35 degree heat, a nice contrast from our 16 degree air conditioned containers. Isolation mostly consisted of sleeping, eating, chatting and more sleeping. As isolation horror stories go, ours really wasn’t so bad, and served as a nice calm incubation period before we entered our new world. Following normal covid protocol, we did another PCR test on the seventh day in hopes to get out that night, or on the morning of the eighth. To much surprise, the small pharmacy in an little Arab village only took 3 days to return our test results, and of course we all had to be positive! That’s another joke, we were all negative (woop woop!). Just like that, we were out of quarantine and into another seminar, this time an introduction to ‘shorashim’, or ‘roots’ –  a series of peulot on Jewish History. This was an intense educational experience in which we learnt and queried dynamics between different diaspora cultures and the importance of our history. On the social side, we mingled with the Aussies and Yanks and set the tone for our three months of shared living, between forty people, with one kitchen and two fridges (less woop woop!). 

To end the shorashim introductory seminar, we had a sikkum (conclusion), where we split into different kvutzot and wrote poetry, speeches, wrote some music, and of course an interpretive dance, in traditional habo style. Shortly after, we were told to pack our bags, “we’re going to Jerusalem!”. It was time for world sem. A seminar which brought together all the Habos from around the world. I’m sure every movement member reading this can list off the countries by heart, but for the parents reading, I’ll give you the list. On the Eastern hemisphere we’ve got Canada, USA, Mexico, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina. On the Westerm Hemisphere there was us, South Africa, Holland, New Zealand and Australia. There are more Habos worldwide, such as France, Germany, and Belgium, but they unfortunately don’t have Shnat programs … yet. This was an amazing opportunity . World sem symbolised a reunification of Habo International, because we saw that Habo isn’t about politics, money or power, but its a shared idea of how to change the world for the better and a guideline for how to solve problems in the generation it finds itself in, whether that be in the Warsaw ghetto or the alienation of Mauri people in Aotearoa/New Zealand. We are all so thankful to be part of a youth movement which is celebrated worldwide for its shared goals and ideals, World sem showed us the power of Habo and the youth in general. We made so many friends and learnt loads about different cultures and the ideological similarities and differences of the Worldwide movement. 

Now here I am, only now able to process the crazy first three weeks that we had, and quite glad that you get to read it all and are able to share the experience with me. Well, not quite, you’d need to go on Shnat for that…

Alfie Showman.