Habonim was founded by Wellesley Aron together with Chaim Lipshitz and Norman Lourie in 1928 in Stepney, which was the poor area of the East End of London. Wellesley Aron's first contribution was in writing various early memoranda to the Zionist Federation and to the existing Jewish Youth organizations. These suggested how a "Jewish Youth Cultural Movement" could be organized for children aged between 12 to 18.
Unlike such organizions abroad, the movement was initially intended to be of a non-Zionist (non-political) kind. Although he claims it as early November 1928, Wellesley Aron's first meetings and lectures about this idea were actually in early January 1929. No mention of these meetings is made in the weekly "Jewish Chronicle" or J.C. (Newspaper of the Jewish community) during 1928, except for one lecture on "Palestine" on 23 November, and not on the need for child-interest group formation.
Before Habonim was named in spring 1929, Chaim (actual name Hyman S.) Lipshitz as co-founder, had regular organized meetings of boys at his father's Cheder (school room) and they were well established by December 1928. (Incidently this Cheder was one of the few more-progressive of these establishments, many were unattractive places that taught only traditional Hebrew and Torah.
The new group was where Chaim taught Modern Hebrew along with songs and dances of the Jewish settlers in Palestine, Jewish history and various games. Chaim was assisted by Norman Lourie, a visitor from South Africa who had previously visited Palestine.
The aim of these group meetings was to attract and better educate the Jewish children of immigrants from Poland and Russia (mostly pre 1905, when immigration to the U.K. was severely limited), about their Jewish history and about the progress of the Jews presently living in Palestine. These children had somewhat dismal lives in the slums of the East-End, (Stepney and Whitechapel) which were not lightened by the mostly poor Cheder education system then available.
The first meeting of leaders of the Jewish youth community that Wellesley Aron reported, was in a letter to Dr. S. Brodetsky (of the Zionist Foundation) on 11 January 1929. Wellesley mentioned that only 5 people attended, but that Norman Lourie (the third founder) called a larger meeting for the following week (10 January) where listed representatives from at least 7 Jewish youth organizations were present. This meeting was in London at 77 Great Russel Street EC1. England at this time was the center of political Zionism, after the Balfour Declaration in 1917 had stated that "His Majesty's Government favourably viewed the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine" (then under British mandate).
The new youth movement Habonim (or the Builders) was deliberately made non-Zionist (and became Zionist only after 1935). In 1929 the first Gedud (group) Trumpeldor was built into Chaim's existing group of youngsters in Stepney. Chaim Lipshitz was its Rosh (head or leader), with assistance from Norman Lourie and advise and Hebrew terminology being developed through a committee run by Wellesley Aron. In May 1929 the first 27 page hand-booklet detailing how Habonim was to function was published by Wellesley with help in the mimeographing from Norman Lourie and his lady friend Nadia, who he later married. They both returned to Norman's home country South Africa in 1930, to establish Habonim branches in various towns and countries in that continent and in India.
The Movement grew very rapidly. In London alone there were 21 groups by 1932. The Movement had at least 2,500 members by the time of their 10 year "Jamboree Camp" in 1939. The various gedudim or groups were initially single sex (like the Scouting Movement) but were soon were changed for boys and girls together. Associated but not part of the Movement were training farms for the older members, to learn about agriculture and life on kibbutz, to which their alyiah (or "going-up" to Eretz Yisrael) would eventually lead. According to Aron, he modeled Habonim after Baden-Powell's Boy Scouts. The idea soon spread to other English-speaking countries and ex-colonies where Jews resided.
In 1930 Norman Lourie founded Habonim Southern Africa, with the first camp taking place at Parys in 1931. In the 1950s Habonim had spread worldwide including to Australia. 'Ichud Habonim' - 'World Habonim' - was born in Haifa on September 1, 1951. The Ichud movement Veida took part of the Habonim Movement from Britain, America, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, India, Holland and the combined movement from Israel.
At the committee, representatives from Habonim Australia were also present. Together, they declared the birth of the world movement that was developed from the combination of all the Habonim movements worldwide. After 25 years of activity of all the separate Habonim movements, a common base of activity and assistance was established. The movement grew from strength to strength each year until it eventually reached South America
Graduates of Habonim contributed significant manpower to the establishment of many kibbutzim in Israel, among others, Kfar Blum, Kfar Hanasi, Beit Haemek, Mevo Hama, Tuval, Amiad, Kfar Hanassi ,Gesher Haziv and Tzora.Dror
In 1911, in Poland, the Jewish youth movements rose.
The Jewish youth organized themselves into movements according to different streams, for example Hashomer, Hachalutz and Blau Weiss. Years later, after the Uganda Debate and after the dismissal of Herzl, a new generation rose in Zionism and developed into different divisions under many different names, the most popular of which being Tzeirei Tzion (Young Zionists). Out of Tzeirei Tzion in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, emerged a group that called itself the 'Et livnot' - 'time to build' and whose aim was to continue Herzl's way.
At the Petersburg Veida, which was a Veida for the entire Russian Zionist movement, it was decided that the Zionist community was of religious character. Et Livnot demanded that the secular community be validated, and together with other youth movements left the room. Upon returning to Kiev they officially declared their distinction from the religious National Organisation of Russian Zionism and developed a Democratic Union called 'Dror' - 'Freedom' in 1915.
Dror was not a mass movement, however at all stages of its development it excelled in central Zionist thought. It was both vibrant and invigorating, educating the Jewish intellectual youth in Russia and eventually in Poland through intellectual activities. Dror was both modern and revolutionary in it character and aims. The spiritual father of Dror was Ze'ev Zlickin, nicknamed 'Valia', who was influenced by the teachings of the movement "Nadorobolchi" which gave rise to revolutionary Socialism in Russia.
The Dror movement developed different chugim according to different ages. The youth (under the age of 20) belonged to the Shichvah "El Hamishmar" for all their lives as members of Dror. They were commited to the movement. Dror educated them and brought them to the movement 'Hachalutz Hatzair' - 'the Young Pioneer' (led by Yitzchak Tabenkin) and through this movement they came to Eretz Israel and Kibbutz. This created a link between Dror and the 'Hityashvut' ('Settlement' movement) and thus a partnership with Degania and Rehavia.
In 1925 a contingency from the Histadrut (Workers' Union) in Palestine, mostly from Kibbutz Ein Harod, was sent to Hechalutz in Poland. This contingency was instrumental in the development of Hachalutz in Poland and thus also re-injected life into Dror. By the 1930s, the centre of Dror was in Warsaw, Poland. From there, with the help of shlichim, the movement spread throughout the map of Europe to other Jewish communities in Eastern Europe and also to South America.
With the rise of the Nazi movement in Germany and the breakout of the Second World War, these youth movements were involved in actions against the Germans and were involved in big uprisings in cities such as Bialistock, Vilna, Warsaw and many other cities throughout Europe. In Warsaw the Jewish Fighters' Brigade together with Hechalutz, Dror, Hashomer Hatzair and other youth movement, fought in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1943.
Graduates of Dror made aliyah to Palestine, fought as partisans and in the Jewish brigade. The joined groups joined many kibbutzim throughout Israel. This took place both before and after the declaration of the State of Israel.
Amongst the youth movement members training groups were built which eventually developed into garinei aliya to many kibbutzim in the 'Kibbutz Hame'uchad' movement. In the 1940s there was major cooperation in the formation of common garinim by the movements Hechalutz and Habonim, particularly in Hungary, with the help of shlichim from Kibbutz Hameyuchad. At this time there was major criticism of this cooperation due to differing ideological attitudes towards the yishuv in Israel - its social character, economics, and the return to Jewish work in Israel.
The movement Ichud Habonim and the movement Dror were active in different countries and each identified with a different stream of the kibbutz movements. In 1952, the segmentation of the Kibbutz Hameyuchad movement developed into a new kibbutz movement in Israel, "Ichud Hakibbutzim ve hakvutzot". This movement combined the groups and kibbutzim and separated from the Meyuchad kibbutz movement on an ideological basis. Whole families were split and some kibbutzim were divided ideologically between the two movements, such as Ein Harod, Givat Chaim, Ashdod Ya'akov and many more. The youth movement for Kibbutz Hameyuchad was Dror, and the youth movement from Ichud Hakibbutzim was Ichud Habonim.
In 1980, the reunification of the two kibbutz movements under one name, the "Takam", led to the parallel combination the different movements under one name, "Habonim Dror". Since then, the movement has operated as one body and at each world Veida challenges its direction and redefines its activities to suit its ideology in the Diaspora.
Famous graduates of the two movements include Golda Meir, Mike Leigh, Mordechai Richler, Jonathan Freedland, Stanley Fischer, Chaim Herzog, Tony Judt, Sacha Baron Cohen, Seth Rogen, Noah Beresin (a.k.a. Xaphoon Jones) of Chiddy Bang, Dan Patterson and Mark Leveson, producers of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Alexander Bickel, Leonard Fein (columnist of The Forward and founding editor of Moment), J.J. Goldberg (editor-in-chief of The Forward), David Twersky (columnist with the New York Sun), Aaron Naparstek, Matt Witten, Mark Regev, Shuli Egar, Guy Spigelman, Tooker Gomberg, Baroness Deech, Jack Markell (the governor of Delaware), Kenneth Bob, Toba Spitzer, Ron Bloom and Jaques Wagner (the governor of Bahia, Brazil).