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Fifty years ago, when I served as the director of Bnei Akiva of New York, I wondered how my relationship with Bnei Akiva would develop. Today, years later, after coming on aliyah to Israel in 1973, I find that I still cherish my Bnei Akiva past and still enjoy the friendships that were developed so many years ago. Not only are some of my grandchildren involved in Bnei Akiva, but I, too, still feel involved. This past year I was involved in the 75th reunion of Bnei Akiva’s Moshava camps of America, and a few years ago, I helped plan the 70th Anniversary of America’s Bnei Akiva in Jerusalem. I owe so much to the socialization and education that I received in Bnei Akiva, to my year of Hachshara (a Bnei Akiva program) in Israel and to the friendships I developed over the years.
I recently attended the World Bnei Akiva Convention in Jerusalem. Delegates from around the world gathered in the Jerusalem Theatre for the Grand Opening. One hundred delegates from 23 countries came to examine the accomplishments of the movement and to decide its future. They came from Europe, the U.S., Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. They toured Israel and were greeted and feted by government ministers and local Israeli leaders.
The major event of the four day convention was the grand opening at the Jerusalem Theatre where thousands came to greet the delegates and to honor the Bnei Akiva shlichim (emissaries) from around the world who attended this event. The program included delightful entertainment by the Yeshiva University “Maccabeats” who were flown in especially for this event. Two of the singers, Noach Jacobson and Nachum Joel, are former Bnei Akiva leaders.
Part of the program included greetings from Bnei Akiva Hachshara and yeshiva students from around the world who were seated in the audience. To the cheers of all of those attending, one young woman declared that she had just arrived in Israel this morning and had come to settle.
Rabbi Chaim Druckman, the director of Yeshivot Bnei Akiva, read the prayer for the State of Israel and the prayer for Israeli soldiers and prisoners.
Professor Rabbi Daniel Hershkowitz, the minister of science and technology and a former director of Bnei Akiva, gave a d’var Torah about carefully choosing emissaries. Zevulun Orlev, a former Bnei Akiva member of Shevet Alumim, reminded the audience that just as the parshah speaks of leaving Egypt, all Jews must leave the Diaspora, even if it is comfortable and rich, and come to Israel. “You must remove the Egypt from every Jew.”
The keynote speaker at the opening was President Shimon Peres, who declared, “There is no Israel without Judaism, and there is no Judaism without Israel. You have to believe and those who think otherwise are wrong!” He continued, “You are endangering our identity if you speak Hebrew without knowing the Tanach. You are endangering the future of the Jewish people if you learn Tanach without even knowing how to pray. Hebrew and Jewish tradition go together.”
Zeev Schwartz, the director of World Bnei Akiva, spoke and mentioned that Yoske Shapiro, the first Bnei Akiva director, was among the many guests and former shlichim that evening. Schwartz praised all of the emissaries and spotlighted the contribution of Arye Kroll, the former shaliach to Australia. Kroll spoke and pointed out that, “Bnei Akiva is not just a movement but it also is a way of life!”
Avraham (DuvDuv) Duvdevani, the new chairman of the executive of the World Zionist Organization, the first Orthodox delegate to hold that position, praised those early Bnei Akiva immigrants (like me, I guess) who now have great-grandchildren living in Israel. “Wherever you go today in Israel, you will find former Bnei Akiva members.”
Part of the well-organized evening included film clips of greetings from Chief Rabbi Amar, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israel Army Chief Rabbi Rafi Peres. Rabbi Peres, a former Bnei Akiva member, explained that he serves today thanks to Bnei Akiva.
An interesting film about the Hashmonaim community, which is one of the many communities that have absorbed the thousands of Bnei Akiva immigrants, was shown. Hopefully, it will soon be available on YouTube.
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