How old does one have to be to be a member of Bnei Akiva? Here in Israel, if we place the word “former” in front of the word “member,” there is no age limit. Several years ago, after the 70th anniversary celebration of Bnei Akiva of North America held in Jerusalem, a small group of former chaverim decided that we would like to maintain our friendship and contacts. It was time to create an organization of former Bnei Akiva of North America members who have fulfilled the dream of living in Eretz Yisrael.
Many of those involved in organizing the group have been living in Israel for 50 years or more and we decided that the cutoff age for membership should be 70 years of age. That meant, of course, that you had to be at least 70 to join our group. The oldest members are in their 90’s. The chairperson of our group is Leah Abramowitz and the committee includes myself, Rachel Karni, Hadassah Klaman, Eli Klein, Rivka Merzel, Pesach Rogoway, Naomi Rotenberg, Shoshana Silbert and Rina Wasserberg.
Our first event was a very successful Shabbat weekend in Jerusalem some three years ago and we have been thinking about our next event ever since then. We finally got our act together and planned a one-day Yom Iyun symposium that was held at the beautiful meeting center of Yad Sarah, in Jerusalem. Leah is a volunteer of Yad Sarah and she helped make the arrangements for the gathering.
Yad Sarah, the largest voluntary organization in Israel, provides free or at nominal cost services designed to make life easier for sick, disabled and elderly people and their families. Yad Sarah has 103 branches throughout Israel and is run by more than 6,000 volunteers. Yad Sarah’s mission is to keep the ill and the elderly in their homes and out of institutions as long as possible. Yad Sarah`sbest-known service is the lending of medical and rehabilitative equipment on a short-term basis free of charge to anyone who needs it – from a stock of over 250,000 items, from crutches and wheelchairs to oxygen concentrators and electronic monitors.
A reservations committee was set up and some 80 seniors, all former North American Bnei Akivaniks, pre-registered. Almost 200 seniors showed up for the event. The first hour of the event was dedicated to socializing and renewing old acquaintances with old friends and fellow chaverim. Kadish Goldberg of Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi, a former rosh moshava both in Gelatt, Penn., and in Canada, was the master of ceremonies who kept everyone laughing with his usual funny monologues. I presented a short memorial for Yoshke Shapiro, ob”m, a former member of Israel’s Knesset, the former director of Tehilah, an organization that helped new immigrants from the U.S. and western countries settle in Israel, and a former emissary to Bnei Akiva of North America, who played a significant role in many of our lives, especially those of us who had been in hachshara in Kibbutz Yavne in the late 1950’s.
Rabbi Dr. Pinchas Kahn presented an interesting d’var Torah that was followed by a light lunch. The keynote speaker of the event was Professor Natan Aviezer, an Israeli physicist who writes on creationism, evolution and cosmology from an Orthodox Jewish perspective. He is a professor of physics and former chairman of the physics department of Bar-Ilan University. He received his doctorate in physics from the University of Chicago, and subsequently held a research position at the IBM Watson Research Center near New York. In 1967, he and his wife, Dvora, made aliyah to Israel. He is the author of more than 100 scientific articles on solid-state physics. In recognition of his important research contributions, he was honored by being elected as a fellow of the American Physical Society (1984) and a research professor of the Royal Society of London (1992). Professor Aviezer gave a very dramatic review of life in Israel and what needs to be done in the future.