Voices were raised in song echoed through the streets of downtown Jerusalem Saturday night as hundreds of teenagers gathered to celebrate Jewish life in the midst of as escalating violence struck the North of the country.
More than 300 members of Bnei Akiva gathered to bring joy to the capital following a conference where the teens trained as counselors for Jewish summer camps.
Tonya Frankel, 16, a Jerusalemite dressed in the white tunic and blue skirt of Bnei Akiva Israel, spoke of the need to raise spirits as hundreds of young people danced behind her to drums and a song celebrating the patriarch Jacob's fight with the angel.
"This is our life," said Frankel. "We have to fight for what we believe in. But tonight we came to make people happy because this Shabbat was hard for Israel. We came to be united in these times, to be together."
The Orthodox youth movement members started singing just after three stars shone in the sky to mark the end of Shabbat. Sitting in two large circles at the bottom of Rehov Ben Yehuda Street, with arms around each others shoulders, the separate groups of boys and girls drew a large crowd. Onlookers snapped pictures and swayed to the music as the sound carried across the center of the city.
Tourists with cameras, children and parents, and secular Israelis dressed in tight jeans and T-shirts mingled with yeshiva students in white shirts, black pants and kippot as the group moved up Rehov Ben Yehuda, stopping occasionally to dance and engage the growing crowd. Smiling onlookers joined the group in song.
"This is very inspiring, especially in times like these," said native Jerusalemite Itamar Kestenbaum, smiling as he watched the crowd dancing along the street. "In any other country, these streets would empty. Here, they are swarming with people. It makes me proud to be an Israeli."
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