The Bnei Akiva movement was founded on Lag Ba'omer 5689 (1929), so this year it is celebrating its 80th anniversary. This provides a good opportunity to examine the place the movement fills in contemporary Israeli society, with a view toward the social banner that has been at its forefront in recent years: "To be a movement of the people."
This expression implies a double goal: To maintain an open and honest dialogue with every person and group in Israel and the Jewish people in general, and to accept into the movement all sectors of the diverse population of the country.
This main educational goal - to establish in this country a just society with internal and moral strength - is regularly translated into innumerable educational programs and seminars, weekend study sessions and permanent voluntary frameworks. In view of the great abundance of ongoing and constant educational activities related to social justice, the article written by Prof. David Newman is quite a surprise ("Bnei Akiva - then & now,"
September 8). He attacks the movement for being "right-wing," emphasizing the Land of Israel and mimicking the haredi sector.
("Bnei Akiva - then & now,"
But this "learned" article was printed just a month after Bnei Akiva published a book with dozens of articles by rabbis and spiritual leaders (whose influence so upsets Newman) laying a broad ideological framework for the movement's volunteer social and welfare projects. Ironically, even the picture that illustrates his malicious article contradicts his own arguments. Newman laments the fact that while in the past, Bnei Akiva promoted aliya, today he feels that it concentrates on radical activities. However, the picture accompanying the article that accuses us of ignoring our primary goals, such as aliya, shows members of our world movement - young people who have come on aliya in the framework of Bnei Akiva.
BNEI AKIVA leads many programs whose goal is reaching out to deprived segments of Israeli society. Some examples: the active seeking-out and enrollment of physically challenged youngsters into the movement's ranks; the setting-up of chapters in underprivileged neighborhoods; the organizing and staffing of summer camps for children with cerebral palsy and other disabilities.
Newman evidently knows that his readers are well aware of Bnei Akiva's activities in the realm of welfare projects. He therefore has no alternative but to mention them, but he makes the astounding claim that these activities are performed by members of the movement as a revolt against the current educational line! He conveniently ignores that these "revolutionaries" operate with the support of coordinators who receive a salary from the movement and who run Bnei Akiva seminars to train these teenagers, whom Bnei Akiva sees as role models. If these young men and women are revolting against anything, it is against the imaginary world of articles like the one written by Newman.
NEWMAN GOES on to accuse Bnei Akiva of looking back over its "right shoulder" to see whether it satisfies the demands of the haredi community. Well, we see nothing wrong with learning good things from anybody, including the haredi world. But the truth is that Bnei Akiva's main effort is not looking backward, but forward, toward the great challenges that face Israel, and to strive to contribute in coping with them.
Bnei Akiva feels that Israeli society sees before it what appear to be two faulty life ideologies. One promotes becoming entrenched in a narrow haredi world, based on the belief that observing the Torah requires complete estrangement from modern living. The other is blindly accepting everything modern while rejecting Jewish traditions and values, something which might transform us into a "country of all its inhabitants."
But we believe there is a third alternative, one that is the proper Jewish way: to be full partners in building up the country while maintaining complete loyalty to the Torah.
Tradition and Jewish values are not burdens that limit our ability to build a modern state, rather they serve as a source of inner strength, providing stability and meaning to our continuing efforts to rebuild our eternal home. As opposed to Newman who accuses us of schizophrenia, we see this as a healthy approach, allowing Israeli society to stand on two feet: Judaism and Zionism together giving it the stability it needs to continue striving for the future which is precious to us all.
Nothing in our attitude toward social projects conflicts with our continued love for the land and promoting the ideal of settling on it. For us the land is not a basis for real estate transactions but the very foundation of our nation, which has been given to us by the Almighty. This approach is a loyal extension of the original Zionist vision, which others have abandoned.
If teaching the love of the land together with loving the people is "extremism," we hope that the number of extremists will increase. Between us: the desire to build a Jewish country in this land is rationalism and not extremism.
WHAT IS the essence of our movement? We are Zionists and religious. Being religious, we expect our members to participate in IDF combat units, because it is a sin to shirk one's military duty and because there is a mitzva to help defend the nation and its land. As Zionists, we encourage our members to study Torah, because we want to help deepen the Jewish roots of our country.
This is the path of Bnei Akiva now, and with God's help we will remain on this path tomorrow, continuing our close cooperation with the other youth movements in an effort to establish a country that is Jewish, Zionistic and modern. King Solomon wrote, "Without vision a nation will lose its foundation." As Jews we believe that the opposite is also true: With proper faith and a true vision, a nation and a viable country can be developed - today, and even more so, tomorrow.
The writer, a former secretary-general of Bnei Akiva, is currently a member of the executive board of the movement. He is the head of the Education and Faith in our Day department of Orot Academic College.