"We are building in a time of somewhat gloom, but are actually living in the prime of Zionism," head of the Bnei Akiva movement in Israel, South-African born Ze'ev Schwartz told The Jerusalem Post on Monday ahead of this week's opening of the 11th International Bnei Akiva Youth Movement convention. According to Schwartz, "This year's convention is an important milestone in the Zionist way of life. Its goal is to preach pioneering not only out there in the fields but also in the fields of science, education and social work." This year's convention, titled "Pioneering in our Times" begins Wednesday and ends the following Tuesday. Youth representatives from over 30 countries worldwide will participate in the events. The convention, which takes place every four years, is the 50th in the history of the movement. The focus of this year's gathering is on communities along the northern borders and in the southern town of Sderot. "We see it vital this year to give up the convenience of holding the activities solely in Jerusalem, and prefer to concentrate on areas which have been stricken with hardship," Bnei Akiva spokesman Zvika Klein said. "The convention this year is holding many diverse functions, including meeting with families of kidnapped soldiers and volunteering in the Ethiopian Jewish community." The convention this year will also hold votes on key issues concerning Israel and the global Jewish community, namely whether to build a new settlement in Israel in alignment with government consensus. How to extend help to Jewish communities is another major topic on the agenda. "It is in the blood of the youth to be leaders," Schwartz said, "They have vigor and chutzpah and it is our goal to empower them." Bnei Akiva was established in Israel in 1929 by Yechiel Eliash, and is one of the largest religious Jewish movements worldwide. It has a Zionist agenda, with its main goals being aliya and educating towards Jewish values while inspiring community involvement. The number of its members has grown rapidly during the past few years, reaching over 50,000 worldwide. The movement also has over 130 shlihim (envoys) around the world.