July 14, 2024
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Bnei Akiva Brings American Jews To Volunteer and Bear Witness in Israel

(Courtesy of Bnei Akiva) It was when a group of American Jews found themselves in the south of Israel in late December 2023 with artillery fire sounding in the background that they felt safest. “We knew it was the Israeli army fighting on behalf of the Jewish people and we felt protected,” said Avi Matanky, Bnei Akiva board member and executive director of Bnei Akiva in Los Angeles.

The group was there as part of Yad Achim, Bnei Akiva’s five-day adult mission to Israel. In a departure from their usual youth-focused and family initiatives, the religious Zionist youth movement brought close to 50 Jewish men and women from across the U.S. including Chicago, Cleveland, New Jersey, Manhattan, and the Five Towns to provide support amid the current war. After October 7, participants felt a calling to witness Israel during this time—beyond the news and social media—and to provide support—which is exactly what they did.

“This mission was a natural extension of what we do,” said Wayne Yaffee, Bnei Akiva of the U.S. and Canada Chairman. “The way that Israel has come together is amazing. And we know that in order to be successful, we need to connect not only with kids but with their parents to help them understand how Israel truly unifies the Jewish people.”

The itinerary of the trip included many meaningful experiences including visiting the grave of a fallen soldier on Har Herzl, spending time with displaced families, packaging thousands of meals for Israeli Defense Force soldiers, and picking kohlrabi to help with Israel’s farming needs. Participants also visited the sites of the Nova Musical Festival and Kfar Aza massacres.

“It’s core to the mission of Bnei Akiva that when something happens to our brothers and sisters in Israel, we don’t run away—we try and get closer,” said Matanky. “And seeing things in person makes a difference. You can’t walk away feeling anything other than inspired.”

Alex Wolf, a participant on the mission from Woodmere, New York, was particularly amazed that they were welcomed into the hospital during their visits to wounded soldiers, and to the shiva of a family whose son had just been killed in battle.

“Israeli culture is very community-focused,” said Wolf. “After all, Israel is a country fighting for its survival with citizens serving in the army and sacrificing their lives. It was so impactful to see the value of prioritizing community, and how much our visits to wounded soldiers and those sitting shiva were appreciated. We can learn so much from this in America, and moving forward, I want to integrate Israel more into my family’s daily life.”

With Bnei Akiva’s robust programming and contacts across Israel, the organization was poised to create a meaningful experience during this time—and had a waiting list that was 70 people long. Bnei Akiva’s programming starts when children are young, and creates an impetus for its thousands of members to become leaders who support and advocate for Israel across campuses and in their communities, make aliyah, join the IDF, and build homes in Israel—impacting Israel and the Jewish people throughout the world. The sentiment across all the participants has been the absolute necessity of strengthening Bnei Akiva programming nationwide and in Canada to continue this momentum, this connection to Israel, well beyond the war months.

At the end of the mission, Yaffee referenced an analogy from Rav Soloveitchik, sharing that as parents, it is their responsibility to give light to their kids so that one day they can be bright enough to be like the sun producing its own light. “Now, Israel needs you to be our light. When you return home, we want you to spread what you’ve seen here and infuse and energize your communities,” said Yaffee.

This summer, due to popular demand, Bnei Akiva plans to host an abbreviated Mach Hach BaAretz summer experience in Israel for adults.

To start a snif (chapter) in your community or find year-round and summer programming near you visit https://www.bneiakiva.org.

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