This is a speech made to the Religious Zionists of the UK delivered on Yom Ha’atzmaut in Kinloss Synagogue by David Reuben, Mazkir Bnei Akiva 5776 (National Director of Bnei Akiva in the UK.).
Chief Rabbi Mirvis, Your Excellency Ambassador Regev, The Right Honourable. Stephen Crabb, His Worshipful, the Mayor of Barnet, Rabbi Lawrence, Dayanim, Rabbanim, distinguished guests, Chaverim.
As we leave Yom HaZikaron, we remember the actions of so many of our people, who gave their lives to save and protect Am Yisrael. Earlier today, throughout Israel, soldiers stood by the graves of the fallen to ensure their memories will live on. Most of us here in this room have been fortunate to visit, tour or even live in Israel. We stand in awe of those people who would have described themselves as ordinary, but whose acts show that they were anything but.
Tonight’s celebration is about thanking Hashem for the incredible miracles that re-established Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel… but, it is also about appreciating the individual, selfless acts of those people who have devoted their lives to a higher purpose; that of building and developing the State of Israel.
We celebrate those from all walks of life, and every place on earth, who came together to contribute to Israel. Whether religious or secular, from the west or the east, rich or poor, the one thing they all have in common is a lifelong dedication to improving the Jewish future in our revived homeland.
Tonight, we are honoured to welcome one such person, who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel: our new Ambassador Mark Regev. Your Excellency, you have inspired Jews throughout the world with your passionate and eloquent defence of Israel in the media, and we are sure that you will inspire the amazing chaverim of Bnei Akiva, who selflessly promote Israel’s cause in schools and campuses across the UK, empowering our youth to be proud Zionists.
This trait of selflessness, of devoting one’s life to a higher purpose, runs through our entire people’s history. We see it most clearly with the remarkable actions of Queen Esther in the Purim story. After being persuaded by Mordechai that the Jewish people were in serious danger, she decided to take dramatic steps to deal with the situation. Entering unannounced into the King’s inner chamber was punishable by death, yet Esther did just that, and eventually engineered Haman’s downfall.
But why did Esther risk her newly attained royalty, and indeed her life, to save the Jews? The day that Haman chose to kill the Jews was 11 months away, so why not wait for someone else to take up the cause?
Perhaps she remembered how Mordechai selflessly took her in as a child when her parents died. Perhaps she remembered how her ancestor Rachel allowed her older sister Leah to marry Yaakov, to spare her embarrassment. Or, perhaps she realised that Hashem, whose very act of creation was selfless, wants His children to emulate Him.
In modern times, the Zionist movement went from being a vision to a reality due to those who devoted their lives for a higher purpose. Those who made Aliyah from the UK 70 years ago did so leaving behind comfortable lives to move to a barren land, to cultivate, build and develop it. But now, in 2016, when so much of society calls on us to live life for ourselves, how can we, the young people of today, emulate Queen Esther and dedicate our lives to a higher purpose?
The answer: Bnei Akiva.
Bnei Akiva’s message of Torah V’Avodah, of taking our religious values and applying them to help our people and better the wider world around us, inspires our chaverim to work tirelessly for the community.
Every week, hundreds of Bnei Akiva chaverim volunteer their time to plan fun and educational activities for the youth of their community at sviva.
This year, we have seen Bnei Akiva madrichim take this inspirational message to strengthen small communities, such as Liverpool and Edinburgh, through the Chief Rabbi’s Etz Chaim project. This commitment has brought our message of Torah V’Avodah to an even larger audience.
In a few months, over 150 madrichim will be dedicating their summer to running eight different machanot in Wales, Holland, Israel, and, for our newly relaunched Gimmel Machane, in Spain. Why do they do it?
Because these madrichim know how important machane is. It allows young people to develop pride in their Jewish identity and create a life-long connection with Israel. The success of our machanot are entirely dependent on the selfless and passionate dedication of Bnei Akiva volunteers.
And that commitment to a higher cause impacts the entire community, reverberating beyond our youth. Just one recent example: when Malia Bouattia, the new President of the National Union of Students, describes the leadership of Birmingham Jewish Society as being “dominated by Zionist activists”, she is referring to bogrim of Bnei Akiva – many of whom are sitting in this room – who selflessly dedicate their time to promoting Israel’s cause in difficult circumstances.
And it’s not only at Birmingham that our bogrim are taking the initiative to promote Judaism and Israel – through this inspirational message of Torah V’Avodah – but across the country – from Bristol to Leeds, London to Oxford, we are leading the way.
Our chaverim, by dedicating many hours, days and weeks to Bnei Akiva, are a shining example of how to dedicate one’s life to a higher purpose – to our people, our land and our Torah.
In Bnei Akiva, it is not enough to live for ourselves.
It is not enough to learn Torah as an individual; rather, we should look to share it with others. It is not enough to live in a vacuum; rather, we should look around us and ask how we can give more to the community. It is not enough to visit Israel on holiday; rather, we must take ownership of our mission to continue developing the state.
To you, the chaverim of Bnei Akiva: I call on you to follow in the footsteps of the madrichim that have gone before you. Don’t accept the status quo; always look to change it.
Where there are young people who have not yet heard the message of Torah V’Avodah, spread the word. Where others lead their lives merely to further their career, strive to make a lasting impact on the Jewish people. When you have a choice between volunteering for Bnei Akiva or staying at home, ask yourself what will impact the world more.
Bnei Akiva is more than just an organisation. It’s a life-force that drives young people to be selflessly and relentlessly dedicated to Am Yisrael b’Eretz Yisrael, al pi Torat Yisrael. Through the selfless dedication of its chaverim, Bnei Akiva has the power to make an even bigger impact on our community and, ultimately, our State. It is time to realise our mission.
Kadima Bnei Akiva!