This past Shabbat, the far-flung guesthouse of Ramot Shapira in the Judean Hills was witness to a gathering of 117 friends and their spouses. Actually these individuals would more correctly be described with the Hebrew term “chaverim”. The common denominator was indeed “chaverut” – childhood friends, “chaverut batnua” meaning members of the Bnei Akiva Movement of North America and “chaverut lamesima”, meaning partners in reaching a goal. And a lofty goal it was and still is: The dedication of one’s life to aliyah and life in Israel – contributing to Israeli society by joining the Jewish people in the only homeland for Jews; making it home and family; contributing to Israeli society in a wholesome and uplifting manner by just being here. In contributing one’s own small part, one truly becomes a partner in the historic whole of the Jewish people, which is indeed greater than the sum of its parts.
All of the participants are turning sixty years old this year. Witnessing the sight of over one hundred graying, balding, bespectacled, mostly overweight, dignified, well-spoken grandparent-aged individuals greeting each other in a gaggle of teenage excitement gave onlookers pause. A small group of high-schoolers walking to their own “Snif Bnei Akiva” in the moshav on Shabbat afternoon stopped one of the 15 Americans who had flown in specifically for this reunion to ask what this rowdy old bunch was. When the questioning teens received the answer that these were members of Shevet Moriah of Bnei Akiva for forty five years who were meeting once again in the land of their dreams to strengthen the ties of friendship they had formed when they were the teens’ very age, they stared in amazement. “I’ve got to go tell my madrich!” one exclaimed and ran off towards his own formative experience.
For, as one of Shevet Moriah’s own madrichim (leaders), Reuven Werber of Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, correctly put it Saturday night – Bnei Akiva of North America was a “youth-directed” movement. Eighteen and twenty year olds passed on visions and ideals, educating towards the intertwined goals of “Torah VeAvodah”, inspiring those only a few years younger with talk of building the land of Israel, with the people of Israel in the spirit of the Torah of Israel. When those twenty-somethings left North America for aliyah, the teenagers they had inspired by words and by deeds, continued the chain.
Coming of age in North America of the sixties Shevet Moriah members directed their energies and ideals to speaking out for their people – scores of “Save Soviet Jewry” rallies were attended (at times by skipping school – flouting authority by deciding for themselves what was really important), protests were held in front of the Iraqi embassy decrying the 1969 hanging of nine Iraqi Jews – a photo of which, focusing on a bunch of 16 year-olds yelling at Sadam Hussein, was featured on the front page of the New York Post. They dreamed of living in Israel and prepared themselves for it by participating in working a year on kibbutz in the Bnei Akiva Hachshara program. They believed in observing the commandments of the Torah and practiced what they preached in running their own religious lives in Camp Moshava during their childhood summers.
This particular weekend was more than a “reunion”–it was a return and reinvigoration of bonds of friendship and purpose with individuals who shared the purity of childhood together with the belief that we could make the world right. Now that we have life experience under their belts (literally as well as figuratively!), we have felt the disappointments, pain and angst of life, together with its blessings and joyous occasions. However, witnessing the number of Shevet Moriah members who have contributed to Medinat Yisrael by their presence and children’s presence here–we know that we have indeed accomplished what we felt we can do–contribute to a better society in Israel together with mitzvat yishuv ha’aretz. The homecoming in our own land which we joined, making it our home, has given us strength to continue with the same sense of purpose.
מוריה לעולמי עד נזמר נשירה לך!