I recently came back from an amazing trip to Israel where, besides seeing our married son and daughter-in-law, we attended a reunion of my Bnei Akiva Shevet that was formed 51 years ago. It was not only an unforgettable experience but it showed the profound effect that relationships and ideologies formed in our youth can have on us in our adult life.
I grew up in Brooklyn and lived in Kensington (outside of Borough Park) from seventh grade through high school, and like hundreds of kids of that time, hung out on 14th Avenue on Shabbat afternoons. On one of those walks, a friend asked me to join him to check out the local branch (or snif) of Bnei Akiva that met in Machzikei Talmud Torah on 47th Street. Yes, not only did Borough Park have chasidim, but there was a strong Modern Orthodox, Religious Zionist presence that does not exist today. In Bnei Akiva we had philosophical discussions, sang songs, davened and formed lifelong friendships. For many of us it was the place that we acquired our commitment to am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael. It was a place that united us with other like-minded kids from all over the country who shared the same passion and ideals, and our local snif was extended by summers on Camp Moshava and formations of Shevatim beginning in eighth grade and continuing as long as you were in the organization.
Our Shevet (Moriah) was formed in 1967, and these would be the chevra who we would be together with in camp as well as with during activities during the year. After our junior year in high school we were put together with members of our Shevet from around the country and Canada for a month-long national seminar. For those of us who went on Hachshara after high school and spent a year on a religious kibbutz learning Torah and working the land, this would be the group who we would share these experiences with. It is also the group who were among 200 volunteers from Bnei Akiva who left college to volunteer on kibbutzim after the Yom Kippur War, and a smaller group who actually made aliyah together to Kibbutz Maale Gilboa. So it is no wonder that when we had a reunion in Israel last week, the bonds that united us all those years ago were as strong as ever.
Our first reunion was in 2003 as part of a world Bnei Akiva gathering, and at that time we decided to form an email group and later a Facebook group to be able to stay in touch with each other. Since then there were three more reunions, all in Israel, where two-thirds of the group lives, the last being five years ago. So what do 139 60-somethings do when they get together after not seeing each other (some for over 40 years)? We pick up where we left off. Such was the reunion that we shared. It was a combination of camp, Hachshara and snif. The planning committee provided a full program including tiyulim, divrei Torah, intellectual discussions, entertainment and, of course, a video walk down memory lane complete with photos of what we looked like as youth and how we and our families look today, produced by yours truly.
What was most striking was that the group comprised of people from all walks of life. From rabbis and toenot halacha to farmers, kibbutzniks, professors, physicians, business people, communal leaders, psychologists, lawyers, marketers, etc., the Shevet had produced a diverse group whose common denominator was Torah v’avodah, the love of Israel and Religious Zionism. A group who has contributed so much to the State of Israel and to Jewish communities in the U.S. and Canada is no small result of the chinuch and spirit we learned in Bnei Akiva. And when we got together, we not only caught up with each other’s lives, we reminisced about our past, remembered those who are no longer with us, and celebrated our friendship and camaraderie. We laughed, cried, acted like kids and rekindled the bonds that kept us together all these years. Who would have thought as eighth graders that we would still be as one so many years later?
Looking back at the reunion and of our experiences as a group, I can’t help but think about the influence the organization had on me and many others. While many have made aliyah and fulfilled the ultimate goal of the organization, others have become active in Jewish causes over the years, from saving Soviet Jewry to Holocaust remembrance to, of course, supporting Israel. It is stunning how the chinuch and direction we received as youths went such a long way in shaping our future. For our group of Shevet Moriahniks, getting together and reliving our past was a wonderful, extraordinary, experience. We are now looking forward to the next reunion and continuing to celebrate together in the years to come, as our experiences in Bnei Akiva will always be precious parts of our lives that we will cherish forever.
By Steve Fox
Steve Fox is a Teaneck resident and the president of Fox Marketing and Video Productions in Teaneck and Co-Chair of the Northern New Jersey Holocaust Memorial & Education Committee. He can be reached at [email protected]