Members of the Bnei Akiva movement gather in Netanya to celebrate Shabbat Irgun [Photo Credit: עיריית נתניה]

Members, participants and supporters of Israel’s largest youth movement, Bnei Akiva, gathered in various locations around the country this past Saturday for the movement’s annual Shabbat Irgun, or the Organization Sabbath. The annual Shabbat (Sabbath) is celebrated by thousands of members and tens of thousands of participants and supporters throughout Israel every year. The Shabbat is a culmination of a month of organizing and arranging the direction of the movement for the following year, its events and to welcome the arrival of new chapters around the world.

Bnei Akiva is a Jewish religious Zionist youth movement, which inspires and empowers young Jews all over the world with a sense of commitment to the Jewish people, the Land of Israel and the Torah, placing an emphasis on the value of Aliyah (Immigration) to the State of Israel. Bnei Akiva members have worked and are still active in the field of education, immigrant absorption, integration of diverse populations and social tasks wherever they are required, and they act with the spirit of Rabbi Akiva, with devotion and love for the Jewish people and for the study of Torah. The movement was started in Israel in the year 1929 by Yechiel Eliash, an ardent Zionist and champion of the Torah v’Avodah or Torah and Work approach to Judaism. 

The name “Bnei Akiva” came form Avraham Katzenbaum, a peer of the organization’s founder, Eliash. Upon the suggestion of Katzenbaum, the movements founders agreed that Bnei Akiva would be the name of the movement. The reason for the name was that Rabbi Akiva, a Talmudic scholar who lived during the period of the second temple, symbolized – more than anything else – the idea of ​​Torah and labor. He was a laborer, a shepherd, a national warrior and the premier Torah scholar of his generation. 

Since its inception, the members of the youth movement conduct meetings on Sabbath afternoon that include fun activities for children and young adults – activities that revolve around Torah discussion and social activities. The movement’s members also gather during the week, on occasion, for select events and activities.

During the annual Shabbat Irgun, members of the organization and their families came together to commemorate and finalize a month of planning for the future year and to give each of the members of the group designate the new “tribe” for that year. The movement is divided into different age groups and the age group for young adults in the 9th grade (13-14 years old) get a special name and charge each year. Having a special name or “tribe” gives the youth movement’s members a way to identify other members in their same age group and allows for them to be given a special charge or mission, which they share with others in the same graduating class. This year’s “tribe” was given the name “Hineni” this past Saturday. The word Hineni in Hebrew means I am or I am here. The word is found frequently in the Torah – the five books of Moses.

In giving an explanation for the name of the new cadets, a Bnei Akiva spokesperson explained, “The ‘I am’ expresses the readiness for a mission and leadership in every task on the agenda – with courage and humility, which is part of [what it takes] to lead a State and a nation.”

“And Yosef went to look for his brother with a cry that is echoing to this day – ‘I seek my brothers’. The patriarch Moses accepted to redeem Israel from Egypt [and to take them] to our Holy Land. All of them accepted their mission with humility, swiftness and with pleasantness, despite all the obstacles and all the challenges. Thus, at the beginning of the movement’s 90th year, we accept that we must lead the State and the nation and educate ourselves to deal with matters that challenge the state and the entire Jewish people,” explained Bnei Akiva secretary general Yair Shahal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave encouraging remarks to members of the new “Hineni” tribe. “In the last month, you have been engaged in leading through Torah and Work. And indeed you have been leading through Torah and Work in all aspects of communal life. You have integrated Torah and work into day to day tasks. During every Shabbat, I study the Torah portion of the week… during my studies, I have felt that the Torah is not just the root of our merit for the land of Israel, but it is also our merit to produce great acts. And so therefore [through the philosophy of Torah and Work], we can work together for [the betterment] of the Jewish nation,” Netanyahu said.

Organizers estimated that including parents and siblings of members, alongside other interested persons, about 450,000 people took part in the Sabbath activities around Israel, Arutz Sheva reported.