Rabbi Shaul Feldman, the National Director of Bnei Akiva USA, is in Israel this summer with 210 high school students who are experiencing Israel first hand.
Rabbi Feldman was interviewed on Arutz Sheva radio’s “Reality Bytes” with Josh Hasten and spoke about Bnei Akiva’s programs in the United States and how they connect students to Israel and to one another.
“For six weeks, they’re touring, visiting, and seeing Israel from different elements of Israel and really trying to connect them,” he said about the Israel summer tour. “As these 210 kids were boarding the plane at JFK Airport I gathered them together and I told them, ‘You are looking now back at JFK as home. That question of home is going to become a real challenge for you when you return in six weeks. You’re entering the State of Israel as tourists, and really the goal of the program is that you’ll finish it at the end of the six weeks feeling that you’re leaving home.’”
Rabbi Feldman, who also runs Bnei Akiva Camp Moshava in the United States, said that the core values of Bnei Akiva as reflected in its camps is to “really get the kids connected, deeply engaged, no matter which age they are, and really to feel part and taking stake in what’s happening in Israel and to feel that it’s part of them.”
These values are passed to the students, he added, through the councilors as well as through the shlichim (emissaries) who come from Israel to create the atmosphere of the connection to Israel.
“The other angle is also the community value and building the community,” said Rabbi Feldman. “It doesn’t matter what your financial situation at home, or if you’re male or female, everybody feels that they share the same common goal and dream.”
“We want to bring our students back to that excitement of 1967, the real happiness that was in the world (after the Six Day War),” he said. “We want to bring that excitement back to our kids. We’re living a dream, and we’ve got to continue to build (Israel).”
One of the most veteran Bnei Akiva activists is Rabbi Natan Friedman, Chairman of the Board of Bnei Akiva USA, who joined Bnei Akiva in 1938 at age 11, two years after it was founded in the USA.
Well into his 80s, Rabbi Friedman took a part in a Bnei Akiva reunion in Israel attended by 5,000 people.
“He’s still vibrant, pushing and encouraging us to continue,” said Rabbi Feldman.