Martin Ellis
Martin EllisWorld Bnei Akiva

In support of a major fundraising campaign launched by World Bnei Akiva (WBA), three olim (immigrants to Israel) who have lived in Israel now for over a decade ֿdecided to share their personal stories with the world.

These are not only the stories of their lives, but primarily the story of their successes and triumphs in Israel.

The trio hails from different countries - France, England and South Africa, with the common denominator being their active participation in the World Bnei Akiva branch in their hometown from a very young age. They unanimously proclaim that without World Bnei Akiva and the values that they absorbed from the movement, they would not be here today - building lives, homes, careers and families in Israel.

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The first and oldest of the olim is Professor Martin Ellis, a longtime oleh (immigrant) who exclaims: “My family is about to celebrate 30 years here in Israel!” Ellis is the Head of the Hematological Institute and Blood Bank in Kfar Saba's Meir Medical Center and a member of the academic faculty at Tel Aviv University. Martin, who is married and a father of three, lives with his family in Raanana.

“I joined Bnei Akiva when I was eight. I was very active in my local branch in Port Elizabeth. When I was 13, I transferred to Yeshivat Bnei Akiva in Johannesburg, spending my high school years in the yeshivah while continuing to take part in all of the movement’s activities,” he says.

Ellis describes his involvement with WBA as a potent, dominant influence in his life, and one that he believes in strongly. He filled various roles in the movement including madrcih (counselor), branch director of the local branch, and working in a WBA summer camps. It was even through Bnei Akiva that Martin met his wife.

Ellis completed his medical studies in South Africa while continuing to participate actively in his local Bnei Akiva branch and affiliated camps. After graduation, he moved to Israel with his family. The Ellises settled in Raanana, in close proximity to Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba, where Martin received his first job in Israel. Throughout the years, he rose in rank at the hospital until being appointed its Director of the Hematological Center and Blood Bank.

“There’s somewhat of a parallel between working in a youth group and being a counselor to kids in youth groups, and engaging in the medical profession. The similarity is manifest in the social element, in the acceptance, in the responsibility for society and responsibility for the greater public, in the need to be attuned to others, to endeavor to help them, and give constantly to others,” he explains.

“In my opinion, the greatness of WBA is its way of connecting people to their roots, to the nation, and to Israel. That’s why I think that the importance of the movement today is even greater than it used to be… I want to take this opportunity to express my thanks for all the movement did for me, and for my family,” Ellis concluded emotionally.

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Eliana Gurfinkiel-Kutschenko came on aliyah (immigrated) to Israel 13 years ago from Paris, and is now active as a producer in Qualita Studio. Qualita is a non-profit organization that encourages and facilitates the immigration process of French Jews to Israel in the framework of the organization.

“I encountered Bnei Akiva by chance when I was 9 years old…but Bnei Akiva has been an integral part of my life ever since!” she relates.

Gurfinkiel-Kutschenko made aliyah immediately after graduating high school. She studied in Midreshet Harova in the Old City of Jerusalem before returning to her native city for one year of shlichut (emissary work), serving as director of her local WBA snif. In Eliana’s hometown, a branch alumna always returns home to serve as director for one year.

“A very significant part of who I am today still comes from Bnei Akiva,” she relates while presenting a colorful description of the values that she holds sacred - some of which she absorbed from WBA and some that she acquired independently from her concern for others, love of Am Yisrael (the nation of Israel), and responsibility for the Jewish nation and Jewish homeland.

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Gurfinkiel-Kutschenko married a Brazilian oleh, and the couple lives in Jerusalem and are parents to one child. Aside from their busy schedules during the week, their hobby is approaching olim whom they meet in the street and inviting them home for Shabbat (Sabbath) meals or even an entire Shabbat.

“We want to help them feel at home here,” she explains. Gurfinkiel-Kutschenko also delivers lectures and seminars to new olim with the goal of helping them understand how the Israeli system and society work, together with foundations of Zionism that facilitate their absorption and adjustment to their new homeland.

“The most important tool that World Bnei Akiva granted me was motivation to integrate as an Israeli. It wasn’t just about making aliyah, but about assimilating smoothly into Israeli society. I learned Hebrew songs and Israeli concepts and so much more, so when I finally came here, I was able to fit in and live like a native, and not as a French foreigner,” she explains.

One of the most popular public activists in the realm of public education and advocacy about Israel is Michael Dickson, Executive Director of Stand With Us Israel. Dickson was active in World Bnei Akiva in his native England, and for many years would walk a full half-hour from his hometown, which wasn’t large enough to boast a WBA branch at the time, to the neighboring city in order to participate in the movement’s activities and programs.

“I was involved in every possible aspect and filled a huge variety of roles for the movement, I went on the Hachshara (training) program in Israel as well. Twice, I was elected to serve as part of the Mazkirut (secretariat) of Bnei Akiva UK, and I continued volunteering for the movement even after I graduated high school and returned from my year of training in Israel,” shares Dickson.

Like the other two olim, Dickson also highlights the strong values that he absorbed from World Bnei Akiva as powerful tools that engendered his successes and allowed him to attain set goals in his life. “Bnei Akiva gave me the skills and tools to feel confident in front of people, not only to learn but to teach about Israel and that is really the key part of what I do today. In addition it introduced me to my wife, led me to my home, ingrained in me deep values, and as I mentioned, inspired my career.”

Dickson, his wife and 5 children have lived in Raanana for 12 years now. Although he admits that immigrating and adjusting to life in Israel was neither a simple choice nor a simple step, the Dicksons are proud of their choices and agree that Michael is a direct product of the movement.

“In England, we termed the youth group activities “movement,” and that’s the story. World Bnei Akiva revolves around the values and ideologies that we believe are the codename of the organization itself. The central issue is the inspiration that one can acquire from Zionism, which today I do my best to teach….

“I want to wish World Bnei Akiva loads of success in all that they do, and all that they represent. I think that Bnei Akiva represents something important and that is unity. Bnei Akiva inspires people to be connected to Israel, and that inspiration reaches far beyond the tnua (movement) itself. So I anticipate and I am sure that with everybody's help who is committed to Bnei Akiva it's going to become a stronger movement that is going to bring more and more people closer together in that unified way, closer to our identity and closer to the state of Israel."

World Bnei Akiva is in the midst of a massive international fundraising campaign in order to sponsor new projects and programs for the movement. The campaign is currently underway in 13 branches around the world and will hopefully help finance the movement’s upcoming activities. To support the movement, please click here.

Campaign ends Monday evening, April 30.

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