Tag Archives: Bnei Akiva

Jew of the Week: Rabbi Ze’ev Yavetz

Rabbi Ze’ev Yavetz

Ze’ev Wolf Yavetz (1847-1924) was born in what is now Kolno, Poland (then part of the Russian Empire) to a wealthy Orthodox Jewish family. A noted scholar from a young age, he became a distinguished historian, linguist, writer, and teacher. When he was 40, Rabbi Yavetz made aliyah to the Holy Land with his family and joined the Yehud moshava, where he worked in a vineyard. Shortly after, he was hired by Baron Edmond de Rothschild to head the new Rothschild-funded school in Zikhron Ya’akov. (Zikhron Ya’akov was one of the first modern Jewish settlements in Israel, founded by Edmond de Rothschild in 1882, and named after his father Ya’akov “James” Rothschild.) In 1890, when the holiday of Tu b’Shevat came around, Rabbi Yavetz wanted to do something meaningful with his students in honour of the Jewish “new year for trees”. So, he took his class on a tree-planting trip. This turned into a yearly tradition, and was soon adopted by neighbouring schools and villages. Eventually, the Jewish National Fund adopted the custom, too, and to this day over a million Jews participate in the JNF’s Tu b’Shevat tree-planting drive each year. In all, the JNF has planted over 260 million trees in Israel, making it the only country in the world to have increased its tree population in the last century. Meanwhile, Rabbi Yavetz joined the Hebrew Language Committee (famously founded by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda) and helped to develop the modern Hebrew tongue. He coined a number of modern Hebrew words, including tarbut and kvish. Unlike other Zionists, Rabbi Yavetz never abandoned his faith, and worked hard to ensure Jews in Israel observe Torah law, and live like their ancestors. For this reason, he was a co-founder of the Mizrachi religious Zionist movement. (The more well-known Bnei Akiva organization is the youth arm of Mizrachi.) Mizrachi would go on to establish Israel’s Ministry of Religious Affairs, ensure that Israeli government kitchens keep kashrut, and that public services rest on Shabbat. Mizrachi also had a political party, which had many names over the years, and is now known as HaBayit HaYehudi (“The Jewish Home”). Rabbi Yavetz spent the last years of his life in London, where he wrote a monumental 14-volume history of the Jewish people called Toldot Israel. Today, a school in Zikhron Ya’akov is named after him, as is the village of Kfar Yavetz.

Happy Tu b’Shevat!

Tu b’Shevat: The Prime Ministers of Israel and the Coming of Mashiach

Words of the Week

… from the most inhospitable soil, surrounded on every side by barrenness and the most miserable form of cultivation, I was driven into a fertile and thriving country estate where the scanty soil gave place to good crops and cultivation, and then vineyards and finally to the most beautiful, luxurious orange groves, all created in 20 or 30 years by the exertions of the Jewish community who live there.
– Winston Churchillreporting to Parliament after visiting Rishon LeZion in 1921

Jew of the Week: Yehuda Avner

In Memory of a Great Israeli Diplomat

Yehuda Avner

Yehuda Avner

Yehuda Haffner (1928-2015) was born in Manchester, England to an Orthodox Jewish family. From a young age he was involved with Bnei Akiva, a religious-Zionist organization founded a year after Haffner was born (and now the world’s largest religious-Zionist youth movement). He would later serve as its national director, too. After high school, Haffner moved to Israel, taking on the more Hebrew-sounding last name of Avner. Shortly after that, he fought in Israel’s War of Independence with the elite Palmach forces, defending Jerusalem during its difficult siege. Following the war, he helped to found the religious Kibbutz Lavi. In 1958, Avner joined the Israeli Foreign Service and worked for the Prime Minister’s office. For the next 25 years, he served as a speechwriter, secretary, and advisor to six prime ministers and presidents. He also became an important statesman and politician of his own, as an Israeli diplomat in Washington, as ambassador to the UK, Ireland, and Australia, and for his involvement in key operations such as Entebbe (to free Jewish hostages from a hijacked airplane in Uganda), and Operation Opera (to destroy Iraq’s nuclear capabilities). Interestingly, he also served as Israel’s unofficial liaison to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Throughout his career, he never compromised his faith, proudly wearing his kippah wherever he went, and making sure to have kosher meals arranged at state dinners. In 2010, Avner published a highly-acclaimed memoir which has since been adapted into a documentary (voiced by Sandra Bullock, Michael Douglas, Cristoph Waltz, and Leonard Nimoy). He has been described as “one of the senior members of Israeli diplomacy”, “living Israel’s history”, and “Begin’s Shakespeare” for his beautiful speeches. Sadly, Avner passed away yesterday from complications due to cancer.

Words of the Week

From Yehuda Avner’s “Ten Commandments”:

1. When an enemy of our people says he seeks to destroy us, believe him.
2. Stand tall in the knowledge that every tyrant in history who has ever sought our destruction has himself been destroyed.
6. Whenever a threat against a fellow Jew looms, do all in your power to come to his aid, whatever the sacrifice.
7. Never pause to wonder what others will think or say.
8. Be forever loyal to the historic truth that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people and Jerusalem its eternal capital.
10. Build Jewish homes not by the accident of birth, but by the conviction of our eternal Torah.