Tag Archives: Bnei Akiva

Jew of the Week: Rabbi Ze’ev Yavetz

Planting Trees on Tu b’Shevat

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!

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.

Jew of the Week: Naftali Bennett

Software Entrepreneur, Special Forces Commander

Naftali Bennett

Naftali Bennett

Naftali Bennett (b. 1972) was born in Haifa to Modern Orthodox parents who made aliyah to Israel (from San Francisco) following the Six-Day War. He studied at Yavne Yeshiva, where he became a youth leader for Bnei Akiva, the religious Zionist organization. After his studies, Bennett joined the IDF and served in the Sayeret Matkal and Maglan special forces units, rising to the rank of company commander. His primary area of operations was in Lebanon. After completing his service, Bennett studied at the Hebrew University, earning a law degree. In 1999, he moved to New York and co-founded the software company Cyota. As its CEO, Bennett built the start-up into a successful tech firm and sold it in 2005 for $145 million. Bennett then returned to Israel and continued his work as a software entrepreneur. At one point he served as CEO of Soluto, which was recently sold for nearly $130 million. Not long after his return to Israel, the Lebanon War broke out and Bennett returned to the IDF, leading a number of search-and-destroy missions in Hezbollah territory. Following the war, Bennett joined Netanyahu’s Likud party and soon became his Chief of Staff. Between 2010 and 2012, Bennett was the director-general of Yesha, the organization that represents Jewish settlements in Judah and Samaria (commonly known as the “West Bank”). After founding a number of other organizations promoting Israel and the Zionist cause, Bennett left Likud and joined HaBayit HaYehudi (The Jewish Home), a religious Zionist political party. He immediately ran for party leadership and won by a landslide. Just a few months later, Bennett was able to win 12 seats for the party in Israel’s Knesset (compared to just 3 seats for the party in the previous election). Among other roles, he became the Minister of the Economy and Minister of Religious Services, as well as a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. He has been praised for his work as Minister of the Economy, opening up new trade agreements with emerging markets around the world, boosting trade with Russia, China, Brazil, and India, as well as dealing with increasing boycotts of Israeli products. Bennett is continuing to lead HaBayit HaYehudi into Israel’s coming elections in March. Some of his platform positions have been controversial, among them opposing a Palestinian state, and fighting Israel’s big unions. At the same time, he is pushing education reform, more investment in underprivileged parts of Israeli society and in small businesses, and providing affordable housing and land provisions for veterans. He is also focused on integrating Israeli-Arabs and Ultra-Orthodox Jews more tightly into Israel’s society and workforce. Bennett remains a reservist in the IDF, holding the rank of Major.

Words of the Week

The fact that the entire world says something does not mean it is correct.
Naftali Bennett, in an interview for Israel’s Channel Two.