Tomorrow be"h I set out for Bnei Akiva camp in the UK for a few days.
The last camp I did as a Rosh Machane was in 1991, so it has been a while. Nonetheless, I still regard Bnei Akiva camp and Bnei Akiva as a Youth Movement in general as one of the great influences upon my life, and one of the supreme educational experiences I have ever had.
Let me explain what was so wonderful there.
First, there is the notion of ideology. Broadly, Bnei Akiva educates about Torah and Israel; Torah VeAvoda. However, in BA the ideology was supreme. We argued about it for hours. What did chalutziut mean in today's world? Was Aliya enough or did there have to be a "Halutzic" dimension to one's Aliya? There was the notion of modesty or Histapkut BeMuat. What is the best preparation for life in Israel: Bnei Akiva's Hachshara programme or Yeshiva? There was much to debate and discuss. BUT the most important thing ABOVE any particular ideological point was that "ideology" mattered. In fact it was the ultimate thing. Living life according to ideals, examining their application, holding oneself up to standards, self sacrifice - that is what Bnei Akiva gave me. That a life lived without values, without a ideology is a pathetic worthless existence.
The notion of a community... people sharing, responsibility, taking your part even when it is not fun, the phenomenal power of a group over the individual, this I also learned at Bnei Akiva. Even when there were people who were not social "stars" they had a place in the fabric of the group. Some of this was vestiges of Israeli '50s socialism. That was OK.
Bnei Akiva was the quintessential educational organisation. Everything was education! Camp was 2 weeks of chinuch. But there was never a sense of "us" and "them" towards the chanichim like in a "kiruv" model. There was no "I have reached that good place, now let me be mekarev you." Because everyone had not yet realised the ideology... we could all be more frum, we had all not yet reached Israel... there was always the sense, that we are all chaverim, all partners, we all subscribe to this ideology. Moreover, the creativity, the singing, the energy, the fun, the intellect, the Limmud and tefilla, the hikes that we had all made the path of Torah VeAvoda a normal way to be, so that when people did become more religious it was not ever in a quirky way but in an organic integrated natural way... and many of those are frum until today. The techniques and power of informal education have never left me, and I am constantly aware just how limited formal education is as a life-changing force, if there is no Informal education.
I have a great deal to thank BA for.
It was in Bnei Akiva that my feelings of Zionism grew.
It was in Bnei Akiva that I grew to love discussing topics of Torah, Zionism, Modern Orthodoxy etc.
It was in BA that I had my first experiences as an educator, and I got hooked!
It was in BA that I had a chance to develop leadership skills, as a Madrich and Rosh Machane.
It was in BA that I learned from so many role models.
On a lighter note...It was with BA that I visited Paris (twice), Versailles, Holland, The Swiss Alps (twice!), Venice (twice!), Poland, and of course, Israel.
Many many friends.
and much more.
So, kadima Bnei Akiva! I am off to camp!
(I won't be posting for the next ten days. For Parshat Ekev, see my shiurim on the Eretz Hatzvi website.)