Yehudah Orenstein delivering a lecture at a summer camp for members of the Akiva Zionist youth movement, Bańska Wyżna, Poland, ca. 1935. (The Ghetto Fighters’ Museum/Israel)

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General Zionist youth movement. Akiva’s beginnings, and its main followers, were in western Galicia and Silesia. Its origins can be traced to a Zionist youth group formed in Kraków in 1901. Members of that group founded Agudat ha-No‘ar ha-‘Ivri ‘Akiva (Association of Hebrew Youth) in 1924.

In October 1931, just as the culmination of years of debate over uniting General Zionist youth movements in East and West Galicia seemed to be reached, Akiva withdrew, insisting on its independence. The explanation for this was both ideological and, perhaps, regional: the Akiva group was particularly concerned with maintaining a distinctively Jewish culture, which some consider having arisen out of the threat of progressing assimilation in West Galicia.

In subsequent years, Akiva’s membership swelled from 3,500 in 1932 to 20,000 in 1935. The movement spread beyond the borders of Poland to the Balkan States and Croatia. Its journals, Ha-No‘ar (1926–1932) and Divre ‘Akiva (1933–1939), were published in Polish, though the latter had some Hebrew content.

Until the mid-1930s, Yehudah Orenstein, Yo’el Dreiblatt, and Mosheh Zinger were universally acknowledged as the leaders and ideological guides of the movement. Their ideas were inspired mainly by the teachings of Ahad Ha-Am, and sought to broaden the compass of Zionism so that it could serve to unite the Jewish people in the way religious belief had done in the past. The realization of this new form of national identity was possible, they believed, only through the education of a new generation in the Land of Israel. Akiva supported collective settlement (its members contributed to founding Kefar Yehoshu‘a and Neve Etan, among other places), because it demanded total personal commitment and self-sacrifice.

In the service of their vision, the movement’s leaders sought to include the study of the Bible, the observance of the Sabbath and holidays, and even prayer in the curriculum of the movement. On the other hand, they rejected grafting “foreign” ideologies, such as socialism, communism, and fascism onto Zionism.

Akiva split into two groups in 1937, substantially along generational lines, as younger members objected to demands for the observance of traditional commandments and to the neutrality of their leaders in disputes between the right and the left in the politics of Poland and other countries.

Suggested Reading

Yohanan Cohen, “Lifne ha-mabul: Me-Hatsharat Balfour ve-‘ad ‘Torat ha-shelabim,’” in Shalosh shurot ba-historyah, vol. 1, pp. 2–38 (Tel Aviv, 1999); Rachel Nezer, ed., Mishnat ha-tsiyonut shel Agudat ha-No‘ar ha-‘Ivrit ‘Akiva (Tel Aviv, 1986); Baruch Yechieli, Akiva: Tenu‘at no‘ar tsiyonit-kelalit; Tsemiḥatah, hitpatḥutah u-leḥimatah bi-shenot ha-sho’ah (Tel Aviv, 1988).



Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler