Minister of Education Naftali Bennett. Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Hotovely. The head of the Mossad. The first woman of Ethiopian descent to serve in the Knesset. The chief of Israeli police. The CEO of Israel Electric Corporation. The president of Hebrew University. Even Cantor Dudu Fisher. What single thing do all of these Israelis have in common? They all attended Yeshivot Bnei Akiva (YBA) schools in Israel.
Jewish education has always been one of the keystones of Jewish life. For the centuries of exile we have endured, the Jewish home has always been the foundation. And it is the cheder, the shiur, the classroom, the yeshiva that provided the collective link in the chain that connected each generation to the next.
In the United States, following the lead of Rav Joseph Soloveitchik, zt”l and others, the Modern Orthodox community embraced the concept of Torah U’Maddah, the notion that we can devote ourselves to Torah, and also live and thrive in the secular world. In Israel, the equivalent notion among the Dati Leumi, or religious Zionist community, is an even more familiar one of integrating kodesh and chol, the holy and the secular, in one’s daily life. This integration is the central principle of Yeshivot and Ulpanot Bnei Akiva. This network of 74 schools throughout Israel—from Eilat to the Golan—is the central body and critical player in educating the next generation of Israeli leaders. YBA has experienced tremendous growth over the past few years, in no small part because of its reputation for educational excellence, and is now a network with more than 5,000 teaching staff and a $200 million annual budget. All of this is run by a senior management team of 30, who ensure that every dollar that is collected for YBA goes straight to programming for the schools and for the expansion of the network. The office in Lower Manhattan has only two staff members. No students in Israel are turned away for lack of ability to pay.
The network consists of yeshiva high schools for boys, ulpanat yeshiva high schools for girls, hesder yeshivot that combine Torah study and IDF service (including the famed Yeshivat HaKotel with such deep connections to our area), state high schools, mechinot programs to prepare yeshiva students for military service and a college and graduate school focused on teacher training.