It's 1935 and Rivki is part of the Bnei Akiva youth movement in Poland. Once a week, she gets together with her friends and they talk about the dream of establishing a country together - the dream of traveling to Palestine to work the land. They focus on the ideology of Torah v'Avodah - that Torah studies and work go hand in hand and that they can both learn and build the land that HaShem gave to them.
They sing songs together, they talk about the Zionist dream and they dance.
Most of them never make it to Palestine - they meet their fate, instead, in the gas chambers, dreaming of a life in a Jewish homeland.
It's 1951 in Tel Aviv and Dovid is part of the Bnei Akiva youth movement in his neighborhood. He gets together with his friends each week to discuss Zionism, to build character through activities and programs and to hang out with other youths his age.
He made it to Eretz Yisrael when his parents escaped from Germany by posing as Gentiles, and he has hopes and visions for Israel's future.
These are the children that I think about when I watch the daglanut (flag) ceremony at our Yom Ha'Atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) presentation each year. Our children are part of the Bnei Akiva youth movement that was founded in 1929 and that has the vision of teaching religious children to love the Land of Israel and to combine their Torah studies with building up the nation.
Today, Bnei Akiva has over 50,000 members around the world, and approximately 100,000 in Israel. In Israel, they meet two times a week, on Tuesday afternoons and on Shabbat, to hang out with friends, to learn about their history and to look to the future. And this is only one of the many youth movements around the country that is tasked with a similar mandate.
Each Yom Ha'Atzmaut when we gather together at the soccer field to watch the celebrations, I hold back tears (ok...I don't hold them back well) as I watch the 7th graders proudly dance with their Israeli flags. It's a right of passage here. The kids wait with eager anticipation until they are in the seventh grade so that they can be part of the daglanut ceremony. They practice for weeks to get it right and they proudly display their flags and their Zionism on this night each year.
And although I don't yet have a 7th grader, I cry every year. They are dancing with a flag that Rivki couldn't have imagined existing - that she never got to see as she entered Auschwitz. They are dancing with the flag of our people, of our army, of our nation. They are 7th grade kids, who are supposed to think this type of activity is "geeky" or "lame" but they don't.
Sometimes I get frustrated with the way things work here in Israel. I have a point of comparison, after all, having lived in America for 33 years. But then I remember that those 33 years constituted more than half of Israel's lifetime. This country of ours is still such a young lady. She is still growing, developing and working so hard to find herself. She isn't perfect, but she is OURS.
When I look at her that way, it's an absolute miracle that we have come anywhere near as far as we have. She's younger than many people that I know. What an incredible thing she is, this young nation of Israel with all of her wrinkles and blemishes.
And what an incredible show these kids put on each year, reminding us of where we've been...and where we are going as a people.
I'm not sure how I'll get through the ceremony when Matan participates in two years (and his brothers every two years after that). He'll be dancing with his flag two days before his bar mitzvah, exuding energy, grace and a love of Israel.
I'll save you a seat. It won't be hard to find me - I'll be the one with the tissues.