By Michael Rainsbury
May 20, 2011
Bnei Akiva might not have been the large and successful movement it is today if it were not for Arieh Handler. He was sent as a Shaliach from Israel to increase Religious Zionist youth activities and to encourage people to make Aliyah.
He is famous for saving Jewish children from Nazi Europe and bringing them to the UK, but his care and attention to them afterwards was just as important. Arieh, in his capacity as one of the leaders of Bachad (Brit Chalutzim Dati'im – The Covenant of Religious Pioneers), placed the refugees in Gwrych Castle, North Wales, where they learnt Ivrit and Jewish Studies, as well as agricultural skills in preparation for a life in Israel.
In December 1940, Arieh organised the first ever Kinus (gathering) of Bnei Akiva, then the feeder youth movement to Bachad, in Gwrych where he made an impassioned ideological address for over 3 hours one Motzei Shabbat! Arieh was also famous for arriving at his own wedding late because he was at a Bnei Akiva Veida (National Conference) earlier on!
After the local Marquis realised that the refugees in Gwrych were Jewish, he expelled Bachad from the castle and they relocated to Bromsgrove and eventually, a number of other Bachad Farms.
For the next twenty-five years, Arieh Handler led the Bnei Akiva and Bachad movements, encouraging members to spend a year at one of the farms, learn agricultural skills and move to Israel to work the land, realising Bnei Akiva's ideological goals of Torah Va'Avodah – leading a religious life whilst working the Land of Israel and contributing to society.
Arieh always maintained a strong connection with Bnei Akiva and Bachad the rest of his life, even after his Aliyah at the age of 90. Amongst his proudest achievements was the great success story of Bnei Akiva, whose members always looked to Arieh as a role model and leader.
In 2006, a tribute dinner was held in his honour by Bachad, now 'Friends of Bnei Akiva', the youth movement's parent body. In March 2011, Bnei Akiva held a book launch at the London Bayit of 'Modest Jewish Hero: a tribute to Arieh Handler', written by Aubrey Rose.
Until very recently, Hachshara (Bnei Akiva gap year) participants would visit Arieh in his home in Jerusalem and be inspired at the stories and memories of a remarkable man.