British members of the Bnei Akiva year in Israel program met in Jerusalem on Friday with the last surviving witness of the declaration of Israel's independence.
Now 94, Arieh Handler was present when the State of Israel was proclaimed at the Tel Aviv Museum on May 14, 1948.
At his home in the capital's Kiryat Moshe neighborhood, 30 members of the Orthodox-Zionist youth movement, who are spending the year post-high school at yeshiva and kibbutz, heard him speak about his life.
Born in Bohemia, then in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, today part of the Czech Republic, in 1948, Handler was a new immigrant and member of the Zionist General Council of the World Zionist Organization and of Hapoel Hamizrachi, the labor religious-Zionist movement. He rescued dozens of children from Germany between 1933 and 1938, and established Bnei Akiva in the UK.
He gave the group an insight into what it was like at the declaration as well as what motivated him to set up the youth movement.
"Every one of you can help to make sure that the Jewish nation will be a strong and good nation," Handler said. "You, as young people, as members of Bnei Akiva, should know what you want to achieve in order to help others and make the Jewish nation a strong one, that is your task."
"British Bnei Akiva has been leading the way for 70 years and it was a privilege to spend time with the movement's inspirational founder," said Jonny Lipczer, head of the British Desk at World Bnei Akiva. "Arieh is a role model to everyone he meets and he has demonstrated that great things can be achieved."
"Meeting Arieh Handler was one of the highlights of my year," said Joseph Landsberg, from London. "Now, more than ever, I can wear my Bnei Akiva shirt with pride, aware of my responsibility to continue the legacy created by Arieh, and to play my part in the future of the movement."
"It was an amazing opportunity for our group to meet with the founder of Bnei Akiva. It is Arieh who we can thank for us having an incredible experience in Israel this year," said Hannah Cohen, from Manchester.
"Arieh is a man who has reached great heights, and who has been through so much. Yet he is still young at heart, and as enthusiastic about life as we are at the age of 19," said Lisa Ellenbogen, also from Manchester.
"Arieh Handler is a living legend, and I am grateful for the opportunity I had to meet him," said Gideon Bratt of London. "He has affected each of our lives in so many ways. Hearing how he saved children during the Holocaust... and spread the message of Bnei Akiva around the world was inspirational and his words will stay with me forever."
"It was inspirational to hear... a man with such a remarkable history, give his vision and guidance for the future," said David Fisher, from Essex.
"Our meeting with Arieh Handler was moving and uplifting," said Eve Minsky, from London. "Few people have given so much to the Jewish nation. He is a source of inspiration to young Jews all over the world and can truly be called a leader."