Saturday night, March 5th 2011. after months of preparation in English, general knowledge, body language, and first and foremost musical preparation, 6 Shlichim (representatives) leave the Ben Yakir Youth Village on their way to the airport accompanied by an impressive delegation… we say goodbye to the village director, boarding school director and counselors' director and get on the plane to Melbourne Australia. 10 days of experiences are ahead of us.
To watch a short film about the delegation
Boarding the plane are 4 talented singers- members of the Flowers of Ben Yakir Choir - Uriel - 8th grader from Ashdod, Or and Meir - 9th graders from Dimona, and Uri - 12th graders from Tirat Hacarmel. They are joined by Hanan Peled - the choir's conductor, and I - Hila Elhaynay, the village's donor relations and resource development manager.
The goal of the delegation - performing for the Melbourne Jewish community during campaign week of the UIA - Keren Hayesod.
On the first night, after two days in the sky… we meet with the UIA staff and their families for a pizza party and introduction. The day after, is the Gala Event of the Melbourne community. After a day of rehearsals and preparations, the boys go on stage and perform in front of 850 people. They move and excite the audience. From that moment on, the boys meet fans everywhere they go in the Jewish neighborhood - the supermarket, the restaurants and the street - everyone recognizes them as the singers that performed at the community event and they receive many compliments.
Want to see them perform?
On Wednesday the delegation visits the Jewish schools - Yavne College and Mt. Scopus. They participate in classes, speak in front of different classes and of course perform. Uriel shared his story with 250 students at Mt. Scopus School that enjoyed getting to know him.
The day afterwards, we arrive to the offices of UIA- Keren Hayesod - to meet the entire staff. Meir said later on the plane back: "My most memorable moment was the visit to the UIA offices. I felt like I was coming to visit the family. We knew many of the staff members and were welcomed very nicely". Later we get a tour of the offices of the Jewish Community and get to know the wide range of activities and organizations, and then continue to a tour of the Melbourne Jewish Museum. The boys show great knowledge in everything that has to do with Jewish history and tradition and we feel true pride.
That evening the group performs for the young generation - Yachad group - at a pub downtown. This time Meir tells his story and is received with applause.
Friday morning begins with a visit to Yeshiva College. Performing for the young kids that are very excited, dance and sing with the boys of Ben Yakir the songs 'Kol Haolam Kulo', 'Adon Olam' and more. To watch the show
Before Shabbat begins we show the boys a special movie made by Boarding School Director, Lior, in which we are greeted by our families and the staff at the village. The excitement is big and we begin preparing for Shabbat… I read to the boys a bunch of e-mails and facebook messages they got from Israel. The staff at Ben Yakir is proud and excited. They are happy to hear from their principal, the management, the counselors and more.
Shabbat evening prayer at the Bnai Akiva Suhl and later on dinner at the home of the president of the community- Mr. Shlomo Werdiger, with the chair of world Keren Hayesod - Moody Sanberg. The atmosphere is warm and happy, and the guests treat our boys with warmth and love.
The Shabbat is filled with activities, prayer and Kiddush, lunch with the Werdiger family and activities at Bnai Akiva. Hanan goes back to his youth remembering his days in Bnai Akiva and comparing between the Israeli and the Australian version…
Many conversations with the boys, much serenity, closeness and getting to know the Jewish community.
On Sunday, free day in Australia, we take the boys to town. Or has been excited for a few days now every time he sees the electric train "look - the train!" and we finally try it out. We spend the morning at Victoria market, get to know Melbourne up close and buy souvenirs for the kids at the village, the staff and the families. We try not to miss anyone…
On Monday Estelle, executive assistant at UIA, and her husband Joe, take us out of Melbourne for a day of touring. We begin the day searching for gold in Ballarat. We search and search, Uriel even finds a little bit.. and we go underground to see the gold mines. We spend the rest of the day at a park full of typical Australian animals. The kengurus run free, the koalas are on the trees, and the boys are truly happy.
The last day in Australia ends with a community event and the last performance of the choir. Uri brings the audience to tears with his personal story; the boys give everything they have in them in a memorable performance and the fans are already asking for their autographs… many goodbyes, a long night of packing and summing up, and… back to the plane for a day on air… Or said "the hardest part of the trip was the flight back home. I didn't want to say good bye and end this experience".
On a personal note - I have been working in this position at the village for the last year and a half, and for the first time I felt that I truly get what it is truly about. I got to see Ben Yakir from the kids' eyes. To realize what the village gives them, how big is the change it makes in their life, where they come from and where they aspire. I feel that I came back with 4 kids of my own and friends for life.
It was exciting to see each and every one of them deal with new experiences, scary and amazing at once, to see them find their strengths and strong points, win every stage and every heart and fulfill themselves.
Above all, it was moving to find a warm and loving Jewish community, attached and connected to Israel and committed to its future. I think Meir said it best when he told me: " What I take back with me from Australia is LOVE. I learned that there are people in the other side of the world that love Israel, work for Israel and love us. I didn't know that exists before I came here".
I would like to thank the wonderful community of Melbourne and the staff of Keren Hayesod Israel and Australia from the bottom of my heart for an amazing chance to a great experience that will stay with all of us for life. And thank you very much to Or, Uri, Uriel, Meir and Hanan for being amazing partners to this experience, great ambassadors of Ben Yakir, the Jewish Agency and the state of Israel.
Donor relations and Resource Development Manager