This year the mission was composed of 35 men and women; for 26 of them, it was their first time in Israel. The mission's timetable was planned meticulously and somewhat resembled a “Gadna Week” - a cramped Cadet Corps schedule filled with multiple tasks to be performed within one week.
The difference was that the mission's members filled their days in Beersheba with volunteering activity fueled by a desire to contribute to the community. In this way, the visitors hope to strengthen the relationship with Beersheba-Bnei Shimon and become more involved in Israeli society.
Upon their arrival, members of the mission split up into four working teams. Each team proceeded to volunteer at an organization that contributes to the Beersheba community and works for social change: Beer Sova – distributing food to the needy; Beit Moriah – educational activity in the community; Ramot Center – rehabilitation for the disabled; and The Early Childhood Center.
Taking part in bar mitzvah ceremony (Photo: Yoram Lalum)
Each morning, the visiting Montrealers reported to their chosen organization to perform the tasks that were needed that day. "It's impossible to describe just how much a simple volunteering task affects my connection with Beersheba-Bnei Shimon and Israel," beams Marcel Elbaz, a member of the mission, with evident emotion. "It's not the volunteering in itself but rather our encounter with the people who are the beneficiaries of an organizations' work. I also do volunteer work in Montreal; but to come to Israel and volunteer is quite different and very special to me."
The high point of the mission as far as the Montrealers were concerned was participating in the traditional bar mitzvah that Montreal contributes to the community for the benefit of 50 disadvantaged youths. On this day, the youths were taken by bus to Jerusalem to take part in a special day planned especially for them. They visited the Western Wall and the Old City and from there proceeded to a ceremony arranged for them in a deluxe banquet hall.
The mission's members surprised the youths with gifts - thus each of them got to take part in their own bar mitzvah ceremony and was given a bar mitzvah gift as well.
‘Our most meaningful contribution’
During the course of the day, the Montrealers came to the realization that for most of the youths it was their first time in Jerusalem. This was extremely moving for the visitors and served as an added connection for them, since it was also the first time for some of them in Israel and Jerusalem.
One of the boys described how his parents had divorced several years ago due to personal conflicts and that since then he was living with his mother. Yet both parents attended the ceremony in order to honor him and his friends. It was the first time he'd seen them together for several hours without fighting. With moistened eyes, the boy exulted: "The Montrealers on the mission succeeded in getting them together for a few hours, which was beneficial not only for me."
During this special week, the dinners, too, were a form of contact both socially and with the regional community. Each evening the visitors met with different local communities in Beersheba-Bnei Shimon: the Moroccan community (in association with the Sacta-Rashi Foundation), the Cochin community in Moshav Nevetim and workers at the Ramot Rehabilitation Center.
"Coming to Israel and getting acquainted with life in Beersheba-Bnei Shimon by serving as volunteers is, for us, our most meaningful contribution to the community. It's an excellent way for us to stay in touch with Israel," summed up Sidney Benizri of Montreal, as the bus carrying the mission's members made its way to Ben-Gurion airport and the flight back home.
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