At the end of Solidarity through Song 2008 we all asked ourselves the same question; would there be another tour next year? It was more of a rhetorical question than anything else as I do not think that any of us really believed that we could put together another tour.

In the summer Peter and Judy and Daniella and I discussed the possibility or indeed probability of another tour. We decided that we would start by seeing if we could obtain funding. Given the economic situation throughout the world (the “credit crunch”) and the currency exchange rates we were a little pessimistic about reaching our funding target.

Thanks to Peter we soon had sufficient funding to enable us to start the initial planning but we could not finalise anything until our funding target had been achieved. Funding was eventually realised and we were able to start preparing for the tour. We are extremely grateful to all our funders but in particular I must place on record our specific thanks to the Ziff family, The Trustees of the Dorset Foundation, Alan Millett and the UJIA.

What was never in doubt was the need to go to Israel. After years of indiscriminate rocket attacks from Gaza on innocent civilians in the western Negev, Israel decided enough was enough and responded by taking military action in Gaza with the simple aim of stopping the rocket attacks. The action started in December and continued for over 3 weeks. Against this background of war, we felt that there was an even greater need for us to go to Israel.

Solidarity through Song does not happen without an incredible amount of hard work, dedication and preparation. The Committee arranging the mission consisted of Peter Sheldon, Simon Hochhauser, Syma Weinberg, Michael Stone, Simon Stone and Julian Sander. In addition the choir committee under our joint Chairmen Harvey Seitz, and Maurice Black together with all the committee offered much support to ensure the success of the mission. On the ground, we had the superb Gill Lipkin. What would we have done without Gill who does not leave a stone unturned?

This year we were very honoured that the Chief Rabbi and Elaine joined us for the whole tour. This was particularly important on the first day when we visited the war scarred south of Israel. The Chief Rabbi’s support for the choir is legendary and his constant support and advice is always appreciated.

The choir was slightly smaller than in previous years and 19 choristers accompanied by wives and parents (all of whom played a very active role in the success of the mission) travelled to Israel. Joining us as well was Alan Millett who was instrumental in the funding of the mission. We missed all of those who were unable to be with us. At the last moment Michael, Liz and Nicky Stone were unfortunately unable to join us due to Liz having had a bad fall. This was particularly sad for Michael who had put so much time and energy into ensuring that all the figures added up! We wish Liz well.

Once again we were joined by our Chazanim; Rabbi Lionel Rosenfeld, Chazan Shimon Craimer and Chazan Jonny Turgel. They each bring to the table their very special and distinct talents which when combined with the choir provide an inspirational force. Finally, for the 3rd year running (a record breaking achievement for our boy soloist) we were joined by Eli Baigel. Eli celebrated his barmitzvah earlier in the year and his voice proved to be even more stunning than ever.
On the ground we were joined by Gill Lipkin, our resident Shomer Yossi and our driver Yossi. Unfortunately, Amnon who had been our driver on the last two tours was unable to be with us as his wife is poorly.

Tuesday 17th February

I had arrived in Israel on Sunday in order to deal with any last minute questions that arose. On Tuesday morning I woke up to pouring rain. On arrival in Herzlyia the rain stopped and the sun came out. We were all staying at the Sharon Hotel. This is the third time that we have stayed in the hotel and we are very grateful once again to Michael Wreschner for all his help.

I waited for the group to arrive. It was wonderful to see everybody. Not all the choristers were on the Thomson flight as some were arriving on El AL later in the evening and over night. We ate together in the square before having an early night.

Wednesday 18th February

Wednesday started early with t’fila and breakfast and then by 8.30 we were all on the coach heading for Sderot. The weather was warm with blue sky and sunshine. Gill briefed the group about the security aspects of going to Sderot. Whilst there was nervousness within the group (particularly in view of our experiences last year) today’s visits were important as we wanted to reach out to those who had been affected during the recent war.

It was so good to be on the road again and in saying a few words to the group I asked that we do not compare tours as each tour should stand alone.

Eli Ovitz who had arranged the visit to Sderot joined the coach at the Ashkelon junction. Eli briefed us about the current situation in Sderot; how many people had moved away to other cities and how the town had suffered during the war. He also reminded us of that chilling fact that around 80% of the children in Sderot suffer from some form of trauma due to the insecurity in the town.

We arrived in Sderot and were taken into the Cinema which is where the concert was being held. For security reasons it could not be held in the school as the building did not have all the necessary security arrangements. Life in general and school life in particular has been severely disrupted over the last few months. We therefore, decided to sing to three grades from the Mafik School.

As soon we were in the hall and we had set up I really felt that the tour was well on its way. Months of meetings, emails, telephone calls and faxes were now coming to fruition. We were welcomed by the Mayor of Sderot who spoke movingly to us. When we started to sing Bashana it was as if we had never been away. This was what we were here to do and how amazing to be doing something that we really enjoy. All the old numbers were sung including the Niggun (now banned in the UK!!) but a hot favourite in Israel. We danced with the children but for some children there was a clear reluctance to join in. One particular child despite all efforts could not smile. Eli sang Hamalach Hagoel – the first of many times (I actually lost count how many times he sang it). It became an immediate hit on the tour. Thank you Eli, the song is yours and you really made it your own during the tour.

From Sderot we were back on the coach and on our way to Ashkelon to visit the Barzilai hospital. Barzilai was at the very epicentre of saving lives during the war and having visited Soroka in Be’er Sheva last year, Barzilai was one of the places we really wanted to visit. The concert took place on the lawn outside the hospital and Leah who had helped to arrange the visit had ensured that we had a good audience (and good weather!) on the day. Apart from a slight technical hitch with the keyboard the concert went really well. There were patients waving from the windows. As we were walking away from the concert Leah told us that there had been three Gazan Arabs in the audience who were receiving treatment at the hospital.

Back in the hospital we had a sandwich and there was just enough time to visit two of the wards. The ward visits are always very moving and this visit was no exception. As we sang and went into the individual rooms you saw how song can quickly change a person’s demeanour. There was however, one young girl who could not be comforted. Why was she crying? I don’t know.

We were now back on the coach and heading for a concert to school children in Nitzan. Stu Schrader from the Jewish Agency joined us as he had arranged our visit to Nitzan and to Barnea later in the day. Stu gave us a brief history of Nitzan. In the summer of 2005 the residents of Gush Katif were “evacuated” from Gaza. Temporary housing was established throughout Israel to accommodate the residents. Nitzan was one of these villages. Despite the building of new homes in the new yishuv nearby, progress is very slow and people have been living in temporary housing for over three years.

When Gill rang through to the organisers earlier in the day to confirm the visit she was told that our concert would be part of their “Gush Katif Day” celebrations and that we would be joined by Chief Rabbi Kaminetsky, the Chief Rabbi of Gush Katif. This was not quite what we had anticipated!

We were taken into a hall where the children were all dressed up for the day. The children gave a concert which charted the history of Gush Katif. The Chief Rabbi of Gush Katif then spoke. Our concert followed and then our Chief Rabbi then offered a few words to the children.

Stu then gave us a short tour of Nitzan showing us the makeshift accommodation and rocket shelters. He also took us the new yishuv which was being built to accommodate everyone. Building will take years.

Nitzan offered us an insight into a very different side of Israeli life. Whilst this is not the time or place for a political statement you can’t help but have much sympathy for people whose lives were uprooted, particularly given the events of the previous few weeks. On the other hand, idealism would not seem to be the best way forward and with those thoughts I think I better leave it at that!

From Nitzan we went back to Ashkelon to the Barnea Absorbtion Centre. Barnea looks after mainly Ethiopian and Yemenite immigrants to Israel. We were given an insight into the amazing work that this Mercaz Klita does. We were offered a traditional Ethiopian coffee. Very strong!

The concert was taking place on a football pitch. Something that would have been unthinkable a few weeks earlier as the children would not have been allowed outside for fear of Grad rocket attacks from Gaza. Whilst there are still rocket attacks since the war, these thank G-d have been very few and far between.

The audience was amazing. To see so many smiling faces despite the difficulties the people face now (and even more so following what they have been through in the previous weeks). Not for the first or for the last time would we count our own blessings. Whilst our Amharic is not great (!) there was all the usual singing and dancing to the “Shimon sings” spot. This is always so popular at all of the concerts. Despite this being our fourth visit today it was so good and I am very pleased we made the effort to go there.

Simon Stone who is assistant conductor of the choir conducted throughout the tour when I was playing the piano. He played a pivotal role and was an incredible support to us all.

So to the last concert of the day. We were back in Ashdod for a concert to raise funds for the Ashdod Medical Centre. Once again the concert was organised by Julian Millett, Ayelet Mor and Rachel Grunbaum. Whilst it was a smaller venue than last year and there was no Ashdod Symphony Orchestra, it was still a great concert. The concert began with speeches and I was honoured to accept a beautiful print on behalf of the choir. The audience was with us from the start and we had a great evening. We thought back to last year when the concert was interrupted with the news that there had been an attack on Yeshivat Mercaz Harav. In a few days we would be visiting Mercaz Harav to sing in memory of the 8 boys who were murdered that evening.

By the end of the day we were all exhausted and yet at the same time exhilarated. We had finished our whistle stop tour of the south and we were in need of a good nights sleep in readiness for our visits on Thursday.

Thursday 19th February

Thankfully, we allowed ourselves a little lie in today. After t’fila and breakfast we left Herzlyia at 9.15 for Afula. We were making our third visit to the amazing Sarah Herzog School which cares for children who have no other home. This place never fails to amaze me and we were not let down today. We always receive such a fantastic welcome and today was no exception. Once again, Shlomo Kessel who runs the home was there to meet us.

We were entertained by the world famous Emunotes. It was a great performance. To look at them as they were singing and dancing you would think that they did not have a care in the world and yet everyone has a story to tell. How could we follow that? But we did and it was wonderful. The highlight was that the school had learnt Oseh Shalom so the Emunotes joined us “on stage” and together with everyone in the school we sang Oseh Shalom. This was a truly inspirational and very moving moment. Many of the children took advantage of some very cosy knees and made themselves very comfortable!

We were then back on the coach to Pardes Hana to Neve Michael. When I had previously spoken to Hava Levene about coming back to the school she was excited that we were coming back as she said that the school rarely receives visits. Neve Michael is an incredible place thanks to the dedicated and unstinting work of Hava and her staff. The home is open 24/7 and children who need to be rescued can be brought there at any time of the day.

We sang and danced and then we had lunch with the children. One of them (a little girl who was probably around 10 or 11 years old) asked Daniella if she would like to listen to her singing. Daniella listened to this girl’s wonderful voice. Daniella called me over and I listened. Her voice was beautiful. I found out a little later the history behind this young child and why she was now at Neve Michael. In order to protect her identity, I will say no more other than Simon Cowell watch out!

On the coach as we were about to leave, Hava read to us two letters written by a child that had been at Neve Michael. Having told us that the child had been given away for adoption by her birth parents, and then abandoned by her adopted parents she had ended up in Neve Michael. In the first letter, she wrote to her adopted parents saying how much she loved them but at the same time how much she hated them for abandoning her. In the second letter, she wrote to her new parents saying how grateful she was to them and how much she loved them but how frightened she was that they would also abandon her. How terribly sad.

The weather was beginning to change and instead of the lovely blue skies of yesterday the sky was now very cloudy although it was not cold. We soon arrived at Bet Issie Shapiro in Ra’anana. Bet Issie is remarkable and caters for children with severe disabilities but only up to the age of 12. It was the inspiration of a South African who sadly died before it became a reality. The work was carried on by his children.

We sang in the Marc Tager Hall dedicated in memory of Mark who lost his life in the Lockerbie plane bombing on 21st December 1988. Our visit was kindly funded by his family in Marc’s memory.

When we arrived we were taken into the hall which was filled with children and parents all eagerly awaiting the concert. Our very good family friends Jonny and Shulamit Franks had travelled down from Kfar Hanassi to visit their granddaughter Ori who goes to Bet Issie. Her Mum Avigial was also there. It was so lovely to see them. Ori is 10 and suffers from Rett syndrome. She is very beautiful (Avigial said that this was a symptom of Rett syndrome children). Ori cannot speak but can walk and communicate in her own way.

The concert was wonderful. There was a fantastic feeling in the hall and that made for a really lovely ruach. After the concert we were split into two groups and taken around to see some of the facilities. Avigial took Daniella and I around and we saw some of facilities Bet Issie offers its children.

Bet Issie is a truly humbling place. The visit was very special but particularly for Daniella and I as we met Ori and we were able to spend some time with her Mum and grandparents.

All credit to Gill that given the amount of places that we had already visited everything was running to plan. So it was now back to the hotel to shower change and eat before the evening’s concert in Ra’anana. David Galaun had now arrived following his around the world trip (via South Africa) and it was good to see him.

The Ra’anana concert was a joint venture between Etgarim and Bet Lowenstein. The Etgarim contact had been given to by Syma although we already knew of Etgarim through Oran Almog. Etgarim offers outdoor therapy to those in need, whether it is someone disabled from birth or through accident or war. They have a number of centres in Israel. I first met up with Orit from Etgarim in September last year. She showed me a very moving DVD featuring Oran and we decided that if we are able to do another tour then we would do a concert for Etgarim.

I later met up with Orit and Avi at their centre at the marina in Tel Aviv. They told me how they use the sea to help people. Avi a veteran of the IDF told me how he became involved in Etgarim and what it can offer people. The sea has an amazingly therapeutic affect. I was later taken out on the sea (at first a little reluctantly) on a dingy on what was a very choppy day in November. It was great fun although I was glad to see dry land again!

Bet Lowenstein is a rehabilitation hospital in Ra’anana. They refer patients to Etgarim and therefore it was the perfect concert shidduch!

Just a little about the atmosphere in Israel while we were there. Israel was still feeling the effects of the war in Gaza. This coupled with the economic situation meant that the appetite for concerts was not great. Every effort had to be made to ensure a respectable audience and therefore we all contacted our friends in Israel to see if they would come to the Ra’anana concert. I would like to thank all those who made a great effort and in particular Mrs Baigel senior who brought out half of Netanya(!), Jonny Lipscer, Eli Levy, Esther Hirshfeld and not forgetting my old friend Rabbi Danny Beller. Thank you for all your help.

The concert began with the normal plethora of speeches etc and I was honoured to receive a certificate presented to the choir. I also saw the new video which featured Oran. Whilst I had seen the older video which had also featured Oran it was incredible to see how Oran had grown. Whilst always reluctant to speak, I thought it only appropriate to say a few words before Eli sang Hamalach about how we had first met Oran and how we met him again the following year. It was an excellent concert and by all accounts very successful.

So another day was over and we had completed 9 visits!

Friday 20th February

After t’fila and breakfast our first visit of the day was back to the Reuth Hospital outside Tel Aviv. This hospital never fails to amaze me which is why we have such a good relationship with them and in particular with David Broza and Miriam Frankel who work indefatigably for the good the hospital.

Our son Benjy joined us at Reuth. Benjy is on his “gap year” in Israel and is studying at Yesod part of the Derech campus. Benjy has heard a lot (probably too much and too often!) about all our previous tours and Daniella and I really wanted Benjy to get a feel for what Solidarity through Song is about. Well Benjy could not have joined us on a better day.

This was our 3rd visit to the hospital and the 5th event that we have been involved in over the 7 years of Solidarity through Song. This year we were very honoured in that we were joined by Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau who gave a beautiful dvar torah. The concert was in two parts. We sang and then Shabbat candles were lit by one of the patients and Rav Lau and the Chief Rabbi spoke. We then finished the concert with some more lively singing and dancing. Rav Lau was particularly complimentary to Eli and mentioned how Eli’s voice reaches and heals the soul.

There was then time to go round the wards. Reuth offers rehabilitation to people, who have been involved in accidents; who are survivors of terror and more recently to those who have been wounded in action. On the wards we met Nitzan who had been wounded in Sderot. Nitzan was still suffering from the after effects of his experiences and was unable to come too close to listen to us sing because his ear drums had been so severely damaged. We also met Timor also a soldier who had been wounded. As we were singing one gentleman in a wheel chair shouted out “Reuth is the best”. That just about sums up Reuth.

Eli did not go round the wards but somehow he managed to find a guitar and started to play for a young girl who was a patient in the hospital. It seems that they both liked the same type of music!

Well the weather did change. It became wetter and windier as the afternoon went on but once again we were back on the coach this time to the Proteya Village just north of Netanya. Whilst we had expected a good audience we could never have imagined that it would have been the biggest audience of the tour! We received an unbelievably warm welcome from the village and there was no stopping thirty minutes of pure Shabbaton. There were two highlights. As always, the Yiddish medley was very popular despite the fact that there were those in the audience who did not recognise some of the words… (Can’t understand that!).. Well done Lionel, Shim and Jonny…awesome!

The other unexpected highlight was two guest choristers. The first was Peter Sheldon our President who added to the arm waving bass line in Oseh Shalom. The other was our son Benjy who offered his services (was cajoled) into joining the second tenor line. Not only did he sing along to Oseh shalom; not only did he wave his arms but he did so in time to the music. Sorry Benj it is all on DVD so no use denying it!

Whilst mentioning DVD’s, once again we are very grateful to Eli’s dad Philip for videoing the tour. Last year Philip produced an amazing DVD of the tour which is a lovely record showing where we went and what we did. Many thanks again Philip and we look forward to this year’s show!

Lionel dedicated a song to Rene Stone, our “matriarch”. One of the residents took her photograph and asked to be her “pen pal”. Least I think that’s what he said.

I should mention that one of our choristers had not been working to full capacity. The reason for this was that he had been unwell with the result that he had lost his voice. Not the best credentials for a chorister. But kol hakvod to you Stephen (I.S.O.N.), you looked after your voice, mimed at times and then by the time Shabbat came you were able to resume singing properly.

We returned to the hotel and began to prepare for Shabbat. We had a rehearsal before Shabbat and then Shabbat began. John and Tabby Corre brought together some now familiar faces and some new faces to spend Shabbat all together. John and Tabi spent an inordinate amount to ensure the success of the Shabbat which seems to get more and more complicated every year due to the number of people joining us for Shabbat. Once again our guests of honour were Yehuda and Mimi Avner who gave us an incredible insight into their diplomatic lives over Shabbat.

The youth corner was even bigger this year. We were joined by Lavi 11; the children from JFS and King David on their 3 month stay in Israel. We also had the Tribe contingent and the Ambassadors; those students who had won their Ambassador event at their school. In addition, we had with us Rabbi Jimmy and Merissa Gross, Rabbi Gideon Sylvester, David Collins (without whom the youth side of things would never have happened) Avi Friedman and all the madrichim and madrichot from Tribe. This made it the biggest youth contingent ever to be with us for Shabbat.

Jonny davened a beautiful Kabalat Shabbat with a Carlebach start and Shabbaton end. It was a wonderful way to begin Shabbat. After that we ate. The atmosphere during t’fila and the meal was really special.

Later in the evening the Ambassadors (who had been in Israel for a week in celebration of them winning their own competition) then gave us a presentation on how they would answer the bad press that Israel receives in the British press. There then followed a fascinating insight into the lives of the Chief Rabbi and Yehuda Avner both of whom reminisced about some of the people they had met during their life. What then followed was an amazing kumsitz with singing into the early hours.

When we got back to our room we found that there was a storm raging (mainly) outside but which seemed to be penetrating through closed windows. This was to continue right the way through Shabbat and Sunday.

Shabbat 21st February

It was an early start with delicious cheesecake and cakes etc.  But the real purpose behind getting up early was to warm our voices up. This was the first time we had attempted a choral shacharit on tour basically because it is a very difficult time of the day to sing particularly in light of the fact that we had been singing continuously for 3 days. So we spent valuable time warming our voices up with the result that Lionel really inspired us to daven with all the energy that was necessary. Lionel leined and Shimon took over for musaf. Unfortunately, Shimon’s voice was very tired and despite singing Y’hi Ratson and Uv'nucho Yomar he was unable to continue. After Kiddush (and as both Lionel and Jonny were also very tired) we asked Baruch Baigel to daven. So Baruch having sung with Eli on Friday became the “4th Tenor” and he davened musaf beautifully. He later sang with Eli (and Lionel) Ein Keloheinu and then Adon Olam. Kol Hakavod Baruch.

The Chief Rabbi then gave his shiur which for the 4th year running I missed but by all accounts was phenomenal. The reason I was not there was that Russell Kett and I have for the last 4 years met with the Lavi group. Russell introduced the concept of Solidarity through Song and then I had an interactive session about the power of music and what we had experienced so far on the tour. We then formally inaugurated the “Lavi 11 Oseh Shalom Choir” which would be giving its first performance at lunch.

Lunch followed and then the combined choirs of (representatives from) Ramatayim, Tribe, Lavi 11 Oseh Shalom Choir and Shabbaton together with Lionel, Shimon, Jonny and Eli gave a performance of Oseh Shalom with full choreography and hand waving.

The sun was actually out although it was very windy and so a few of us went for a walk. We made it down as far as the Acadia and then we turned round and came back as it was so windy. The weather worsened during the afternoon with thunder and lightning. (Israel certainly needs the rain and as I write with two weekends of very heavy rain the Kinneret has risen by over 40 cms. There has been a big snow fall on Mt Hermon and when this melts that will help fill the Kinneret as well.)

Minchah followed and then a lovely seuda sh’lishit. Shabbat ended with Shimon singing havdala and (once the key to the piano could be located) -at the request of Tribe - an impromptu performance of When You Believe.

It was then a big rush to get changed and be ready to go on the coach to Bet Halochem near Tel Aviv. Bet Halochem is a recreational facility for wounded soldiers and survivors of terror attacks. Our visit was arranged by Frank and Annette Weinberg who have arranged many visits for soldiers to the UK.

I think it is worth saying something about Eli who has been with us on 3 tours. Sometimes we forget that Eli is so young and if we find our visits at times very hard and emotional how much more so for someone so young? Eli has an incredible talent. What inspires me is his absolute integrity in his singing and his amazing ability to interpret the songs. (This was particularly apparent with Hamalach Hagoel, but more about that later). So I think that if there were times that Eli found things all a little too much then by showing his feelings in the most natural way, he expressed everything that he and indeed all of us had been feeling following our experiences from the previous days.

The audience could not have been better. They were a fantastic audience and joined in with us from the very first moment. It was electric and a great evening.

But the evening was not over and we were back in Herzlyia for our traditional end of tour meal. This year, we were at Columbus where we had a good meal and thanks to their staff a really good time. There were the traditional speeches from Peter and Harvey. Julian presented Syma with a mezuzah in recognition of not only all that she has done for us over the years but also to show our love and thanks to her. Syma spoke so movingly about how at this time last year, life had been so uncertain as Marc had been awaiting his operation and how this year he is thank G-d making progress and was able to join us for Shabbat. She spoke about the group and how privileged she and Henry were to be part of one of the most enjoyable aspects of her job. Syma and Henry, we wish you and your entire family well and look forward to joining you in your new home in Israel soon.

I wanted to thank so many people but at the risk of leaving someone out and also as most of them had already been thanked I limited what I had to say to collectively thanking Gill, Yossi and Yossi our driver and all those who had ensured that this tour became a reality. But in particular I wanted pay tribute to Eli, Jonny, Shimon and in particular to Lionel for being the inspiration behind everything that we do.

There then followed songs by Eli, Rene, Avalin (her best so far) and sketches and songs by the Ketts and Il Dottore Hochhauser. It was a lovely evening and we all had a good time.

We arrived back at the hotel at 1.15am!

Sunday 22nd February

I am not sure how we got up this morning but we did. T’fila was followed by breakfast and then we checked out of the hotel and we were on our way to Jerusalem. The first stop was Hazon Yishaya. We had visited Hazon Yishaya in Ashkelon last year and we had been astonished by the size of this operation and the number of meals that need to be provided 24/7. The brainchild of Avraham Israel this man is an absolute legend.

It was cold when we arrived in Jerusalem. We were supposed to sing outside in the courtyard but they brought the concert inside into a hall. I am not sure that it was any warmer in the hall! Our first stop was the kitchen, where we all donned overalls and started to peel vegetables or count chicken rings! A second group went across the road to a large warehouse where we filled carrier bags with 8 essential foodstuffs to be distributed to the needy. As we formed a human chain we started singing songs from “Fiddler”. The other, regular volunteers soon joined in the singing.

We then gave our concert. As Lionel spoke in Ivrit it was apparent that not everyone understood what he was saying and therefore the “turgemon” translated into Russian. Then it had to be the Russian medley. But we don’t have a Russian medley. So Shimon led the masses in a quick “Kalinka” which was very popular. We then had (Russian) arms waving once again for Oseh Shalom.

We were then treated to a Hazon Yeshaya special Sunday lunch and after a collection for tzedakah we were on our way again..

Our next and final visit was Yeshivat Mercaz Harav. Last year, as we were giving a concert in Ashdod an announcement was made during the concert that a terrorist had entered the library at the yeshiva and had murdered some of the boys. The organisers and indeed the audience were insistent that the concert continued such is typical of life in Israel (see last year’s report).

It was Daniella that suggested that if we were to do another tour it should end with a visit to the yeshiva and that we should sing in memory of the 8 boys that were killed. Thanks to Simon Hochhauser, he was able to arrange the visit which was actually only two days before the Yahrzeit for the boys. I arranged for Benjy’s yeshiva and Rabbanim to come along and together with boys from neighbouring yeshivot and the Stanmore Tribe group led by Rabbi Shaw, we gathered in the library. We listened to one of the Roshei yeshivot who so movingly described what happened that fateful evening. At times, he hesitated as he was unable to get his words out and as he said, 8 boys had been offered “as sacrifices” in the service of Hashem. We saw the bullet holes in the floor and the walls and began to realise where we actually were. We quickly set up the keyboard and Lionel and Shimon together with the choir sang Bilvavi. How can these words from the depths of anguish not touch your soul?

In my heart a sanctuary I shall build, to the splendour of His glory. And in the sanctuary an altar I shall place to the rays of His grandeur. And for a Ner tamid I shall take the fire of the Akaydah, and for a sacrifice I shall offer Him my one and only soul.

Often words are inadequate to describe a particular event. Often it is better not use words but to just allow the moment to remain. Perhaps that is why music and song in particular reach out to all. So let me try and describe what I think is one of the most intimate moments we have ever spent together.

Over the years we have been together we have traveled far and wide, whether it is in the UK, Israel, Germany or Poland. Each has left its indelible mark. When Eli stood there with tears running down his face singing Hamalach Hagoel he was not only singing in memory of the 8 boys but he managed through his song to communicate our very personal thoughts at that time. How Eli managed to do it I will never know. I said to Eli afterwards that I was sorry for putting him through it. At the same time, I said that he had just witnessed something that he would remember for ever – as I am sure we all will.

The angel who has delivered me from harm May he bless the children and may they be called by my name and the names of Abraham and Isaac and may they increase greatly upon the earth.

After the Chief Rabbi delivered his shiur to a packed bet hamedresh, we davened mincha and it was time to leave Mercaz Harav and to say goodbye to those who would not be traveling back to England later that day. Solidarity through Song 2009 had come to an end.


I know I say this every year but the more we do, the more I remain in awe of the power of Solidarity through Song. Every tour is different and is characterised by something very special. This time, what really stood out for me about the tour was that it was Solidarity through Song at its very best. From Sderot to Mercaz Harav we sang our hearts out and it is only now that we can truly begin to appreciate the overall effect of all of this.

There is no one reason why Solidarity through Song is so successful. It is a unique (and I use this word wisely) combination of the choir, Lionel, Shimon, Jonny and Eli together with the CR, Peter and Syma and our wives, parents and friends that helps to make the tour the amazing success that it is. For a moment (and for some this may be have been an exceedingly fleeting moment) our music managed to reach the soul of those we sang to. For us, we take with us memories that we will have for the rest of our lives.

Stephen Levey
6th March 2009