In memory of Arnold Ziff z”l

Tuesday 6th March

I arrived in Israel the night before and checked into the Sharon Hotel Herzlyia which is where we will be staying for another two nights. It is incredible to think that this is the beginning of our 4th Solidarity through Song mission to Israel.

Shimon arrived overnight from NYC. The aim was to rehearse a little but, Lionel was caught in traffic. The keyboard was delivered to the hotel and Lionel arrived and we had a rehearsal. It was great to be together again. The main piece we needed to look at was my new Tsur Mish’lo. We created some new harmonies for the chazanim with the result that it was now sounding really good.

Jonny arrived and we chattered for a while and then we, Shimon, Jonny, Marilyn, Melinda and Justin Kett went out to Papagaiyo for dinner at the marina. We arrived back at the hotel in time to greet the main group. It was great to see everyone. We had some coffee and then it was time for bed.

Wednesday 7th March

We were all up early for t’fila and breakfast and we were soon on the coach on the way to Reuth. I wanted us all to concentrate our minds so in thanking everyone involved in the mission I said:

“If by being on this mission you think that we are special then you are on the wrong mission. What is special about the mission is the gift of music; a gift given to us by Hashem. We are the custodians of that gift and we are duty bound to use it in the best way possible and to the benefit of as many people as possible over the next few days.”

Our tour leader once again was the indefatigable Gill Lipkin. Our coach driver was Amnon who would keep us well entertained throughout the trip and our shomer was Yossi. The weather once again was glorious.

We soon arrived at Reuth for our first concert. We were met by David Broza who had put the two Reuth events together and Miriam Frankel. Reuth was quite a hard place to visit as our first stop because of the amount of physical and mental injury their patients have suffered. However, the group was amazing and adapted immediately and we were soon on our way with Solidarity through Song 2007. We once again met Eli who is now beginning to walk after many years of rehabilitation. Eli was injured in a bomb attack on a bus in Ramat Gan. We also met Harran who was terribly injured in the Lebanon war. Reuth remains very active in the rehabilitation of soldiers.

The concert went well. The choir and chazanim set the scene immediately with lots of singing, clapping and dancing. Later we had some photographs taken with Eli and Harran and then we went round a few of the wards where we sang and danced again. Lunch was held in the therapeutic garden on the roof of the hospital building. This is where patients can do some gardening amongst other things. The view over Tel Aviv is stunning. After lunch and a short talk about the hospital Simon Hochhauser thanked Reuth for their hospitality. We davened minchah and we were then on our way again to an army base at Tel Hashomer. Unfortunately, this did not work out and we were not allowed entry. We returned to the hotel and had a valuable rehearsal to practice Tsur Mish’lo. After a short break we were on the coach again heading for Ra’anana.

The concert was taking place at the Performing Arts Centre – Hamishkan. This is a modern concert hall in Ra’anana. On arrival we did some sound checks and some rehearsing. Simon Stone was not feeling well and was seen by a doctor. This meant Stephen Ison would have to hold the second tenor line on his own. We then went to get something to eat.

The concert began and we sang our first two pieces; Ashrei and Shomeir Yisrael and then there were a number of speeches. The next part of the concert began and we debuted Tsu Mish’lo. It was received very well and the Chazanim and choir were amazing. The concert was a big success and well received by a mainly Anglo Saxon audience. There was a great feeling amongst the audience afterwards and we could tell that the concert had been a very big success. More importantly, it helped to raise money for Reuth.

We arrived back at The Sharon Hotel and we had some cake and biscuits and then we were off to bed ready to start another new day.

Thursday 8th March

We were up even earlier today for t’fila and then breakfast. It is another sunny and warm day. The first visit of the day was to Neve Michael in Pardes Hanna. This is a children’s home for children that either do not have a safe home to live in or where there is no home for these children to go to. We were met by Hava Levene who runs Neve Michael. She told us a little about the school and what she and her staff do. We then went into the hall were all the children where already seated in anticipation! We gave our concert. It was an inimitable StS Shabbaton performance. Most of the children were singing, dancing and having a really good time. What is sad is that, despite this, there were still children who were not only able to join in and some who were even unable to smile. Clearly, they carry a lot with them and Neve Michael is doing everything to ensure they have every opportunity to have a happy, healthy and safe life ahead..

The atmosphere was very special and it gave the whole group a tremendous lift. The work of Neve Michael was exemplified by a marvelous video that we watched after our performance. There was not a dry eye in the room and out of all of our trips to Israel; visiting Neve Michael was one of the most emotional. We left after having some refreshments.

The coach then took us onto Afula to the Sarah Herzog Emunah Children’s Home. We have, of course been here before and perhaps now is a good time to explain the rationale behind this particular mission.

Our committee was Peter Sheldon, Simon Hochhauser, Syma Weinberg and Julian and Alan from the choir. When we originally met to plan the mission the war with Lebanon had not started. We therefore, decide that as we had not visited the south of Israel, we would base the mission there. However, within a few weeks, the war had erupted and it we decided that as the North of Israel was taking the brunt of the action we should concentrate our visit in the North. We soon became very aware that the rest of Israel was helping in different ways. For example Reuth was taking in wounded soldiers and the Sarah Herzog home was caring for children evacuated from the battle zones. We therefore came to decision that the war would be the golden thread that ran through the mission and that there would be a synthesis between places we had previously visit and new places all of which had either been directly affected by the war or had assisted in the war effort.

So after lunch we were given a small talk about the many aspects of the work done at the home. It was a real eye opener and you can only marvel at the fantastic work done by all the people working at the home. After mincha and a little tour we were then taken into the hall (where we did the concert last time) for another of our “what are we singing next” concerts. What I mean by this is that for every concert I prepare a programme well in advance of the tour. This is methodically distributed to choristers and then systematically ignored on the day! The concert went very well. After some frenzied singing and dancing I said to Lionel lets get everyone sitting on the floor to calm them down and we will sing Adon Olam. This was a lovely moment.

We left Afula and arrived at Lavi where we checked in. There was little time to rest as we had to be dressed and ready to leave by 5.15. I should mention here that Gill was superb at doing this as was Syma who called the register every time we got back onto the coach. Incidentally, our driver Amnon was now offering his onboard cabaret with a selection of excellent jokes.

The journey to Shlomi took about one hour twenty minutes. When we arrived up in the frozen north (actually despite it being a little chilly it was not too bad at all) we knew we were in for an excellent evening as we recieved such an amazing welcome. We ate at the Shlomit guest house and they put on fantastic meal for us. We were greeted by Sefton Bergson who had helped to put all of this together and during the meal the Mayor of Shlomi formally welcomed us. Simon Hochhauser expressed our thanks to those who had arranged the concert.
We were then taken over to the community centre which was already very busy. All the Magic Moments kids had been invited and they were already very noisy. There was also a group of AJ6 kids some of whom we knew.  People started to arrive and soon the hall was full.

After a couple of speeches we started. It was a riot! I can honestly say that this was one of (if not) the best concert that we have ever had in Israel. The audience was fantastic and joined in with everything. We taught them “Yababababi” and they loved Tsur Mish’lo. Both songs would be very popular with our audiences. Lionel, Shimon and Jonny were on top form. But it was Eli who once again stole the show. He is a great boy and a lot of fun to be with and he has really fitted in extremely well with the group

The Chief Rabbi had now joined us for the tour and as it was his birthday, a cake was presented to him and we sang “happy birthday”. The feeling amongst the group after the concert was electric. Despite a very long and at times a very emotional day none of us really wanted the evening to end. So it was back on the coach and back to Lavi but not before another concert but this time for us. We sang all the way back to Lavi with our “chevraman” Eli leading the singing. This had been an incredible day.

Friday 9th March

So to another very early start with t’filla and breakfast. Today we were off to a hospital in Nahariya. It is the Western Galilee Hospital which caters for everyone to the west side of the Galil. This hospital was bombed during the war with rockets being aimed specifically at the hospital. But more of that in a minute. We saw the remnants of rockets that fell on the hospital and the special glass they have in the windows to prevent injury from shattered glass. This hospital has special below ground units and it prided itself in that it managed to get all patients underground once the rockets started falling in 62 minutes.   

What is truly remarkable about this hospital is that it serves all; Jewish, Christian, Israeli Arab; Druse and Palestinian Arab. Security is very tight at the hospital as they have had occasions when bombs have been smuggled in under a stretcher in an ambulance. Given the mixture of different types of people that this hospital serves, why would anyone (even in a state of war) want to specifically target this hospital.

We were shown a film about how the hospital managed during the war and we were introduced to Dr Lemur who had helped in arranging our visit. We were then taken to a lobby where we were going to sing. From this vantage point you could see 5 floors high. Very few people were gathered there but as we started to sing patients, nurses and doctors appeared and began singing with us. Great atmosphere with dancing and singing in the traditional format!

After that, we split into two groups. One group went to a geriatric ward and another to the pediatric ward. We then left the hospital (in glorious sunshine) for our visit to Tzipori.  We had the famous Lavi packed lunch (with actually was very good) during which we listened to John Corre give us the history of Tzipori. We then went round the site looking at the beautiful mosaics and learning bout the history of Tzipori. When we all got to the amphitheatre there was a spontaneous “Tsadik Katamar”. Tzipori was a welcome break althought many of us were a little tired It was then back on the coach and back to Lavi. I was able to grab a few minutes rest before getting ready for Shabbat.

We all met at the shul to prepare for kabalat Shabbat. There were big expectations as last time we were at Lavi the ruach was incredible. We were not to be disappointed this time. We were joined for Shabbat by John Corre’s group of 80 people; 40 kids from tribe and the 40 JFS and King David students. It was really lovely to see Daniel Finn and at last Daniel had made it to Israel with the Shabbaton Choir but no longer as our boy soloist! Lionel was amazing and davened as he does from the heart. The choir responded and all those worries from rehearsals were all unfounded as we entered Shabbat B’shira Uv’zimra.

At the meal we sat with Lionel, Natalie, Shlomit and three of their grandchildren. Also on the table was Rabbi Ronnie, his wife and two children. Rabbi Ronnie has been instrumental with helping Lionel in his s’micha. Lionel has worked very hard to gain his s’micha and only finished the final part of his work last week. Rabbi Ronnie is a lovely man and over Shabbat we were to speak a lot. The tribe and JFS kids led proceedings with lots of z’mirot and dancing. The ruach at the meal was electric and the meal overran. There was a lot of singing and dancing led by the Tribe kids.

After dinner we then went into another hall for the brains trust. We had the British Ambassador Tom Philips, the Chief Rabbi, Danny Taub and Yehuda Avner under the chairmanship of our own choir Doctor – Simon Hochhauser. Before we started (to my complete surprise) the Chief Rabbi presented me with a silver etrog box on behalf of the choir. There was a spontaneous “Yababababi” from the choir. It was a lovely present and gave me the opportunity to thank everyone involved and to say just a few words about the whole concept of the mission. The brains trust was really very good with all speakers on top form! In particular Yehuda Avner was fantastic.

That should have been the end of the evening but Frank and Annette Weinberg made a reception in honour of their daughter’s engagement. We started to sing and then everyone seemed to let their hair down and the ladies started singing and dancing round the room. It was a great scene. It was followed by a number of jokes and the famous Peter Sheldon “Lenin’s in Poland Joke” to accompaniment of groans from his children who had apparently heard it once or twice before! It was the end to a perfect evening and day and by the time we got to bed it was 12.30…exhausted….

Shabbat 10th March

Shabbat morning is always difficult on the mission. Having had a reasonable night’s sleep and already three days into the mission, singing does not come naturally at this time of the morning!

Shimon davened Shacharit (we only sang Ein K’erk’cha) and then Lionel and Shimon shared the leining. I had haftarah as I had Yahtzeit for Dad. Jonny took over from Ashrei. We then broke for breakfast which was a feast in itself. Rabbi Jimmy Gross then gave an amazing dvar torah before Musaf. Jonny finished musaf and then the group had a really inspirational shiur from the Chief Rabbi on the concept of “cherut” in terms of freedom, pesach and its modern day impact. Unfortunately, I missed this as I went with Charlotte Klein, Yitschak and Russell to meet the JFS children.

When I did this last time I felt that it was not as successful as it should have been. Lavi Sheva the current group made up for that. They are mainly children from JFS and with five children from KD in Liverpool.  Russell brilliantly, introduced the concept of Solidarity through Song and then I took over with a session talking about volunteering and some of the amazing people we have met on 4 missions to Israel. They were an extremely responsive group. Russell (Justin) and I then taught the group “Yababababi”. This was fantastic and they learnt this straight off. It really caught on and they liked it. It was a great session with Lavi Sheva.

We then walked back for lunch. Once again the weather is glorious. Lunch was yet another excuse to eat! The meals at Lavi have been brilliant. It was also an opportunity to teach everyone Tsur Mish’lo. It was amazing. Then the debut of the Lavi Sheva Choir singing and teaching everyone “Yababababi”!!! There was a terrific ruach in the room.

Lavi is an idyllic setting and at this time of the year so green with lots and lots of flowers. In particular the Israeli poppy like flower Kollaniyot was out. We went for a walk and I then had a short rest before minchah and seuda. The CR led the seuda and we came to sit at his table. Soon all the tribe kids joined us and then the Lavi Sheva children. The ruach was really indescribable. We sang well into motsa’ay Shabbat but no one cared as no one wanted Shabbat to end. But all good things must come to an end. We davened maariv and took Shabbat out with a rousing Havdalah from Shimon. We then had group photos and it was time to get ready for the concert.

I remember thinking where do we go from here; after such a unique Shabbat how we could do something this evening that would be as special and yet different. So we did what we do best. We gave our Solidarity through Song style concert entertaining with a capital E. Once again words escape me for this was such a memorable evening. All the chazanim Eli and the choir sang and danced their hearts out. But the award for the best newcomer this evening had to go to the Lavi Sheva Choir that rose to the occasion by performing on stage with the Shabbaton Choir “Yababababi”. FANTASTIC.

At the end of the concert our President Peter Sheldon presented Rene Stone with a certificate showing that the group had presented to the Sarah Herzog home some computer software in appreciation of all that Rene has done for the choir. Apart from donating the ties for the choir and scarves for the ladies she is the life and soul of the choir (which was certainly true on a couple of memorable occasions which I guess she will deny!!!).

Yehuda Avner who had been very supportive over Shabbat was full of praise for the choir and Solidarity through Song. It was a wonderful evening. The concert ended and it was now 10.30 but the night was not over..

The group got back on the coach and it was a short journey to Tiberius and to Decks for a celebratory meal. Once again this took on a dimension that had not perhaps been anticipated. The group again let their hair down a little with lots of dancing singing and good food. Avelyn Hass wrote a brilliant song for the group to sing to the tune of the “San Francisco Adon Olam”. It was superbly written and performed! Russell Neville and Simon Hochhauser then did a sketch based on the Python 3 Yorkshire men sketch. Very funny. It was a lovely evening and we all had a great time. It was then back to Lavi where we arrived at 1.30am and where we said goodbye to Jonny, Marilyn and Barry who had to return early to London. We then had to pack and get a few hours sleep before getting up for Shacharit at 6.45.

Sunday 11th March

It was an early start today with t’fila at 7.00. We had breakfast and then checked out and left Lavi for Jerusalem.  The journey took longer than anticipated because of traffic and we arrived at Hadassah a little late.  We were taken to the vestibule of the Pediatric building where Michal was waiting for us. It was lovely to see her. We also met some of the kids from the FZY year group. We set up and performed. However, what made this quite special was that most of the ill children who were in the audience were either Arabs or Druse. Music reaches all and it did that morning.

We then split into two groups again and my group visited one of the oncology wards. Once again, there were many Arab children receiving treatment for such sad deceases. With the help of an interpreter I met a couple from Ramallah whose daughter has cancer and who was receiving treatment at Hadassah. I can still see this young girl’s face. Her little face that was trying hard to smile; but a body that was finding it difficult to raise that smile. We sang once again. We danced as well as did a little girl attached to drip who stood on the legs of the drip as she was wheeled around the ward.

We made our way to have lunch. We said good bye to Michal and had lunch where once again there were a number of lovely speeches one in particular from Jonny Lipczer.

So to the final visit of Solidarity through Song 2007 and that was to the Chagal shul. I was concerned about this as I was adamant that we should end the mission on a spiritual high. I therefore, asked Lionel to say a few words to concentrate the mind. To ask people to bring together in their own minds what we have seen and done over the last five days. I needn’t have had any fears. With, Ashrei, Shomeir Yisrael, Aleinu and Shimon leading us in Hatikvah to end it all, it is difficult even now to write about what we were all feeling. I think I would actually prefer to leave it to our memories than attempt to inadequately describe it here.

We said goodbye to some of the group who were staying on in Israel and the rest of us made our way to Ben Gurion for our flights back to England. There was talk about another mission next year (something again I had not expected) and there were feelings of elation coupled with exhaustion. Emotions reigned high and Eli, who had been so fantastic throughout the week, found it all a little too much.

The mission would not have happened without the help of all those involved and for all those who provided the funding to ensure that it could happen. I have listed everyone on the mission at the end of my report and I thank everyone for their part in making the mission the success it was. However, I particularly thank our President Peter Sheldon who went beyond the call of duty to ensure the success of this mission.

So, was it the “best ever”? Each mission is, of course, always the “best ever”. However, whilst it is impossible to pin point any specific reason why this mission should be any better than the previous three I think it was. The combined affect of the whole concept behind the mission; the incredible group of Solidarity through Songsters; the amazing places we visited and people that we met and the concerts that we were privileged to be part of; the participation of the Chief Rabbi and the gift of music that we all shared ensured that this was beyond doubt the “best ever”.

And finally hot off the press…mazel tov to Rabbi Lionel Rosenfeld and Rebbetzin Natalie on Lionel obtaining his s’micha. We are very proud of you……

Stephen Levey          
23rd March 2007