WIZO’s annual gala event in Paris saw an audience of over 200 moved to tears by messages of support and encouragement for WIZO and Israel from senior representatives of the City of Paris, as the Nachlat Yehuda dance and song troupe staged a truly unforgettable show.
Joelle Lezmi, President of WIZO France, together with the Federation team, organized an exciting and unusual event at the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall), which was attended by members of the French parliament, directors of various Paris Arondissements (city districts), UN representatives and all Parisian Jewish community leaders. Participants included Baroness Arianne de Rothschild, wife of Baron Benjamin de Rothschild and Vice President of the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation; Mr. Patrick Klugman, Deputy Head of the Department of International Relations in the Paris Municipality; Mr. Julien Navier, Division of External Relations of the UN Refugee Agency; Mr. Pierre Aidenbaum, Mayor of the 3rd Arondissement; Mr. Joël Mergui, President of the Jewish Central Consistory; and Mr. Meïr Habib, MP for the Jewish Community Overseas.
Guest of Honor at the gala event was Prof. Rivka Lazovsky, Chairperson of the World WIZO Executive, who arrived from Israel to represent World WIZO and support the French Federation. “It is a matter of great pride for WIZO that at such a difficult time of active anti-Semitism, Parisian officials gather here today to express their recognition for our activities and support the capital’s Jewish community. The presence here of so many dignitaries testifies to the importance of our work towards furthering Israel’s strength. It is most regretful that the Jews of France must confront an atmosphere of hatred on an almost daily basis, with expressions of hostility and even attacks from their neighbors. We have come to Paris today to deliver in person a message of hope and solidarity, to demonstrate that it is possible to live side by side in peace and be good neighbors.”
The gala evening began with a special reception for all donors, and the “Olive Tree” exhibition of paintings by Jewish and Arab women who took part in a special WIZO project in Afula. The common theme of the paintings was the olive tree as a symbol of the possible connection between the two peoples and their shared desire for peace. The exhibition remained on display throughout the week at the Hôtel de Ville and will also be on show during the coming year in various locations around Europe. The paintings and WIZO’s own contribution made a deep impression on the guests, who agreed that it was a source of pride for the organization.
The reception was followed by a Hanukah candle lighting ceremony and a gala dinner. In her greeting, Prof. Lazovsky reminded the audience of WIZO’s work in Israel and worldwide towards harmony and the benefit of all populations. The organization reaches out in Israel to anyone in need of help and there are many instances of close links between Arabs and Jews. She thanked Joelle Lezmi and WIZO Paris for their wonderful hospitality.
The evening culminated in an unforgettable performance by the Nachlat Yehuda Youth Village song and dance ensemble. The audience was moved by the Israeli songs and even left their seats to join in the dancing. The youngsters themselves were clearly excited to appear before the local Jewish community and their reception from WIZO Paris and city representatives was heartwarming.
Pnina Gefen, Director of the Youth Village, explained that the 35 youngsters who joined the delegation to Paris were all thrilled to be chosen to represent WIZO and Israel. It was a special privilege for them to have an opportunity to bring a smile to the faces of the Paris Jewish community and they were thankful to the organization for making this unique experience possible. “I hope,” Ms. Gefen continued, “that other Federations will be inspired to invite the troupe to stage similar performances for them and present the ‘beautiful face’ of Israel.”
The ensemble completed their tour with further appearances both in Luxembourg and in other French cities, where they met with young people studying at a local Jewish school. The school belongs to the Otzar Hatora network, which in March 2012 suffered a terror attack at its school in Toulouse, with three students and one teacher killed. Prof. Lazovsky added that, “the meeting between these two groups reinforces each side’s pride in their homeland and underlines the crucial link between Israel and world Jewry. I am proud that WIZO is able to offer these young people such a meaningful experience, which in turn contributes to shaping their lives in Israel.”
WIZO France sponsors a wide range of projects in Israel for at-risk children and adolescents, including 10 day care centers, a joint center for Jewish and Arab single parents in Jaffa, and a technology high school in Rehovot, promoting technology-based professions for young immigrants and youth who have dropped out of the mainstream education system
WIZO LIGHTS THE WAY
Yochai’s Hanukah miracle – the personal story of one member of Nachlat Yehuda dance troupe
The singers and dancers of the Nachlat Yehuda ensemble performed at fundraising events in Paris and other French cities, lighting Hanukah candles for the Jewish communities wherever they went. Yochai, a member of the ensemble and 5 year veteran of the youth village, was particularly excited at this special opportunity to travel abroad, perform before overseas audiences and receive applause for his dancing. This is not something Yochai can take for granted….
"After a long period of violence in our home, I moved with my mother and my older sister to a WIZO shelter for battered women. I was eight years old at the time.
We did not tell anyone where we had gone, and at school everyone wondered where I had disappeared to. The stay at the shelter was a very traumatic experience for me. I could hardly cope with the new environment and being cut off my friends and home, not to mention the fact that we had to remain inside the shelter in order to protect ourselves.
After a while, when the situation with our father had calmed down, we went to live with our grandmother. However, things did not improve for me there. I had no friends. I refused to get up in the morning and would not go to school. I was a real "trouble maker.
At age 12 I arrived at WIZO Nachlat Yehuda Youth Village. There I finally found a real home, where I received warmth, love and care. The tutors took care of me all the time and helped me to feel better within myself and succeed at school. Thanks to the rules in the dormitories, I became independent and responsible. My self-esteem increased. I finally understood that I was worth something.
But all this happened only after a friend convinced me to join the dance group of the Village. Then I realized I could succeed. Something within me opened up and flourished.
Suddenly I felt I could express myself freely, without being afraid of "what people say".
The dancing troupe is like a supportive home for me. The members have become like my brothers and sisters. I can talk with them about anything and everything.
Thanks to the boarding school at WIZO Nachlat Yehuda I have become a totally different person."
This is the personal miracle of Yochai, 17 years old, who lives and studies at WIZO Nachlat Yehuda Youth Village in Rishon Lezion.
For the last four years, Yochai has been a member of the Village's song and dance troupe. He is currently in Paris with the group, performing at a prestigious fundraising function of WIZO France. Yochai, together with 30 students from the youth village, also appeared this Chanukah at French Jewish community events, and met French Jewish youngsters, proudly representing WIZO Nachlat Yehuda and the State of Israel.
"We performed at the city hall of Paris, we got there a few hours in advance to rehearse and prepare. The building was so beautiful, it looked like a palace. We lit the candles and sang 'Maoz Tzur', there was excitement in the air, and we were very happy and proud to represent Israel. Everyone celebrated and enjoyed and the crowd danced with us"
Yochai is now a happy and fulfilled youngster. Like Yochai, there are tens of thousands of young people for whom WIZO provides a shining light in their lives.
What more fitting illustration of the wonderful miracles WIZO performs daily for tens of thousands of people…