Partnership 2000, Richmond's Ballet, and Beth Yitzhak Present an International Program
Robin B. Zeiger
The strains of Sweet Virginia Breeze fill the packed school auditorium. The entire 4th grade class wows the audience with a beautifully choreographed dance routine. Richmond Ballet's Educational Director, Brett Bonda & teaching artist, Katherine Smothers, lovingly direct the children like proud parents. This performance, the culmination of two weeks of hard work, is yet another success story of collaboration between the Jewish Agency's Partnership 2000 and the Richmond Ballet's Minds in Motion ( a 16-year old program that trains thousands of students across the Commonwealth of Virginia),.
Yet this is not just another typical Richmond program. Brett introduces himself to the audience with a newly learned Hebrew phrase, Korim li Brett (my name is Brett). He is greeted by a round of applause and smiles from the parents and guests. Brett and Katherine have set up shop for two weeks 7413 miles from home in Beth Yitzhak, a small agricultural village situated in Emek- Hefer, in the north of Israel.
This unique program utilizes dance, movement, and team work to build success and self-esteem for all students, regardless of talent. Even students with special needs are incorporated into the production.
Behind the scenes of this successful program is a wonderful partnership, lots of hard work, and a village of folks eager to make it all happen. Minds in Motion in Emek Hefer is the brainchild of the Richmond Ballet, Ralph Robbins from the Virginia Israel Advisory Board of the Governor's office, Partnership 2000 of Israeli's Jewish Agency and the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond and Emek Hefer regional council education department; it is an example of collaboration at its best.
Since last year's success, Partnership 2000 and Emek Hefer have planned and excitedly waited for the return of the program. In preparation for the visit, Inbal Briskin-Pery, Emek Hefer's Partnership coordinator and Bet Yitzhak resident organized various activities to ready the school for the return visit. She introduced the fourth and fifth-grade students to Richmond's Jewish community and the work of the Partnership in several important ways. Inbal invited several of the Emek Hefer Maccabee teens to the school to lead Jewish identity workshop and to talk about their trip to Richmond. Inbal reflects, "It was very exciting to talk about what it is to be a Jewish child in the Richmond community. The children were fascinated by the wide diversity of experiences and cultural differences.
This year Partnership 2000 introduced an exciting new component. Brett and Katherine brought 150 letters from students in Richmond of all walks of life; Jewish and non-Jewish, all of whom have participated in Minds in Motion. . The fifth-grade students at Bet Yitzhak accepted these letters and already sent replies back to their new pen-pals. (Look for more on this exciting project in the near future.)
In addition to Partnership's efforts, with typical Israeli hospitality, the folks of Bet Yitzhak and Emek Hefer enthusiastically pitched in to welcome the visitors and support the program. Brett and Katherine were housed, fed, and entertained by a host of families. Many fought over who could serve as tour guides to Brett and Katherine and their spouses. Brett, who is Jewish, enjoyed connecting with his spiritual roots and taking part in two Tu beshvat Seder celebrations (in honor of the New Year of the trees).
Students and parents alike offered their reflections and enthusiasm. Yael Avigdor, mother of dancer Ofir (4th grade) can't say enough good things about the project. "All my daughter talks about is this program. She tells anyone who will listen. What is amazing to me is how everyone is welcome. Even children who are experiencing difficulties in class or have special needs can be successful here. "
The students are excited to be interviewed, showing off their language skills. Fourth graders Inbal Sobol, Nitsan Tsakla, Darya Salmon and Mika Peleg all offered their thoughts. "The program is fun, the teachers are funny, dancing is great, and they are learning English. " The list goes one. Brett and Katherine are not just training dancers. They are helping to shape and inspire growing minds. Cute, petite, and outgoing, Darya proudly adds she wants to be a brain or bone doctor. It is easy to imagine she will follow her dreams.
The choreography of Sweet Virginia Breeze stands on its own as a wonderful accomplishment. But this is not enough for Minds in Motion. With flair and enthusiasm, Brett and Katherine get the audience moving to the beat. There is more. Some of the star dancers from last year, now fifth-graders, join a leading group from the 4th grade and open with a more complex choreography of Lord of the Dance. The fourth graders join for a grand finale. They are treated to a standing ovation.
An excitement lights up the auditorium, stirring students, faculty and guests alike. The mayor traveled to join the event. Eli Barak, Co-chair of Partnership 2000 in Emek Hefer offers his blessings. "We're happy and excited to see our friends here again - it is wonderful to see how this program is developing and draws more and more partners in both sides of the ocean." Principal Vivian Garber presents Brett and Katherine with a special collection of photos to remember the experience. Brett and Katherine promise to come back next year. Ralph Robbins of the Virginia Governor's office sits in the audience next to the principal of a nearby Arab school. With a twinkle in his eye he suggests there is more to come. Einat Vivante of Partnership 2000's explains that the "Richmond/Emek Hefer partnership is excited and honored to host such a wonderful international program. It brings the best of Richmond and Emek Hefer together in partnership."