KH-UIA International Women’s Division Independence Day 2018 celebrations

May 2, 2018 by  
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UIA NSW Women’s Division Co-Chair Bev Michaelis shares her impressions of a special week in Israel.

Ruth Magid, Marcia Kresner, Penny Hurst, Bev Michaelis, Janet Neustein(back), Sylvia Kohn, Judy Stromer

Bev Michaelis writes:

Before sharing the details of a wonderful week in Israel, I need to say that overwhelmingly I have been struck by the impact Keren Hayesod-UIA has on the lives of the people of Israel. We help people. We help those who – through circumstance – are marginalised, those who are on the periphery and those who are forced to leave their countries due to politics, antisemitism and threat. We give them opportunity, education and the tools needed to integrate into society. We help Israel’s most valuable asset – ITS PEOPLE – OUR PEOPLE!

The International Women’s Division (IWD) Day on 16 April 2018 was amazing. IWD President Penny Hurst welcomed 90 women from all over the world to the celebration of 70 years of achievements for Israel. Penny Hurst, Judy Stromer, Marcia Kresner, Ruth Magid, Janet Neustein, Sylvia Kohn and I represented Australia.

Participants were privileged to hear a panel discussion with remarkable leaders in their various fields – Saul Singer of Start-Up Nation, Prof Itamar Glazer from the Volcani Centre, Dr Carmit Padan from the Institute for National Security Studies and moderator Liat Mudrik from the School of Psychological Science and the Sagol School of Neuroscience. The topic of the panel discussion – ‘From Oranges to Hi-Tech: 70 Years of Change’ was relevant, with interesting insights into the growth and development that has happened in the country.

The magnificent Judean Desert was the perfect setting for our drum circle experience. The venue was set up like a Bedouin tent and the sounds of women drumming and dancing created a wonderful atmosphere of celebration and togetherness.

Afterwards, we heard another panel discussion covering ‘70 Years of Aliyah’ by Keren Hayesod – Morocco, Ethiopia, FSU and South America. Four women representing four different waves of Aliyah shared their experiences, comparing their stories as to how each was treated at the time of their Aliyah, how things have improved through knowledge gained, culminating in their personal career successes.  What a thrill to know that our funds made a real difference in each and every one of their lives!

No KH-UIA event would ever be complete without food playing a major part and we enjoyed a delicious lunch at Canaan – an oasis in the desert – after which Penny brought the day to a close by thanking all those who attended and participated in the seminar.

The opening dinner of the KH World Conference was held that night, where 800 people representing Campaigns from around the world applauded Prime Minister Netanyahu when he was presented with the prestigious KH Isaiah Award, for his leadership and many years of commitment to the security, well-being and people of the State of Israel. Seven people were also presented with the Yakir Award recognising outstanding leadership, including Julian Black, UIA Victoria Treasurer.

And then we travelled an emotional roller-coaster!

KH-UIA is a major contributor of funds to the Jewish Agency – JAFI. The first session of the World Conference was a presentation by the Aliyah Department of JAFI. The stories we heard of the needs in facilitating both regular Aliyah but even more so, the dramatic requirements and actions in organising the many emergency rescues were eye-openers. Just one example was a situation of a hostile government withdrawing a family’s passports at the airport, needing Israel’s intervention.

We often hear comment that Israel is thriving, however it is the humanitarian side provided by KH-UIA in Israel that sustains the people – particularly the new Olim. This can never be emphasised enough and is vital for their acceptance into society, by providing the tools for a successful integration.

The Tze’elim Army base allowed us to observe Gaza from the IDF perspective, which was a unique and somewhat frightening experience. We walked through an example of the notorious tunnels, were able to shoot guns (with dummy bullets) at moving targets and witnessed a training exercise of how the ground forces enter unfriendly territory.

The entire contingent was divided into four groups on four buses, where each group visited a different KH project including A Profession for Life, Youth Village, Net@ Centre and a Mechina facility. Our group visited the Mechina campus – a KH-funded pre-army academy that prepares young people who, for various reasons, would perhaps not be permitted to enlist. We met a delightful young man of Ethiopian origin, who spoke perfect English. He told us his story (one of many!) – he was moved from one school to another and eventually during high school he found himself in a bad crowd and ultimately was given a youth criminal record. He decided at some point to take control of his life and apply for the army. His application was declined but upon hearing about the Mechina program, he applied, was accepted and as a result is now entering the army. He is determined to prove himself and have his criminal record expunged.

Yom Hazikaron at Latrun with 8000 people and the eerie sounds of a one-minute siren – what an honour to be at the MASA ceremony to witness the respect and reverence shown to our fallen soldiers. The event concluded with the resounding singing of Hatikvah.

The next morning we returned to Latrun to the Yad LaShiryon 1948 War of Independence Tank Museum for the ceremony for families of the fallen. A mournful two-minute siren heralded the start of the ceremony. We heard the story of a brother and sister who were on their way to Palestine after the Shoah, and the brother returned to their home to try to find remaining family and they lost contact. She arrived in Palestine and was taken in to care and never heard from her brother again. Unbeknown to her he arrived in Palestine, heard about the impending war, enlisted and two weeks later lost his life in defence of the country. Wow, the sacrifices people made.

It didn’t end there! At the Begin Centre and after another delicious lunch, we listened to a panel, ‘70 Years of Israeli Courage and Resilience – Personal Stories of IDF Soldiers’ chaired by Yoav Limor.

The first speaker was Yoram Zamush, the soldier who hung the Israeli flag on the Kotel (Western Wall) when it was recaptured after the 6 Day War in 1967.

“We have to control our own destiny! Now is the best time in our history and we can look forward to a bright future,” Yoram said.

Saar Israeli spoke about his trauma from fighting as a navy seal in the war in Lebanon and seeing 11 men in his battalion lose their lives. Aharon Karov explained how he was called up the day after his wedding to the Protective Edge War, where he was so severely injured – his face was described as a jigsaw puzzle – deaf in one ear, blind in one eye and was told he would never walk or talk. Yet here he was speaking to us – walking, talking, sharing his thoughts and is the proud father of three!

Saar said: “I saw a sign that read ‘why was I drafted’ and later someone added ‘because it’s your turn now’. What we do as soldiers is in our DNA – to keep our community strong and therefore our country strong. Our country should concentrate on what unites us, not what divides us”.

In a sombre mood, we left the hotel for Airport City to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut. At precisely 8.00pm a soldier played his bugle as the Israeli flag was raised to full-mast, and the most incredible dance party with 1400 people began. The change in mood and atmosphere was unbelievable – the sadness transitioning to joy really needed to be experienced to be fully appreciated.

The festivities continued the next day, where the whole group viewed the traditional fly-past of the formidable Israeli Air Force on the Waldorf Astoria Hotel’s rooftop. We then travelled to Neot Kedumim, a nature reserve near Jerusalem for an enjoyable picnic lunch.

The closing dinner back at the hotel was also a tribute and farewell to World Chairman, Eliezer Sandberg and well-known singer Einat Saruf entertained us into the early hours of the morning.

This ended an inspiring, informative and very special Conference. We look forward to the IWD Mifgash in 2019, and especially to the 2020 World Conference celebrating 100 years of Keren Hayesod.

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