The Soloway Jewish Community Centre (SJCC) quickly filled with chatter and laughter in Hebrew as 70 bar and bat mitzvah aged Israelis from families who have been affected by war or terrorism arrived at the centre to finish up their day in Ottawa, August 16, during the final week of a month-long visit to Canada.
The youngsters were brought to Canada by the Montreal-based IVOW (Israeli Victims of War) Association. They spent three weeks at Jewish summer camps in the Laurentians north of Montreal – Y Country Camp, Camp B’nai Brith of Montreal and Camp Massad – and a final week visiting and touring Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto.
At the SJCC, the group was hosted by Ella Dagan, manager of Vered Israel Cultural and Educational Program, and Gail Lieff, manager of children and teen programs at the SJCC. They enjoyed activities in the pool and gym and an Israeli dinner prepared by Babi’s Restaurant.
“This is the second year – with the support of Sara Vered – that we are hosting IVOW,” said Dagan. “We are thrilled to be able to provide these children a memorable experience and a day of respite.”
IVOW was established in 1983 to offer a month of fun and respite in Canada to young Israelis dealing with tough circumstances at home. To date, more than 2,000 children have enjoyed the opportunity – free of charge.
Richard Dermer, IVOW co-president and secretary, said he felt very privileged to accompany the children on their visit to Ottawa.
“They are amazing kids, and I feel grateful and thankful for them because, in a way, they protect us,” he said.
Liat Barkai, 23, and Noam Tedgi, 22, are two of the Israeli guides working with the IVOW group – both are also from families affected by war or terrorism.
They said the visit to Canada is a transformative experience for the children.
“They return to Israel completely different from when they left,” said Barkai.
Tedgi participated in the program as a child and returned as a guide.
“As a child, I was ashamed of having a father who is an IDF disabled soldier. In the program, I met so many kids with similar experiences, and they became really good friends – to this day”.
Irit Gross, the IVOW coordinator who accompanied the kids from Israel, said she is constantly amazed by the “endless generosity of Canadians. It’s really admirable.”
The visit, she added, really helps the children “let go” of some of their difficulties at home.