The sound of laughter and Hebrew songs filled the air when 40 Israeli boys and girls, aged 12 and 13, got off their bus and eagerly ran into the Soloway Jewish Community Centre (SJCC) during their day of touring and activities in Ottawa, August 17.
While you wouldn’t have known it from their beaming smiles, these kids had all experienced great tragedy either through losing a close relative in a terror attack or having a soldier in their family who was injured or killed during Operation Protective Edge. Their month-long vacation in Canada was arranged by the Israeli Victims of War Association (IVOW) and their day in Ottawa was co-ordinated by the Vered Israel Cultural Education Program.
The group had already spent more than three weeks in Montreal, and in the Laurentians at the Y Country Camp and Camp B’nai Brith of Montreal. After their day in Ottawa, they visited Toronto and returned to Montreal for more activities before heading home to Israel.
“When we were contacted by IVOW to host them in Ottawa, our excitement was through the roof,” said Ella Dagan, manager of the Vered Israel Culture Education Program. “To bring in kids who have experienced something so tragic, and to make them feel safe and at home, is what we’re all about.”
Richard Dermer, co-president of IVOW, said that the month of respite in Canada gave the kids a chance to feel free and safe from harm.
“They live such a different life in Israel where everyone’s always conscious of what’s going on around them. Here in Canada, they love it because they feel completely free,” he said.
Dermer says that the parents are amazed at how different their kids are when they return home.
“I’ve seen some of these kids really grow here, and to watch it happen is really incredible. This truly is a life-changing experience for them,” he said.
In Ottawa, the group visited Parliament Hill, the Aviation and Space Museum, and the Israeli Embassy where they learned about the strong friendship Canada shares with Israel. At the SJCC, they played basketball in the gym, swam in the outdoor pool, and ate a pasta dinner at Babi’s.
Moria Gangte, a 12-year-old from Kiryat Arba, thought Parliament Hill was beautiful and said she couldn’t wait to come back to Canada where she particularly enjoyed water-skiing for the first time at Camp B’nai Brith of Montreal.
Eliyah Cohen, a 13-year-old from Gush Etzion, also said he couldn’t wait to return.
“From the minute I saw Canada, I loved it here. I love Canada,” he said.