Local families to open homes to Israeli dancers
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Local families to open homes to Israeli dancers

A program aimed at giving Israeli teens who have been victims of terror or war an opportunity to travel to the United States will soon have 1′ of them dancing their way into the hearts — and homes — of local families.

The YJCC in Washington Township, in partnership with Art of Motion, a professional, non-profit performing arts studio in Ridgewood, will bring a dozen 16- and 17-year-old girls and their dance instructor from Nahariya to participate in a wide range of dance instruction and performances from Nov. 15 to Nov. ‘5. The teens will live and study with girls their ages in Ridgewood, Woodcliff Lakes, Old Tappan, Hillsdale, and Upper Saddle River.


From left are Lynn Needle, artistic director of Art of Motion and an organizer for Open Hearts/Open Homes; Melanie Ax, a guest artist who will be performing with the Israelis; Ravah Schenkel, an instructor; and Olivia Galgano, artistic director at Art of Motion.

"My daughters are very, very excited about this," said Tamar Keller-Moczarski, who will host one of the teens. "They can’t wait to meet her and have her get to know our culture and learn more about hers and about dance in Israel."

Keller-Moczarski’s older daughter, Rachel, 16, is on the varsity dance team at Pascack Valley Regional High School, which culls members from both Pascack Valley and Pascack Hills high schools. While here, the Nahariya girls will speak at both schools, and at Ridgewood High School as well.

The project is an outgrowth of a six-year-old program at the YJCC, which began placing up to 3′ Israeli teens in local homes during summers. The teens, who had all experienced terrorism first-hand in Israel, would participate in a variety of activities, such as day trips and overnights, according to Anette McGarity, director of youth services for the YJCC.

Last year, the YJCC sought to expand the program into the fall. Organizers were able to bring a group of high school boys from Nahariya to participate in an intensive basketball program with local teens that included clinics with professional players.

"This was extremely successful," said McGarity. "The kids discovered that they had a lot in common."

Wanting to build on this success, organizers began casting about for a way to extend the program to girls. They contacted their counterparts in Nahariya, the sister city of UJA of Northern New Jersey and were connected to a dance program there. Many of the girls had been evacuated from Nahariya last year during Israel’s war with Hezbollah. Others spent that time in bomb shelters while missiles fell on their city.

Once the idea took hold at the YJCC, Lynn Needle, a YJCC member and artistic director at Art in Motion, heard of the effort and brought her dance expertise and connections to the table. She and her partner Olivia Galgano wanted to be involved.

"This is the first chance to bring teen girls to immerse in a dance intensive experience in a professional studio school," said Needle, who will host the dancers’ instructor, Edna Betsalel, during the visit. "This is important to me. I want to give."

Once the girls arrive, they will be in perpetual motion. In addition to going to local high schools, the girls will take a master class with Luigi, an internationally known jazz dance instructor, tour the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Juilliard School, take a teen dance class at the Martha Graham Center for Contemporary Dance, and see "Esmerelda," a production of the New Jersey Ballet. They will also take a master class at Art of Motion and give a performance there on Saturday, Nov. ‘4, at 7:30 p.m., the evening before they head back to Israel.

The Israeli girls selected for the trip have had few opportunities for travel, wrote Betsalel in an e-mail. "For them, New York is something non-attainable."

The experience will be a learning one for all the girls involved. When the Israelis speak at the local high schools it will become apparent that American girls are preparing for college, while Israeli girls are preparing to go into the army, McGarity said. And yet, they still find much common ground between them.

"One thing we’ve learned that’s very positive is the kids are teens no matter where they live," she said. "They like the same music, they talk about the same things — the boys talk about girls and the girls talk about boys; they talk about their after-school activities. But in Nahariya, certainly, they live with a cloud; they never know when the other shoe is going to drop."

The host families about to embark on this new whirlwind "dance-a-thon" are looking forward to those moments of connection.

"For my daughter and this Israeli girl who dances, they have something in common they can share," said Keller-Moczarski. "And we’re happy to share our home with a girl who comes from Israel and to have a cross-cultural experience. We look forward to that opportunity."

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