The Yemin Orde band – consisting of Israeli youth originally from Ethiopia, Brazil, the Ukraine, France, Georgia and Russia.The Yemin Orde Wingate Youth Village, located in the Carmel Mountains near Haifa in northern Israel, is a truly unique place. Founded in 1953, for the past half century it has been both home and school to over 500 disadvantaged and immigrant youth from 22 countries around the world.
In a country with a population of just over six million and with over 100 languages, Yemin Orde reflects some of that rich multicultural microcosm. Over the next three weeks audiences around the United States will learn something about what makes the youth village – and Israeli youth – tick when they are entertained by the 13-piece Yemin Orde band of 15-18 year olds performing a program of Israeli-based songs.
When the village was established its first residents were a few dozen Holocaust survivors. Today, the children hail from across the globe, from places such as the former Soviet Union republics, Ethiopia, Brazil, Iran, Morocco and Western Europe. Yemin Orde has also provided a haven for children from refugee camps in Bosnia and from other war-torn areas such as Chechnya and Dagestan. About half of the village’s residents come from dysfunctional homes. 62 of the high school children are orphans.
It is not hard to appreciate the emotional and spiritual condition of some of the children when they first arrive at Yemin Orde. An even for those children from happier backgrounds, moving to a new country poses its own challenges. The band certainly goes a long way to redressing some of the traumas the students some may have experienced in their earlier childhood, and providing the youngsters with a stable home base.
“Being part of the band plays an important role in the children’s emotional rehabilitation,” U.S.-born Yemin Orde Outreach Director Susan Weigel told ISRAEL21c. “The band is one of the vehicles we have that help in that regard. We have lots of outreach programs, sports events and other musical activities.”
One of the primary added values of the band’s biennial tours of the U.S. is the immediacy of the encounters between Jewish and non-Jewish youth from both America and Israel.
“The Americans learn a lot about the village and about Israel,” Weigel continued, “and our students get to know something about American youth, Jewish and non-Jewish. We have had some very positive feedback from our two previous visits to the States, from both sides of the Atlantic. The American kids who met the band were overwhelmed by what they learned about Israel and young Israelis, and these trips significantly boost our students’ self-esteem.”
This will be the third time in the last six years the band has toured the States. Of course, the main thrust of the tour is to provide musical entertainment, with a particular cultural slant.
“The songs reflect life in the village, and the lives of the members of the band, with all their diverse cultural baggage,” said village director Haim Perry. “American audiences will gain some insight into the spread of cultures that comprise the immigrant population of Israel. We try to provide a picture of what we do at the village, and the wonderful attributes of the students, through the band.”
The band members will have their work cut out on the whirlwind 17-day tour, kicking off on November 1 at the Solomon Schechter of Westchester School in Hartsdale, New York and taking in Jewish and non-Jewish schools and community centers in Philadelphia, Boston, Long Island, Washington DC, Atlanta, Cleveland and New Jersey. One of the highlights of the trip will be the band?s appearance at the opening ceremony of the United Jewish Communities (UJC) General Assembly in Cleveland, Ohio on November 14.
For the Yemin Orde students this is a first-time opportunity to meet American Jewish and non-Jewish youth, and to show the world something of what they do at the village.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” said 18-year-old Ethiopian-born Yossi Samai. “I’m very proud to represent Israel and the village in America.”
For Samai, as for all the other members of the band, it is not just about representing his adopted country but also about showing Americans how people from diverse cultural backgrounds live and work together in harmony.
“The village has people from so many different countries, and we all get on together. It’s like one big family. In the band we have people from Ethiopia, Brazil, the Ukraine, France, Georgia and Russia.”
But, surely, it must have been hard work, at the least at the very beginning, for all the band members to find a common working language. According to Samai that simply was not the case. “We all learned about each other’s culture. It’s great fun to learn things like that.”
18-year-old Dima Altman from the Ukraine is one of the newer members of the village. He went straight to Yemin Orde on his arrival in Israel two years ago and has been an enthusiastic band member for the past 18 months. Altman says he is particularly moved by one of the songs in the band’s repertoire, “Shir HaShalom” (Peace Song), which was sung by Yitzhak Rabin along with tens of thousands of Israeli peace movement supporters in downtown Tel Aviv just minutes before the late prime minister was assassinated in 1995.
The Yemin Orde band embarked on its U.S. trip almost exactly nine years to the day after the tragic incident. “There are words in the song that move me to tears,” said Altman. “It is very moving for me to go to the U.S. as a member of an Israeli band only two years after leaving the Ukraine.”
The band’s repertoire also includes the village anthem, Yemin Orde Dreams, and a multilingual version of Salaam (“Peace” in Arabic) in which each vocalist sings a few lines of the song or another song in his or her mother tongue.
“I sing part of the [Israeli national anthem] Hatikva in Russian and others sing lines from Salaam in Portuguese or French or Amharic. It shows how we all live together, regardless of where we come from,” said Altman.
For the band’s musical director Ronen Lan-Rieder working with the band is part of a free-flowing continuum. “The arts and music are bonding elements,” he said. “Music is a universal language. It is very moving to be part of a band with so members from such different backgrounds, but who all represent Israel. That is really what Israel is about.”