SPECIAL TO THE LEDGER
AMHERST – Since 1991, volunteers from the Jewish Committee of Amherst have been working to help elementary school children in Israel through a program called Project Rehovot. Through ongoing fundraising, volunteers raise money to hire a part-time teacher/art therapist who helps immigrant children in Israel who are having significant problems in the regular classroom. Most of the children now in the program are from Ethiopia.
“We often feel so helpless in the face of other people’s suffering, so we were delighted in 1991 when we found a way to make a difference, and remain delighted that we can continue to help children, most of whom are from poor backgrounds, who have no other means of getting assistance with school work,” said Yaffa Gunner, creator of Project Rehovot. “Amazing as it may seem, many of the volunteers who started raising funds in 1991 are still active on our committee.”
Now the organizers of Project Rehovot have planned a benefit concert to take place on Sunday, Feb. 1 at 3:30 p.m. at JCA,
742 Main St.
“The concert is being designed for adults and children, with a range of music, outstanding performers including a Grammy winner, a Mediterranean buffet and even a juggler for the children,” said Marilyn Kushick, whose daytime job is director of Publicity and Fundraising at the UMass Amherst Department of Music and Dance.
While the event is scheduled on Super Bowl Sunday, the timing is planned so that football lovers can be home in plenty of time for the Super Bowl kick-off.
The concert’s featured ensemble will be the jazz duo of Grammy award winner and UMass Director of Jazz and African-American Studies Jeffrey W. Holmes, on piano, and his wife Dawning, vocalist.
Also on the program will be Mak’hela, the Jewish Chorus of western Massachusetts, with interim director Elaine Broad Ginsberg. rector. Vocalist Elise Barber, cantor at Temple Beth El in Springfield, will sing Sephardic music in Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) accompanied by Pioneer Valley musicians Anna Sobel, Lisa Pack, and Kevin Germain. At the intermission and during the second half of the event, the audience can feast on plates of pita, falafel, humus, grape leaves, and Israeli salads, pizza slices, and Mediterranean desserts. The JCA’s Rabbi, Benjamin Weiner, on banjo, will perform a mix of Appalachian, Klezmer, and string band music with the Old Time Band: Yossi Charette, Bob Solosko, John O. Loeb, Elise Barber, and Ben Levy.
When JCA’s Project Rehovot was founded years ago, Russian Jews were pouring into Israel by the thousands as the Soviet Union finally allowed them to leave. At the time, Yaffa Gunner was in Rehovot, Israel because her husband, UMass Amherst Professor Haim Gunner, was on leave there, working at the Weizman Institute. Yaffa’s great interest in helping the Russian immigrants led her and her volunteers in Amherst to raise money for the books, computers and other educational tools, requested by Rehovot’s mayor. A few years later Project Rehovot transformed into the model it is today, where a part-time teacher/therapist meets with the children in small groups using the arts (photography, painting, drawing, music) to help them acquire the skills they need to succeed in school and overcome difficulties related to the immigrant experience.
One volunteer, Amherst resident, chef Karen Loeb, and other members of the Project Rehovot Committee, raise funds by catering weddings, graduations, and bar mitzvahs. Kushnick, the chair of the committee, has been writing grants and overseeing the annual fund for years.
Tickets to the concert are $5 for children and students, and $10 for the general public. Buffet plates are $7 each, $1 for a slice of pizza and $2 for a dessert. Tickets will be available at the door of the Jewish Community of Amherst starting at 2:45 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 1. For more information, call JCA at (413) 256-0160.