The Mashav Acharai Passover Mifgash

In 2013, a group of young Israeli volunteers capped off an incredible season with a visit to Montreal and their Canadian counterparts for Passover. 

“After arriving and meeting the hosting families, we met the entire Canadian Acharai group in the evening,” recalls participant Eli Beloshvsky. “It’s hard to convey in words the emotions we felt: despite the fact that in the summer we had spent less than a week together, it felt as though we were being united with childhood friends.”

The Acharai, after a year of study related to the world of poverty, travelled to South Africa and then Israel to put their new found knowledge into practice.  During the Acharai Montrealers stay in Israel, they worked with their peers in the Mashav group doing work which included refurbishing bomb shelters.  By the end of their trip, they had successfully completed three, fully functional bomb shelters.  Last November, when rockets flew over Be’er Sheva, the bomb shelters were able to be used. The Montreal Acharai members here were reassured, knowing their friends – though in harm’s way – were being protected.

In the following months, Montrealers and Israelis took part in a reverse mifgash. In April 2013, thirteen Mashav participants arrived in Montreal for Passover.  They were hosted by families of the Acharai group who had previously been their guests.

“All of us felt a very special bond and connection,” recalls Mashav member Eli Beloshvsky.

Not surprising, as Acharai (which means “follow me” in Hebrew) and Mashav both aim to attract passionate students who, to quote their mission statement, “want to build a better world, not simply imagine one”.

“The Acharai Fellowship” is a social activism and leadership training program established by Congregation Beth Tikvah and funded, in part, by Federation CJA. Acharai takes Jewish students to far-away places volunteering with communities plagued by terrible social problems, and offering help wherever they can.

The Acharai-Mashav Passover Mifgash

The Acharai-Mashav Passover Mifgash

In 2013, the first ever Acharai program saw Rabbi Mark Fishman lead a group of young adults to volunteer in South Africa and then Israel.  Upon arrival in Be’er Sheva – Montreal’s sister city in Israel – the Acharai participants were paired with a group called Mashav, young Israeli adults who also volunteer, as part of a mifgash.

Mifgash, meaning “encounter” in Hebrew, refers to the multi-day peer-to-peer meeting between young adult Jews from abroad and from Israel. The programs are designed for individuals who believe that they have a role to play in ending hunger, suffering and corruption and who believe that their heritage and history demands of them to make this world a better place. Though from opposite ends of the world, all the students found they had a unique shared perspective.

The first Passover Seder took place in the West Island and was hosted by Rochelle Lerner Silverman and her daughter Maxine Silverman. All thirteen Mashav delegates were in attendance with their Acharai counterparts. The second Seders were celebrated in the individual host families’ homes.

The following day the young volunteers celebrated a “Third Seder”, in which they volunteered at an annual event held by Federation CJA for JEM Workshop employees. The JEM Workshop, which is funded by Federation CJA, is an organization that provides employment, support and other services to members of the Jewish community living and coping with disabilities.

The Mashav visitors toured the JEM Workshop and learned from this remarkable institution about how we can all improve as individuals and as a society that supports and aids the less fortunate.

“We gained an exceptional opportunity to examine ourselves as a group.  We learned important lessons of giving from the depths of our hearts.  We learned how far one can get with a little bit of faith”, said Beloshvsky.  “And we got a clearer and better vision of the place we want Be’er Sheva and Israel to become.”

The Acharai program, now in its third year, is set to celebrate Passover with another mifgash.  And this summer, another group of young volunteers with head back to Be’er Sheva – this time, by way of Thailand. No matter what the nature of the work, all the participants agree volunteering in various regions has given them a unique perspective.

“Sometimes you have to fly the farthest away in this world in order to see things clearly,” concludes Eli. “This holiday away from home gave us a rare opportunity to examine ourselves as individuals. Some of us discovered a Jewish side in ourselves that we didn’t know existed before.  Some of us experienced the twin emotions of love and separation.  A few of us got to miss and appreciate some of the good things we left back home. .. And we all accumulated unforgettable experiences and made friends for life.”

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