When Alex Ratner became bar mitzva at Kibbutz Erez nine years ago, his father, Evan, endowed a playground there in his son’s honor.
It was part of a commitment by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ to aid the embattled people in a spot near the Gaza border that has been threatened with rocket fire over the years.
“It is one of the many generous contributions that the Ratner family has made,” said Michael Katz, director of donor and corporate development for the federation.
Through the years, the federation has also helped the kibbutz refurbish a bomb shelter, purchase an emergency generator and an ambulance, and build a medical clinic.
Last month Alex, about to enter his senior year at Yale University, returned to Erez with another gift. He and 13 other members of the Whiffenpoofs, Yale’s famed men’s choir, entertained a kibbutz kindergarten class during a six-day tour of Israel.
The Israel visit, the 12th stop on a summer-long tour of four continents, included performances at a bar mitzva at Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava region and an Independence Day celebration at the United States consulate in Jerusalem. None of his fellow singers had been to Israel before.
“As the tour manager I was eager to give the ‘Whiffs’ a varied, multiple-city experience in Israel,” Alex Ratner wrote in a June 27 e-mail to NJ Jewish News.
The Whiffenpoofs performed and led master classes with teen vocal groups, but one event in Jerusalem stood out.
“We performed at a joint concert with the Jerusalem Youth Chorus — a choir of Israeli and Palestinian high schoolers,” Ratner wrote. “It was especially gratifying to perform alongside the chorus, an ambitious union of cultural and musical interests between Israeli and Palestinian teenagers.
“Hearing songs in English, Hebrew, and Arabic definitely made an impression on our group.”
Michal Zur, director of Greater MetroWest’s office in Jerusalem, arranged for the Yalies to spend a night with families in the federation’s partner city of Rishon Letzion, and booked them the gig with the children at Kibbutz Erez, where he watched them play on the playground created in his name.
“Returning to Erez with my friends has been a very different experience than my bar mitzva was,” Ratner wrote. “I finally felt able to grapple with the reality of the Israel-Gaza border settlement, tenuous as it may be, in a way I was not prepared to at age 13.
“With many Israelis my age serving in the army, the tough question of how to move forward with Israeli-Palestinian coexistence is certainly on my mind. It seems the other Whiffenpoofs are thinking along these lines as well. Our tour of Erez has yielded some interesting discussions since our visit, especially from those pursuing careers in politics.”