Local yoga instructors made three previous trips to Ofakim in Israel through Yoga Connections, a Partnership2Gether Living Bridge program of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
But this year’s Nov. 2-6 mission to the federation’s P2G community — less than three months after the end of Operation Protective Edge — brought more gratification than ever as the techniques they taught proved helpful in reducing residents’ stress in the wake of the conflict.
The eight teachers in the delegation helped Israeli counterparts learn a method called Life Force Yoga, which was specifically created to help reduce anxiety and depression. Among the places they conducted instructional sessions were schools; youth, community, and senior centers; facilities for individuals with special needs; and an army base.
“We heard firsthand from police, children, and soldiers about the trauma that they encountered this summer” said one of the American teachers, Debbie Lubetkin of North Caldwell.
Etti Attaly, principal of HaGiva School in Ofakim, said that the NJ instructors were helping arm teachers in her school with a “new tool in their toolbox of coping skills to use when the children have stress” from war and the daily problems of life.
Yoga Connections began in 2009 with five teachers from Greater MetroWest volunteering in Ofakim. With additional trips in 2011 and 2013, the program became “a vehicle for transformation — changing the lives of the volunteer NJ teachers as well as the people of Ofakim,” said Yoga Connections volunteer founder Leslie Gurland of West Caldwell. In 2014, said Gurland, it was recognized “that the program had become a movement helping to bring yoga to Ofakim all year round, not just for one week a year.”
The program took on a new dimension this past summer when volunteer yoga teachers Mindy Szeto of Fanwood and Kimberly Ellner of Westfield helped arrange scholarships to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health for Ofakim teachers Olga Skliaryk and Liat Tangi.
The two Israelis left their families during the conflict in July to study at the center in Stockbridge, Mass., and become the first certified yoga teachers in Ofakim. They understood, they said, that the education they would receive would ultimately prove beneficial to the children of their town.
After the November trip, Lubetkin connected with Amy Weintraub, founder of Life Force Yoga, which will offer a scholarship for someone from Ofakim to come to America next summer to train in this type of yoga.
Attaly, of the HaGiva School, which offers daily yoga classes, said, “My long-term vision is that all teachers in Ofakim understand some basic yoga so that they can use it when the children are struggling.”
In addition to Gurland, Lubetkin, and Ellner, the American participants were Tammy Rubin Abramowitz and Reina Tendler of West Orange, Halley Mechanic of Bloomfield, Esti Monka of Morris Plains, and Rachel Zucker of Livingston.