“Once-in-a-lifetime Experience”: The Menomadin Foundation Invited Children from Angola on an Israel Adventure
The plane that landed at Ben Gurion Airport last month could barely contain the excitement that gripped some of its young passengers. Ten children and teenagers aged 8–19, music students at the Culture and Art Center of the Fundação Arte e Cultura in Angola (the Fundação), struggled to hide the intensity of their anticipation and emotions. Born and raised in the Ilha neighborhood of Luanda, the children came to Israel to perform at the Menomadin Foundation’s Impact Event. They were joined by renowned gospel singer Glória de Lu and musician Vandro Poster, members of the Ponta Cultural project whose goal is to create intercultural bridges between Africa, Israel, and the world. The Menomadin Foundation decided to make this visit an experience that will forever stay in the children’s hearts and invited them on an unforgettable week-long journey of all the culture, history, people, and beauty Israel has to offer.
It All Began at a Company Event
Six months earlier, in May 2022, a festive event was held in Angola to mark the 30th anniversary of Haim Taib’s activity in the African country. In the meeting, attended by hundreds of employees and managers from the Mitrelli Group and the Menomadin Foundation, founder and foundation head Taib spoke about his personal and professional journey, which has led to exciting construction and infrastructure projects across Angola that alter the lives of millions of people. After he finished his speech, the talented children of the Fundação took the stage for dance and singing performances. The show was a vibrant display of talent and creativity, a faithful representation of the magic that happens when Israel and Africa connect. Captivated by the performance, Haim Taib immediately announced on stage that he was inviting the children to perform at the Menomadin Foundation’s Impact Event in Israel, which was scheduled for November of that year in the presence of hundreds of partners from around the world.
For Angolans, a visit to Israel is not just another trip abroad. For them, as devout Christians, Israel is the Terra Santa, the Holy Land, and a visit there is a spiritual experience that they will cherish for the rest of their lives. And so, Taib and the foundations’ directors, Dr. Merav Galili and Naama Margalit, decided that if children from Angola were already coming to Israel, they would organize a journey that would match the magnitude of the occasion – a visit to the Holy Land.
Notes for the Western Wall, Even from the Neighbors
Six months of intensive preparations have led to this moment. Out of the 500 children studying at the music school, ten were selected, those talented in a variety of arts: dance, song, and playing musical instruments. In collaboration with the Fundação teaching staff and management, a team of 19 men and women was formed and began working on the artistic program and rehearsals.
Taking underage children out of their country without their parents is a complicated task. Most of the children did not have passports at all. Parental consent, vaccinations, and notarized authentication of the documents were required. Many committed people, and even Taib himself, were involved in addressing these challenges to complete the mission within the very short timeframe. All along, the Fundação team devoted thought to planning the journey in Israel, where to accommodate the children, which sites they would visit, and how to weave together all of the country’s must-sees into a one-week visit.
As the departure date drew closer, excitement grew and spread far beyond the Fundação’s walls. One mother said, “I can only dream of visiting the Terra Santa, and now, through my daughter’s journey, the foundation is fulfilling my dream.” And it didn’t end there: rumor spread, and notes with messages to God began to arrive from family members and neighbors from near and far, who asked the children to place them safely between the stones of the Western Wall.
“On the way to the Terra Santa, you have to pray”
Tuesday, November 8, 2022
The group flew from Angola to Ethiopia at noon and continued with an overnight flight to Ben Gurion Airport. “Traveling for 17 hours was exhausting,” says Naama. “I fell asleep immediately, and opened my eyes only upon landing. When we arrived, I asked 8-year-old Fernanda De Oliveira and 11-year-old Eliane Martines, ‘did you sleep a little?’ They were genuinely surprised and said, ‘No way!’ and Fernanda added: ‘My mother told us that on the way to the Terra Santa, you have to pray!’ and so, during the entire four-hour-flight they prayed,” Naama was amazed.
That same day, after settling in at the hostel in Modi’in, the children went to Mini Israel. In addition to the excitement of glancing at all the holy sites they were about to visit – Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Sea of Galilee, the Western Wall, the Dead Sea – the children got an idea of just how small Israel was compared to their vast homeland that can hold nearly 57 Israels. On this first day, still tired from the prayer-filled flight, the children also visited the stalactite cave, accompanied by a Portuguese-speaking guide from the Tlalim Group, who accompanied them throughout the week.
From the Lowest Place to the Highest Peak
Wednesday–Thursday, November 9–10, 2022
On the second day, the group descended to the lowest place on Earth. We’ll leave it to the picture to illustrate the unique experience provided by the Dead Sea, the desert surrounding it, the Torah stories, and the Pillar of Lot’s Wife, who, in stillness, watches it all. These Torah stories, which the children hear every Sunday in church, came to life through the landscape and hospitality at Genesis Land biblical farmstead.
The next day, the group ascended – both literally and figuratively – to Jerusalem. For every person of faith, visiting Jerusalem is a spiritual experience matched by no other. In only one day, the group toured the holy Mount of Olives and the Church of Holy Sepulchre, where music teacher Marta Faustino took an Angolan flag out of her bag and wrapped it around her shoulders. As if asking to infuse it with the Holy Spirit and bring it back to Angola with her through the fabric of the flag, she prostrated on the Stone of Unction, on which the body of Jesus is said to have been anointed after being taken down from the cross. Excited, the group went on to follow the winding route of the Via Dolorosa, and in between the sacred stones of the Western Wall, the children placed the countless notes of prayer and wishes they had brought with them from back home.
At the Western Wall the group met with Rabbi Nathan Yotam Shoham, Rabbi of Hof HaSharon Regional Council and Naama’s brother. Combining knowledge, talented storytelling, humility, and great respect for all faiths, Rabbi Yotam wove together the sacred stories of Judaism and Christianity that took place right there on those ancient stones and stirred up a powerful and electrifying spiritual energy that swept up his audience. At that moment, Gloria, the singer who had joined the group, burst into tears. “An ancient cry, a cry of many years,” she said to Naama.
The Angolan Independence Day
Weekend, November 11–12, 2022
Many great novels were written about the physical and mental road connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and as the big night approached, the group made their way to “the city that never stops” to rehearse for the show. At noon, the group went to tour the Old City of Jaffa and St. Peter’s Church and continued on foot to Neve Tzedek. All along, our convoy sang church songs, capturing the attention of passerby, and soon became an attraction. At the crossroads of Jaffa and Tel Aviv, where street musicians regularly sit and play, the music drew the group, and they immediately took the microphone, joined the dancing, and the crazy party that unfolded there was filmed from all angles and uploaded to many Instagram accounts.
This magic repeated itself in the evenings at the hostel. A piano stood at the lobby’s corner, and the teacher, Luís Albino, started playing it. The children gathered from here and there, brought drums, and began singing. They would rehearse for a while, then move on following the melodies of their hearts, and every night became a celebration. One evening, the revelry turned into a birthday party for Naama, while Naama herself had already planned how to celebrate the Angolan Independence Day with the children. Here in Israel, on November 11, Naama and her partner Micha decorated the lobby with balloons in the colors of the Angolan flag. One friend made Funge, a traditional Angolan dish, and many other Israelis who traveled to Angola over the years and got acquainted with the Fundação Arte e Cultura joined this one-time-only get-together. A spontaneous Angolan dance workshop was formed, without a common language, without words, but with a lot of charisma of movement, touch, and sound. And so, Lianny from Angola and Melody from Israel danced together as if they had been doing so their whole lives.
The Angolan Independence Day in Modi’in gave birth to another unique and life-changing connection. Merav had joined the party and brought friends with her. One of them was very impressed by 15-year-old Jenilson Cutunda Amaral, who danced beautifully that evening, and wished to award him a scholarship. Jenilson had a rare opportunity to join the prestigious Angolan modern dance company led by Ana Clara Guerra Marques, an authority in her field. The generous scholarship will cater to his every need, including family assistance, travels, clothing, and even psychological aid.
The natural ability of children to simply connect was also evident the next day. Merav brought her children along to the Saturday activity in Luna Park. Along with the other adults, she watched in amazement as the children played together, running around from one attraction to the next, swinging and having fun without a care in the world.
The Day of the Show
Sunday, November 13, 2022
On the day of their performance, the group arrived at the luxurious Tel Aviv Museum, where the Menomadin Foundation Impact Event took place. After an eye-opening tour of the museum, the children met with event producer Danny Marx for a meticulous dress rehearsal on the beautiful stage.
Like the Menomadin’s Impact Report, launched at the event, the evening’s program was also designed to showcase how all of Haim Taib’s ventures and projects came together to form an enterprise that is greater than the sum of its parts, mutually nourishing Africa and Israel. It was well-illustrated by the musical show: Israeli singer Avraham Tal and the gospel Angolan artist Gloria de Lu sang to the conduction of Israeli music producer Avner Hodorov. The entire group, dressed in colorful tribal costumes, built before our eyes the Ponta Cultural, the cultural bridge.
Moments before the show, the children got together for a joint prayer in the dressing room and then took the stage by storm. In the highlight moments, even the audience – a multi-national and polyglot tapestry that embodies Mitrelli and Menomadin – was swept up by the sounds, got up on their feet and danced astatically. The event finale evolved into one great party, with the Fundação’s children at its core.
The Climax after the Climax
Monday–Tuesday, November 14–15, 2022
After a night of skyrocketing adrenalin, the group left in the early morning to tour the north of Israel. On the way up they stopped at Mitrelli and Menomadin offices in Herzliya where they gave another intimate performance, then continued to the Sea of Galilee. Everyone immersed themselves in the Jordan River, a physical and spiritual baptism, went on a cruise on the lake where Jesus walked on water, and stayed overnight at a hostel overlooking the Lake of Gennesaret, the Kineret.
The following day, touring the Golan Heights, the children looked at the borders of Syria and Lebanon, picked apples, and relished the taste of this refreshing fruit straight off the tree. They also visited the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, and after a busy day, concluded with a fancy dinner, the boys and the girls, the teachers, the artists, and the managers went up the airplane stairs on their way back home, back to Angola, taking with them some Hebrew words: Boker Tov, Sababa, Balagan… and an unforgettable experience. This time, all the children fell asleep as soon as they got on the plane.