Along the short walk from school to the Melabev Center, the 14-16-year-old students, two guitars in hand, consult about which songs to choose for their audience. “We look on the Internet for old Israeli songs, really old, that they know and like,” says Elnatan Ben Chamo, 15. “We try to get them up to dance, too. They move a little slow, but that doesn’t matter.”
The moment they arrive at Melabev, an intricate set of dynamics goes into gear between the young Boys Town students—many who come from very difficult backgrounds—and their avid audience of elderly men and women with Alzheimer’s. “Our members wait all week for the boys’ visit,” says Melabev coordinator Jackie Diamond. “It’s remarkable to see how the boys connect with their loneliness and reach out to each and every one.”
As they begin to sing the lively repertoire they’ve prepared, the Boys Town troubadours soon resort to improvising and taking their cues from their elderly fans. Guitarists Yinon Magzimof (9thgrade) and Nachman Ben Chaim (11th grade) don’t miss a beat as they switch chords to accommodate any song the Melabev members may begin to sing—from a Sabbath hymn to an old Israeli classic. Best, the boys spontaneously move from person to person to shake hands, give a hug and gently pull the elderly into the circle to dance and to sing along.
“It’s amazing,” Jackie Diamond admits. “The lady they’re dancing with now is always passive. This is the first time we’ve seen her join into an activity on her own. And other people who were quite restless are now calm and singing along with the boys.”
The project, part of Boys Town Jerusalem’s community service (chesed) efforts, is demanding, yet Dean of Students Rabbi Meir Linchner says that students “fight to get accepted to the program.” He also notes that Melabev Director Motti Zelikovitch is a 1976 graduate of Boys Town’s College of Applied Engineering. Zelikovitch, who spoke to the student body this year, is a leading champion for Alzheimer’s care who regularly addresses the Israeli Knesset (parliament) on the issue.
After the singing stops at Melabev, the Boys Town students carefully circle their elderly friends to talk to each one. One gentleman begins to share his pioneering adventures in Israel’s early days of statehood. The boys give him their rapt attention, even as he repeats the same story. “We love coming to be with these people,” smiles 11th grader Yair Cohen. “And we know they love us too!”
Boys Town Jerusalem is one of Israel’s premier institutions for educating the country’s next generation of leaders in the fields of technology, commerce, education, the military and public service. Since its founding in 1948, BTJ has pursued its mission of turning young boys from limited backgrounds into young men with limitless futures. From Junior High through the college level, the three part curriculum at Boys Town – academic, technological and Torah – is designed to turn otherwise disadvantaged Israeli youth into productive citizens of tomorrow. Boys Town’s 18 acre campus is a home away from home for its more than 900 students. More than 7,000 graduates hold key positions throughout Israeli society.