“DJs Without Borders”

by Betsy Fischer, M.Ed.

You are all familiar with the organization “Doctors without Borders.” It is an international medical humanitarian organization committed to bringing quality medical care to people in crisis in nearly 60 countries.

The group provides medical services to “people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe, primarily due to armed conflict, or natural disasters.

Well, imagine this organization if you will: DJS WITHOUT BORDERS! An international entertainment organization committed to bringing music, dance and most importantly, joy and happiness to people in crisis around the world…Sounds pretty amazing, doesn’t it?

My Mitzvah Mission

I feel as though I am a part of this imaginary organization, as I have just returned to the States from what I labeled my “Mitzvah Mission” in Sderot, Israel. For those of you not familiar with this small city, Sderot is located in south-western Israel, less than one mile from the Gaza Strip.

According to Wikipedia, Since the beginning of the Second Intifada in October 2000, the city has been under constant rocket fire from Qassam rockets launched by Hamas and Islamic Jihad]. … The rockets have caused deaths and injuries, as well as significant damage to homes and property, psychological distress and emigration from the city. The Israeli government has installed a “Red Color” alarm system to warn citizens of impending rocket attacks, although its effectiveness has been questioned. Citizens only have 15 seconds to reach shelter after the sounding of the alarm. Thousands of Qassam rockets have been launched since Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip in September 2005.

The Jewish National Fund

I am knowledgeable about the conditions in Sderot because my husband and I support the Jewish National Fund, (JNF), which develops projects throughout the state of Israel. Basically, JNF prides itself on being the “Caretakers of the Land and the People of Israel.”

In May, 2008, Russell Robinson, JNF CEO, and Stanley Chesley, JNF President, were touring the region and noticed that not a single child was outside playing. No kids were riding bikes in the streets, nor playing soccer after school ~ there was just an eerie silence.

Of course, at the worst of times, the families in Sderot could not risk the lives of their children by allowing them to go to school, much less play outside in their yards or playgrounds. They could never be more than 15 seconds away from a bomb shelter!

So, it was decided that the children of Sderot needed a place to play while remaining safe and secure at the same time. Construction began on the last week of July 2008, and the Playground was dedicated in March 2009.

In 10 months, JNF built a 21,000 sq. ft. fortified indoor playground, complete with an indoor soccer field and basketball court, a snack bar, a computer room, a rock-climbing wall, and even a disco! This indoor facility provides children the opportunity to escape the anxiety and fear they are forced to live with every day. To learn more about the playground, click here.

An Invitation Turned Into a Vacation

What brought me to Israel in the first place? My daughter was invited to attend a Bar Mitzvah in Israel on April 16th, and instead of allowing her to travel internationally by herself, I decided to tag along. I was joined by my sister, and a wonderful vacation was planned.

Since I knew I would be in Israel for an extended period, I wanted to provide some happiness, stress-relief, and entertainment to the families in Sderot. In other words, bring The Groove Lounge Experience to southern Israel.

By working with JNF personnel both in the US and Israel, a Zumba/Dance Party was scheduled for 4/21, right during the Passover holiday, when schools are closed and everyone is on holiday.

The mother of the Bar Mitzvah boy, Tamar Barkan, also wanted to be a part of this Mitzvah, so our entertainment group consisted of my daughter, Caley, my sister, Nancy, Tamar, and her daughter Yael. The five of us made quite a team, and worked very hard to bring this event to life.

You may ask, “Why the heck would you ever want to even go to this region?” Well, the situation in the area had been mostly quiet in the last two years, except for some rocket attacks near Sderot that happened right before we left for Israel.

Needless to say, I felt a lot of responsibility arranging for this event, and in no way wanted to put my family or friends in any kind of danger. I agonized about recent events and basically drove myself crazy.

If you are interested in reading more about my conflicted feelings and angst right before the trip, click here.

Well, after all that agonizing and worrying, it was decided on 4/20 that our trip was a go, and as long as I live, I will never forget it!

From Inspiration to Preparation

I spent many hours prepping for the event – planning the inter-active activities and the accompanying music, burning two sets of CDs for everything (just in case!,) coordinating with the head of the facility exactly what equipment was on-site and what we would need, planning and ordering all the give-aways, and PACKING all those give-aways for international travel, etc, etc. My plan was to provide a Zumba party first, followed by a family dance party.

On the morning of the event, Tamar, Caley and Yael met Nancy and me at our hotel to unwrap, organize and prep all the give-aways. We discussed the flow of the party and what items were to be given away during which activities. The plan was that Tamar, who is Israeli, would hold the cordless mic, and translate everything I was saying into Hebrew.

We were picked up by a JNF van and accompanied to the Playground by Shahar Hermelin, Director of Tourism, Israel Operations – USA- JNF. When we arrived, Shahar gave us a tour of the filled-to-capacity facility. Due to the holiday, the playground was packed.

After reading about this place, listening to lectures, meeting the Mayor of the City, and seeing lots of pictures, I was finally there! It was an unbelievably moving experience, but I couldn’t let my emotions get the best of me. After all, we had a party to throw!

When the give-aways were all loaded-in and my DJ (the son of a playground employee) was briefed on what we were doing, (thank goodness he spoke English!) it was time for the party to begin.

An International Party Hit

Over the loudspeaker the children were invited into the disco, and they were greeted by Caley and Yael, who were providing tattoos to all the kids. Exciting Zumba music played as the kids entered, and I began the program with a few Zumba warm-ups.

After that, we entertained everyone with a two-hour program consisting of interactive games, circle dances, line dances, and follow-alongs. And let me tell you, those kids were following EVERY SINGLE DANCE MOVE I DID – and then some! If I even stopped for a second to scratch my nose or touch my hair, these kids copied those moves perfectly, too.

Although we didn’t speak the same language, I was so impressed by the power of the international language of dance. The kids danced their hearts out, and when I yelled a loud, “Woo-Hoo!” and then cupped my hand to my ear so they would do the same, the kids yelled out perfectly in sync!

Betsy (Batya) Boogie Bingo

One of the highlights of the party was during the game, “Betsy’s Boogie Bingo.” Some of you may be familiar with this game, as I presented it as part of the DJ of the Year Competition in Atlantic City a few years ago.

Basically, it’s a Dance/Bingo Game, utilizing poster-sized Bingo Boards on which I have written the names of dances. I play a song, the players do the dance, and then mark their boards. Whichever team gets Bingo first is the winner.

Well, before departing for Israel, Tamar and I tweaked Boogie Bingo, and made an Israeli version of the game, “Batya’s Boogie Bingo.” (My Hebrew name) We removed a couple of American dances we thought these kids wouldn’t know, replaced them with some Israeli songs, and then Tamar wrote out the Bingo Cards in Hebrew. When we played this game, the disco was filled with lots of people, and everyone participated, moms and kids alike.

IT WAS AWESOME! Thanks to Tamar’s translation of the rules, everyone understood what to do and had a FAB time. We basically played until every team had Bingo! Everyone did the dances, marked their boards accordingly, and even yelled out BINGO! at the appropriate time.

One of the best moments was during the Israeli song, “Popcorn.” When this song is played, Israelis basically do the same moves as the American “Alley Cat.” So, when the song came on, I started the dance, and was immediately up-staged by a young girl, who was dancing right beside me. She was moving with such intensity, basically jumping during the entire song! Soon, my sister joined in, and the three of us danced to this song like there was no tomorrow!

Israelis Equipped to Throw a Groovy Party

So, there I was, in this beleaguered city in southern Israel, dancing my butt off with this total stranger – a child who has lived through horrors I can’t even imagine. It was an absolutely surreal experience – one that I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to enjoy.

What makes me so proud and happy is that we left EVERYTHING at the Playground so that the staff there can repeat these dances and games whenever they wish. We left all the Bingo Boards, the accompanying CDs and Board-markers, extra give-aways, and two roll-up Limbo Sticks. We left two copies of the Dance Party CD AND two copies of the Zumba Music. The staff at the playground is equipped to throw a totally Groovy Party any time they want!

Leaving an Indelible Mark

And what tickles me the most is that, right now, as you are reading this, there are kids in southern Israel walking around wearing Groove Lounge tee-shirts, carrying Groove Lounge Backpacks, and drinking out of Groove Lounge water bottles, not to mention sporting silver-sequined Michael Jackson gloves.

I love knowing that the five of us made an indelible mark on the lives of these families, and none of us will ever forget this memorable day!

As Shahar emailed me a couple of days later:

“The party was a huge success and it was all thanks to all of you girls, and especially you personally, of course. It was an amazing idea, which was executed perfectly. I’m really glad and honored I could be part of that unique experience!”

Lynn Norton Robins, who is the JNF Director of the NJ Region wrote:

“Shahar called me immediately from Israel to share the wonderful news. It was attended by over 140 people. They played dance games and a special Hebrew bingo game that Tamar and Betsy made especially for them. Just as in any dance party, everyone was given prizes and chach’kas and went home with smiles on their faces and joy in their hearts from having the most amazing experience. Betsy provided them with an astronomical success to be talked about for a long time to come.”

So, DJs Without Borders….How about it? An organization that provides music, dance and happiness to people in crisis throughout the world. What do you think? Who’s with me?

NOTE FROM PUBLISHER: I AM!

Betsy Fischer, M.Ed. – Girls with Gigs

Betsy Fischer, M.Ed. is a DJ, Event Planner, Dance and Zumba Instructor, Choreographer and Entrepreneur.

She is the 2010 winner of the “Best New Dance” and runner up “Entertainer of the Year” at the “DJ of the Year” competition held at the International DJ Expo.

She is also the proud owner/operator of Betsy Fischer’s Groove Lounge, a dance and party venue located in southern NJ. Her mobile DJ business, Party Dancing with Betsy Fischer, LLC, entertains at a variety of events throughout NJ and PA.

Betsy is a member of NJDJN and NAME. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and is a NJ State Certified Elementary Teacher and a Teacher of the Handicapped. Betsy received her Master’s Degree from Temple University, where her studies focused on including handicapped children in the performing arts.

Betsy’s website is GrooveLounge.net and you can email her at Betsy@GrooveLounge.net.

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