Jews from all over the world are feeling the urge to do something to help our brothers and sisters in Israel.
One of the many things we are discovering during this time of crisis is that regardless of who we are and what talents and skills we possess, there is something that everyone can do to help lighten the burden the people of Israel are carrying.
That means that even if you do something offbeat like card tricks or simple magic tricks, such as making a quarter appear from behind a child’s ear, there is a role you can play in this war.
On that count, I was clued in by my magician friend from Far Rockaway, Ben Cohen, who recently organized a small group of five magicians to perform magic shows for members of the IDF and the tens of thousands of people who were displaced from their homes due to the ongoing war.
Ben says the idea evolved after several of them observed duffel bags full of supplies and equipment being shipped from JFK for use by the IDF reserves who found themselves suddenly called up for service in Gaza. Ben and some friends in a WhatsApp group of around 200 Orthodox Jewish magicians began to discuss the idea of putting together a team of magicians to travel around Israel entertaining those who could use some light-hearted fun and entertainment during this trying time.
Five men stepped forward to make the trip under the moniker, “Magicians United for Israel.” Included in the group were Ben Cohen, Marc Levine, Avi Frier, Sam Jacobs and Avi Hoffman. I was on a Zoom call with these extraordinary young men last week to talk about how the idea was hatched and what they experienced during their week in Israel. More than anything, they were pleased to have had the opportunity to entertain and uplift those who were in much need.
Ben and his friends managed to do shows for IDF troops on two army bases, but most of the shows were for those living in temporary housing around the country since they were displaced from their homes both in the north and the south due to the Hamas and Hezbollah rockets being fired continuously.
The magicians also performed for families who have either a father or son/brother serving in Gaza, giving them a bit of respite from the trying conditions they live under.
The five magicians all have different specialties. I’ve had the pleasure of watching Ben perform at Pesach holiday events, and his shows are lively and captivating. But this “mission of magic” in Israel says so much more about where their hearts are. More than anything, the “Magicians United for Israel” is just another dimension of Am Yisrael and how we care for and are connected to one another.
During the week the magicians were in Israel, they traveled around the country and were ready to perform a show at the drop of a hat wherever there was a need.
“For the week we were in Israel, we did magic shows on demand 24-hours a day,” said Ben. He described how he and several other magicians were in a coffee shop and created some curiosity among the local population with all the magic show accoutrements they were carrying around, and suddenly, an impromptu magic show erupted right there in the coffee shop in Petach Tikvah.
The reality just might be that there is a greater connection between the Jewish people and the world of magic and these magicians. The State of Israel and the Jewish people are a result of “Divine magic,” and it is difficult to debate that that is not the case as we know it. And when you take a step back and view the obstacles that Israel is facing daily in this war with Hamas, it becomes abundantly clear that Israel needs and will ultimately be the recipient of more “magic.”
Of course, the type of magic dispensed by Magicians United for Israel is just a prelude to the type of magic that Israelis receive on a daily basis.
According to Ben Cohen and his colleagues, the demand for magic shows in the Holy Land is overwhelming. He explained that the entire mission came about very quickly, with only a limited budget, and it was only after the trip was finished that they realized how many more people they could have reached with a bigger budget.
From the outset, they economized. Those who had relatives in Israel stayed with them and ate their meals with them. Now that they know what it will take to make a mission of this sort work economically, people are stepping forward and offering to finance a mission that can bring hope and cheer to people who are in desperate need.
Aside from scheduling shows for both kids and adults, there was a great deal more that went into scheduling a jam-packed week of events in Israel. In case you were wondering, all five of the magicians were featured in every show, with each performing a fifteen to 29-minute skit.
I suppose that unless you understood the different nuances of magic that exist in the world of magic, it would be hard to explain the variances in their routines. But they all complemented one other.
Ben Cohen’s act focuses on illusion. He says that he works mostly with birds, which features a disappearing-reappearing bird component to his work. If you’ve seen Ben perform, then you know that somehow, he has birds showing up in the most uncanny and unusual places. They are in his jacket pocket or under his hat if he is wearing one. I suppose you can read about where magicians like Ben store their birds during their act, but why ruin a good surprise?
The other magicians also have their specialties. Some combine their magic tricks with comedy, others do card tricks, and still others do more telepathic type of magic which consists of reading people’s minds.
There are myriads of ways we can combine our talents and become a unified people at this stage in Israel’s history. As one of the young men explained on the ride back to New York, most of the people they spoke to in Israel were working on some type of mission. For some it was about food; for others, it was boots, helmets, even drones. As we have mentioned before in this space over the last few months, Israel’s military is truly a citizens’ army. In addition to the standing army, several hundred thousand people were called up when the war began. Some wore worn-out helmets, other had only sneakers until they could get their hands on a pair of combat boots.
My five magician friends were just a few of the many volunteers who put their lives on hold and went to Israel to contribute what they could to help our brethren there. Hearing the stories about how they helped elevate the mood of their audience is heart-warming and contains a certain magic in itself. And that makes sense.