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Now that’s magic

A magic class in Herzliya

Abracadabra! Magicians set up courses for disadvantaged Israeli youngsters

ABRACADABRA. Such a unique word for creating magic. I had always wondered where it originated and what it means. How amazed I was upon learning recently it comes from Hebrew! The word comes from "Evra Kedevra" –"I will create that which I say". How perfect an expression of magic.

Not long thereafter, I was sent a blog of Ophir Samson, the son of longtime friends, a brilliant mathematician PhD, economist and social entrepreneur, who loves magic so much he has performed in Europe, Israel and the US. Over the last few years, he has turned to teaching magic, and established The Smadar School for Young Magicians, which gives free magic lessons for children from disadvantaged backgrounds in Israel.

What truly fascinated me was what he wrote that magic can do:
"The lessons not only taught me the principles of magic and its study, but helped me to answer various questions about myself: how do I engage with people? What is my presentation style? When learning something difficult, how do I break it down into its bite-size component parts?

"I believe that many of the lessons of magic and its performance translate to many other fields, both professional and personal, whether relating to elegant presentation, good manners or engaging with those around you. The principles of audience engagement and delivery have been useful to me within many other subjects, from mathematics to economics to teaching salsa dancing!"

Totally charmed by this revelation, I immediately sought out Ophir to see if he would teach magic courses here in Herzliya for disadvantaged children at the WIZO Foster Home and at the Battered Women's Shelter. The benefits of magic could be so important for these children's future.

He was in San Diego at the time and we set up a Skype call to talk. Ophir's willingness and readiness were heart-warming. After my many phone calls to all parties involved to make arrangements, get approvals, and set up dates, the first course took place this month at the WIZO Foster Home.

The children I visited during one of the lessons were beside themselves with excitement, totally involved and listening carefully to each instruction, following closely with their eyes the coins, the balls, the cards that appeared and suddenly disappeared from their teacher's hands before them.

Here, their teacher was Hillel Raz, who was trained by Ophir to become a Smadar School magic teacher. Ophir was also there in person, overseeing and participating in the instruction of the children.

They ran to each of their teachers with shining eyes and eager questions, demanding to try again and again until they could perfect a gesture. The house father shared with me: "At first, the children were hesitant, not knowing what to expect. Now they can't wait for this lesson every week and greet the instructors with total excitement."

Given that Hillel is a modern day renaissance man – a PhD mathematician, who works at an exciting Israeli start-up and is a social activist, poet, part-time school teacher and a chef – the children looked up to him with big, inspired, eyes.

Beyond the card tricks, the Smadar School aims to use magic as a tool to teach "softer" skills of leadership. As such, Ophir chooses his teachers to be inspirational figures from the young-professional community of Tel Aviv, giving the children an impressive role model to look up to.

The second teacher Ophir recruited was an example of an impressive role model to look up to: Samuel Green was the Executive Director of the Federation of Zionist Youth, a marketing manager at Procter and Gamble, and is now a tour guide in Israel, a DJ and a Zionist rap music artist. He taught a class of ten year olds at Bialik Rogozin School in South Tel Aviv.

In fact, the demand for magic was so high at Bialik Rogozin that Ophir trained his third teacher: Sammy Chester, a financial analyst at one of Israel's top hedge funds, an avid marathon runner and expert in Israel/China relations. Sammy has just finished teaching his first course at Bialik Rogozin.

Together, Ophir, Sammy and Sam gave magic lessons to forty children at Bialik Rogozin – forty children who now, hopefully, have a new passion to develop.

Before Ophir departs for Stanford Graduate School of Business to do an MBA, he hopes to run a fourth course in Herzliya, at the Shelter together with Guy Seemann, a US-born expert in Israeli government, as well as a social entrepreneur and a CEO of a number of social change initiatives.

Smadar School of Magic gives it's "Kesher BeKesem" courses as a contribution to the community. This summer, funded by a $1,000 grant from the Schusterman Foundation, Samson and four volunteers taught these four-week magic programs in Jaffa and at Rogozin School as well. Samson said: "I'm really excited about reaching new communities."

Samson's classes are meant to get children and teenagers fired up about magic, as well as build their confidence, develop their leadership skills, and get them used to speaking in public. "The purpose is to show them these skills are transferable to other areas", said Samson. "Magic has done a huge service to me in developing my career." 



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Wednesday, 17 April 2024

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