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Aventura Pilates Teachers Dance into Lives of Ethiopian-Israeli Children in Pardes Channa-Karkur

Oriana Franco Azizollahoff works with young dance students during a visit to Pardes Channa-Karkur.

For Oriana Franco Azizollahoff, bringing dance to Ethiopian-born children in Israel is a labor of love. The Pilates instructor and her business partner, Renee Ricca, contribute part of their earnings to support a nascent dance program in Pardes Channa-Karkur, located between Tel Aviv and Haifa.

Since 2005, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation has engaged in an initiative with the Ethiopian-Israeli community in Pardes Channa-Karkur. Acculturation difficulties have created special issues for many Ethiopian-Israeli immigrant families, and Federation is involved in several projects to enhance the self-confidence and scholastic success of the community’s youngsters. One effort provides the opportunity for the youth to participate in after-school activities.

The endeavor attracted the attention of Oriana and Renee, who run Renee Ricca’s Pilates and Gyrotonic® Center in Aventura. A native of Peru, Oriana is a classically trained ballet dancer. Renee, originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, started her ballet and theatre career at the age of four, and became a South Africa Ballet and Jazz Champion. She has had an illustrious 25-year career on Broadway.

After learning of the challenges facing the youngsters of Pardes Channa-Karkur, the dancers set up a philanthropic fund through The Foundation of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. For the past year, they have contributed $1,000 a month to the fund from the proceeds of their Pilates classes, with half of their contribution supporting an after-school dance program in Pardes Channa-Karkur. The other half is donated to organizations working toward a cure for Lupus, a cause of personal importance to Renee.

Oriana and Renee’s support pays for the dance instructor who teaches the Pardes Channa-Karkur youngsters each day after school. Youth organizers hope the students will eventually form a dance troupe to proudly perform in the community and throughout Israel.

This summer, Oriana and Renee are witnessing the fulfillment of their vision, as they travel to Israel with their families. While visiting with the Ethiopian-Israeli community of Pardes Channa-Karkur, they are teaching classes in dance and Pilates to young girls. “Dance is such an important part of my life that I really wanted to share with these kids,” Oriana said. “My wish is that it becomes a real source of joy and hope for them.”

 

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