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Student Plans 'Gap Year' to Start Chorus in Israel

Mar 28, 2020 12:00PM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Pnina Tofler conducting the National Children's Chorus

While many of her classmates will be heading off to college in the fall, Mira Costa High School senior Pnina Tofler is setting off for a different kind of adventure. Tofler plans to start a community choir in Sderot, Israel as part of the prestigious Yachad Mechinot gap year program that allows participants to create volunteer missions in Israel.

Tofler, who has been part of the National Children's Chorus (NCC) since age 9, has experience both as a choir member and as a conductor.

She will be working in the war-torn city of Sderot, which is near the Gaza strip, where nearly half of the children there experience some form of PTSD.

"My goal is just to bring what music has brought to me. I’ve had hard times in my life, and I feel like it’s important to have some sort of outlet to deal with those emotions, and for me that’s what NCC has been," said Tofler. "If I can even just affect one child’s life and help them find a creative outlet or a place that makes them happy, that's really important to me."

Yachad Mechinot Gap Year

Many young Israelis take a gap year after high school to learn more about their culture, society, and Jewish identity. The Yachad Mechinot gap year program gives students a total immersion experience in Israel, by living, studying and volunteering in Israeli mechina ("preparation") programs with Israelis their age.

Most of the program participants are Israelis, and in fact the program only recently started accepting students from other countries. It is far more difficult to get in to the program as a student from another country - which makes Tofler's experience that much more rare.

"This program is pretty special," said Tofler. "A lot of gap year programs are more like, 'Take a vacation for a year'. I wasn’t really interested in that. I was really excited when I found a program that was more volunteer based."


Music as an Outlet

Tofler said she loved music since an early age. In addition to singing in the choir, she played flute and was part of the band at Manhattan Beach MIddle School and Mira Costa. At MBMS, she also had a chance to try her hand at conducting for the first time - and she knew she had found her niche.

Tofler is currently one of NCC’s Conducting Fellows, which offers the opportunity to receive real-life conducting experience by leading their peers in both rehearsal and performance.

"Pnina has always demonstrated incredible maturity, leadership, and appreciation for music," said Luke McEndarfer, the artistic director and CEO of the National Children's Chorus. "This project sounds like it will be a great fit for her, and I am confident that she will make a huge difference in the lives of all the children she works with."

Tofler is planning to lead the National Children's Chorus in a future performance (dates permitting, following the coronavirus quarantine) of “Shoshone Love Song,” one of the very first pieces she sang when she started in NCC.



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